I was inspired by all of the strong women and men who marched last weekend to stand for women’s rights and equality. I’ve often been labeled as a feminist. Do you know what the definition of feminist is? Feminism is defined as "the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” Well damn right I’m a feminist…and shouldn’t everyone be? My people are.
This inspiration has left me thinking about my mission to empower women to overcome hormonal issues and menstrual disorders naturally. The menstrual cycle is a symbol of womanhood. It should be cherished. It shouldn’t have to feel like we’re cursed, but for many women it does. I want to change that. To get started, I’ve put together this list of natural remedies to combat menstrual cramps to make yourself and all of the women in your life even stronger.
But first, let’s look at the statistics. If you suffer from painful periods (medically termed dysmenorrhea), you’re not alone! A 2012 study found that 84.1% of women report painful periods, 55.2% require medication for the pain and 31.9% have missed school or work due to the severity of the pain (1). This is can be a huge burden on life, being debilitated for a few days every month. Unfortunately, the only treatments options often given to these women are birth control pills or NSAIDs. Both of which can have nasty side effects.
NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) are used to treat pain and inflammation. They most notably include: aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. NSAIDs can exacerbate IBS and cause gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) and are actually the leading cause of this issue. They can also exacerbate and cause kidney problems.
Now let’s talk birth control pills… I’m going to have to save my full rant about birth control pills for another post. But for now, here are my main issues with them. First, they are prescribed for just about anything caused by hormonal imbalance: painful and/or heavy periods, acne, mood swings, PMS etc. They might work miraculously while you’re on them but guess what? As soon as you stop the medication, almost always those old symptoms return. And why? Because the original hormone imbalance wasn’t fixed - birth control is just a bandaid. My other beef with birth control is that if you get off of it, you might have a whole new set of hormonal issues you didn’t bargain for like no period at all (which affects your fertility), acne, hormone imbalances and nutrient deficiencies, to name just a few. I have seen so many women with “post birth control syndrome,” and although it can be successfully treated naturally, it would be great if it didn’t have to happen in the first place.
So what’s a girl to do? I see many women with painful periods and have great success resolving this issue - not with NSAIDs or birth control pills, but by using functional medicine to understand and treat the underlying cause. It could be a hormonal imbalance, stress, inflammation, a food intolerance, nutrient deficiencies, etc. If you have painful periods I highly recommend working with me or another functional medicine practitioner to resolve the issue for good. But if you don’t have the resources or access to a functional medicine practitioner, I’ve got your back (and your uterus). Here are some natural remedies for period cramps:
Ginger (zingiber): Most people know that ginger is a great herb for the digestive tract, but don’t know that it’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic (reduces pain). One study found ginger to be as effect as NSAIDs for managing menstrual cramps (2). The other cool thing is if you’ve been using NSAIDs, ginger also helps protect the stomach from the damaging effects of these medications. It’s a win-win. Take 200-500mg four times per day for the first 3 days of your period. I like these two Pure Encapsulations Ginger and Integrative Therapeutics Ginger.
Magnesium: Truly an amazing nutrient, magnesium is also a muscle relaxant and, therefore, helpful in treating menstrual cramps. You can either take it every day or just during your period. A therapeutic dose is 100-500mg. Start with a lower amount and work your way up, too much magnesium can cause loose stool. This glycinate form is gentle on the digestive tract.
Nutrition: The food choices we make affect every cell in our body and have profound effects on our inflammation levels. Pain is inflammation. Women who have painful periods are found to have higher inflammatory signals more generally. Nutrition plays a huge role here. The standard American diet is a pro-inflammatory diet: packaged and processed foods, preservatives, additives, refined vegetable oils, sugar, sugar and more sugar. What is an anti-inflammatory diet? I’ll save the long answer for another day, but the short answer is eating real food! By this I mean things that come from the earth naturally: vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds, good quality oils, whole grains and legumes, wild fish, grass fed meats, pasture raised eggs and poultry. If these foods are the basis of your diet, you’re going to feel better. Period (no pun intended). Start there, and then fine tune what’s working for you and what’s not.
With much love,
Your fellow daughter, sister, wife, friend, someday mother & woman...