That time of the month has come around again; we’re reminded that women do indeed come from Venus and men from Mars.
My sister thinks I’m mad when I get excited to see the arrival of Miss Scarlett, I get it, a woman’s menstrual cycle is usually seen as an added chore for 5 days and always comes at the most inconvenient time. I used to feel the same and would skip my period regularly when I was on the oral contraceptive pill; however all that changed when I came off the pill 4.5 years ago and subsequently spent the next 3 years without any sign of my natural cycle.
Now that my period has finally returned I understand that this is my body’s way of telling me that my reproductive system is working correctly, and on a deeper level functioning to maintain balance of my overall health.
Pain is another reason for not holding a welcome party for Scarlett, however recognizing the type of pain you experience is a good indication as to what’s happening inside. If you experience pain at the start of your period it is known as primary dysmenorrhoea and up to 50% of women experience similar symptoms. However, if you experience unbearable pain, unusual pain unlike any previous periods, or abdominal/back pain when you are not menstruating, you should visit your doctor or health practioner to investigate it further. This pain is known as secondary dysmenorrhoea and may be related to another condition such as endometriosis, fibroids, or possibly something to do with the contraception method you are using such as an IUD. In any case, if something does not feel quite right, go and check it out, you will feel more confident in understanding your body.
Why do we experience pain? Well, in primary dysmenorrhoea we can thank our prostaglandins; they are responsible for making the uterine muscles contract and shed the endometrial lining that has built up during your menstrual cycle. Prostaglandins are natural substances controlled by progesterone, and made by the cells in the endometriosis (lining of your uterus). Directly before menstruating progesterone levels decrease causing prostaglandin production to increase and if you have an excess of ‘unhealthy’ prostaglandins being released you may experience more intense cramping, dysmenorrhoea, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Although this isn’t a fun experience, the good news is that primary dysmenorrhoea is usually only experienced when you are ovulating and is a good sign of having a normal menstrual cycle.
If you are currently taking the oral contraceptive pill you may not experience any pain due to not having a natural period. The oral contraceptive pill can suppress ovulation, and reduce the endometrial lining of your uterus through synthetic hormones, therefore your menstrual cycle decreases in addition with the amount of prostaglandins being produced, ultimately lessening dysmenorrhoea. Long-term use of the OCP can cause a number of adverse oestrogen related issues, so other methods of managing menstrual pain should be evaluated before deciding on this form of treatment.
What can we do about it? Here are some first hand trialed and tested therapies to manage dysmenorrhoea, which will hopefully help ease the pain.
1. Firstly it would be good to look at your diet; a healthy balanced diet is fundamental for decreasing the amount of unhealthy prostaglandins your body produces.
2. Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) tea. Nature really is incredible; this amazing herb has uterine muscle relaxant qualities. Drink 3 cups of tea per day, you can find this at your natural grocery store, or I use a beautifully naturopathically crafted herbal tea from Orchard St called She-Tea. You can buy it online here.
3. Additional supplementation of magnesium, B complex, Omega 3 fatty acids, Zinc, Vitamin E and C can be used to ease muscle cramping, and aid in production of healthy prostaglandins, talk to your health practioner.
4. A heat pack held on your abdomen or back or a hot shower/bath can be helpful in reducing the pain associated with periods.
5. Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus) – is a fantastic herb aiding in relaxing the muscles of the uterus. Visit your natural health clinic/pharmacist and ask a qualified practioner for this herb in liquid extract form, or as a tea.
Wong CL, Farquhar C, Roberts H, Proctor M. Oral contraceptive pill as treatment for primary dysmenorrhoea. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD002120. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002120.pub2.
Natural Medicine © 2015 Therapeutic Research Center – Red Raspberry
McKinley Health Center
Menstrual Cramps (Dysmenorrhea) – University of Illionois