If you’re one of the 84% of women who suffer from period pain and cramps, you’re not alone. Known more scientifically as dysmenorrhea, it is defined as “excessively painful menstruation,” and presents as cramps, nausea, overall body aches, pain and discomfort in the abdominal area, or in severe cases, some women even experience vomiting.
More than three-quarters of menstruating women experience pain and discomfort to varying degrees and have become used to this as simply a normal part of their monthly cycle. Why, however, does this happen, and what can we do to help individuals reduce their monthly bout of pain and suffering?
Why do I get dysmenorrhea?
The full extent of causes of period pain or dysmenorrhea is not completely known and understood, but many researchers believe it is due to an excess of prostaglandins being released. Prostaglandins are released as a normal part of a woman’s monthly cycle: they are synthesized in the secretory endometrium and then released when estrogen and progesterone fall at the end of a cycle. These chemicals are hormone-like substances, which play a big role in regulating different aspects of the female reproductive cycle and in mediating inflammation. Certain prostaglandins, when released, stimulate inflammation, while others reduce inflammation. In the case of period pain, it may be that an excess of prostaglandins is released and/or that it is the inflammatory prostaglandins that are most active.
Prostaglandins are made from essential fatty acids and act at the site of release. Researchers believe that in some cases, the body does not produce enough anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, due in part to an inadequate intake of healthy essential fats in the diet. When the circumstances of insufficient essential fatty acids and insufficient production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (or excessive inflammatory prostaglandins) align, it can lead to issues such as regular period pain and cramps.
What are period cramps?
As discussed above, much of the menstrual cycle is influenced by the release of prostaglandins. When these are released in excess, or an individual is particularly sensitive to them, they can cause myometrium hypercontractility, where the lining of the uterus contracts excessively. They can also cause ischemia. Ischemia is another source of pain, which is when there is a shortage of oxygen and blood supplied to the uterus and endometrial lining.
Having Irregular Cycle
Finally, cramps and period pain can simply be a symptom of irregularities in the cycle, demonstrated by the body as a sign that something is wrong. This is the case for example in endometriosis when the pain occurs as a symptom of something being awry: when the endometrial tissue is growing in other areas of the body.
How to prevent dysmenorrhea from coming?
1.Include essential fats in your diet
As mentioned above, one of the key areas of research offered towards the understanding of dysmenorrhea has been in regards to prostaglandins. Influenced heavily by the adequate presence of essential fats, it is important to consume enough of these fats in the diet.
Essential fats are the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, and are found in fish, flaxseed, pumpkin seed oil, Hemp seed oil and black currant oil. It is important to ensure emphasis is placed on consuming adequate Omega 3 fatty acids, as these are necessary to facilitate the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, prostaglandins 1 and 3. With inadequate Omega 3 intake, the body will try to convert Omega-6 fatty acid to Omega-3.
In the process, however, the enzyme which works to do this will also cause the production of arachidonic acid, the presence of which has also been shown to increase the incidence of period pain and cramps. Related to that, arachidonic also comes from the digestion and breakdown of animal products such as red meat, processed meats, and game. Avoiding sources of these in the diet is another preventative measure one can put in place to reduce period pain and discomfort.
2. Boost lymphatic system
Another area of focus should be on boosting the lymphatic system. One of the big roles of the lymphatic system is cleansing and detoxification. It is an important player in eliminating arachidonic acid as discussed above. The lymphatic system is a detoxifying system of the body, which operates to eliminate waste via lymph nodes and other exit points throughout the body. The key, however, is that unlike the circulation system, the lymphatic system has no pump or in-house method of circulation, and instead relies on our own efforts to keep it active and help maintain system functionality.
To help activate the system:
- Engage in alternating hot and cold showers
- Take Epsom salt baths
- Visit a sauna or steam room
- Exercise regularly
Exercise is important not only for the sweating part but also because it boosts blood flow and increased blood flow promotes increased activation of the lymphatic system. In addition, exercise promotes overall improved functionality within the body, as well as is great for improving one’s state of mind.
3. Consume an adequate amount of minerals and vitamins
You can also work to prevent the pain by ensuring adequate consumption of minerals and vitamins that are necessary for the synthesis of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. This includes zinc, found in pumpkin seeds and oysters, B Vitamins, as found in leafy green vegetables, whole grains and broccoli, and also consuming plenty of antioxidants. Found in bright vegetables and fruit like beetroot, blueberries, and pomegranates, antioxidants fight free radicals in the body.
The body naturally produces free radicals during processes such as energy production, and we also accumulate free radicals through the consumption of processed foods, environmental toxins and exposures, and through chemicals added to foods such as apples and pears to reduce pest invasions.
While it is impossible to fully avoid free radicals, having an adequate intake of antioxidants can drastically reduce their effect, by eliminating them from the body in a timely manner. The longer they remain in the body, the more they are able to elicit their negative effects, and research has shown they can contribute to causing cancer and other serious diseases.
4. Reduce your stress levels
Finally, it is very important to reduce your stress levels. Research has shown that continuous stress, elevating the body’s stress response for extended periods of time, can lead to chronic stress and a chronically compensated stress response system. When the stress response system is not functioning properly. That means the body is not able to come back down to baseline functioning, and some things remain permanently shut off or functioning at altered capacity within the body.
One of these things is the reproductive system. It’s the same reason why women who are chronically stressed may lose their menstrual cycle for a period of time: the body feels it is under too much stress to safely reproduce, and so it shuts off the reproducing capabilities. In some people, while it may not shut off the capabilities, it does cause increased pain and distress within the body and may be exhibited via pain in the reproductive organs.
How can I reduce the pain when it is occurring?
While there is no one cure or medication option to eliminate dysmenorrhea, many people report that holding heat (such as a heating pad or hot water bottle) over the uterus and abdominal area, brings some relief. Try not to eat foods that are hard to digest or that you know you are sensitive to, as the close proximity of the digestive system to the reproductive system means digestive distress can cause further menstrual-related pain.
In addition eating foods like meat (as mentioned above), or other foods that are taxing on the digestive system and release a lot of byproducts as a function of processing can have impactful effects on the reproductive system. Avoid these foods when possible and also avoid inflammatory foods such as those high in refined sugar and carbohydrates. Instead, consume anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric and diuretic foods such as celery and cucumber.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve done your time of suffering and putting up with pain and cramps every month for four or five days, is time to take a look and see what you can change. You can start with your diet, introducing more or better sources of essential fatty acids and eliminating your consumption of red meat and processed foods. From there, drink more water, exercise more often, reduce your stress load and put in an effort to obtain a high-quality night’s sleep every night. It may take time, and it may be slow, but with consistency, it is possible to see relief from your continued monthly pain and discomfort.
Reading suggestions that you may like:
Nutritional Pathology, Barbara Lessard-Rhead