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Periods & Cramps: A Naturopathic Approach for Management

Updated: Sep 3, 2021



Period pain is a monthly problem for as many as 45-95% women. A vast majority of females would say to these few without monthly cramps, “How does it feel to be God’s favorites?”


DYSMENORRHEA

Period pain is experienced at the bottom of the belly, lower back area, the lower parts of the vagina and the thighs. They may be described as crampy, colicky or dull in nature. Pain associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle is called dysmenorrhea; better known as cramps.


Dysmenorrhea is linked to a luteal phase that consists of lower than normal levels of progesterone steroid hormone, produced by enzymes known as cyclooxygenases (COX). COX-2 is the form that is associated with inflammation. Elevated levels of progesterone leads to a built up in prostaglandin level, resulting in the cramping and pain associated with periods. High levels of prostaglandin encourages the contraction of the arteries of the uterus, and the uterus itself . The pain tends to get less intense as prostaglandin levels decrease, i.e., with less lining present in the uterus.


There are two different types of dysmenorrhea; primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhea (PD) usually starts between 3 days prior, to about hours before the start of the flow of menstrual bleeding, and decreases as the days go by. This form of dysmenorrhea may first begin soon after a female has her very first period. Secondary dysmenorrhea begins later on in life; the pain may begin days before a menstrual flow, and gets worse as the flow continues and may even continue after the menstrual flow has ended. This type of dysmenorrhea may be signs of endometriosis, fibroids, adenomyosis or congenital anatomical abnormalities.


Pain management are different for primary and secondary dysmenorrhea. Most women with primary dysmenorrhea depend on pharmaceutical interventions like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for relief, as they act as painkiller. NSAIDs blocks COX-2, limiting the production of prostaglandin, thus limiting the amount and intensity of pain experienced. Like most pharmaceutics, NSAIDs are not without side effects. Gas, heartburn, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, vomiting, as well as irritability, pain, bleeding and ulcer of the stomach are side effects of NSAIDs.


NATUROPATHIC APPROACHES

More women are becoming aware of the effects of taking NSAIDs and are willing to experiment and try more gentle and healthy ways to relieve themselves of this monthly ordeal. There are at least 6 different naturopathic approaches to dysmenorrhea: botanicals, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, supplements, exercise and diet.


Botanicals

A number of botanicals are used to relieve PD. They range from herbs with some of the following characteristics; uterine tonic, analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, pelvic decongestant, hormone modulators, circulatory stimulant and adaptogen. Some of the botanicals used are; ginger, vitex, red raspberry leaves, black cohosh and wild yam.

One of the most researched and effective being ginger, if taken in powder form at a dose of 500mg, 3 times daily, starting two days before and until the third day of the period.


Acupuncture

Acupuncture works by making it possible for Qi (“life force”, “the energy that gives life” or “vital force”) to flow smoothly. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, theoretically, it is the decline or lack of supply of Qi and/or blood getting to the uterus that results in PD; painful menstrual bleeding.

A Naturopathic doctor may apply needles at different points for different patients, based on their overall diagnosed type of dysmenorrhea and based on their individual needs. A common point for treating primary dysmenorrhea is Spleen 6 (SP 6).


Supplements

Research has shown that some comfort and improvement on the level and intensity of cramps in PD are brought about with the consumption and increase of these following supplements; Omega 3, Magnesium, Thiamine (B1), Niacin (B3), Calcium, Iron, Vitamin D, Vitamin E.


Hydrotherapy

Heat helps to get blood moving. Increased circulation has been seen to help with lowering the intensity of the pain related to menstruation. Application of heat to the lower abdominal area by means of heating pads or hot water bags/bottles, as well as hot baths have been used for many years. Vaginal steaming, which is becoming very popular lately, is also one way to apply heat to the vagina, rectum and lower abdominal areas. It is advised that one should not steam while bleeding, but should do so before and after the onset of blood. (There will be a blog on Vaginal/Yoni steaming in the near future. Please stay tuned.)


Exercise

Regular exercise has shown to reduce the incidence of PD. Consistency of both high intensity exercises like Zumba and aerobics, and low intensity exercises like stretching and yoga will produce favorable response for those with PD, as exercise lowers prostaglandins, increases level of endorphins, increases blood flow and loosens muscles of the lower abdomen.


Diet

A healthy diet that's inclusive of all the food groups in the right quantities is best for managing PD. Breakfast is important as studies have shown that skipping breakfast is associated with higher levels of pain. Eating warm foods and staying away from cold foods help, as does cutting back on sugar, salt, caffeine and alcohol. It may be beneficial to eat little food that are inflammatory, like processed foods (foods in can, cold cut meats), red meats, and consume more foods that are nourishing and nutritious, like green leafy veggies, fresh fruits, whole grains, fish, eggs, fiber. It should also be noted that extreme dieting increase the chances of dysmenorrhea.


It is good to be in tune with and know your bodies. There is no shame in seeking help with managing your period pain. Check with your primary care practitioner and your gynecologist if your period pain is uncontrollable without the help of drugs every month and be on the lookout for signs of secondary dysmenorrhea.


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Daneia G. Jones

Student of Naturopathic Medicine

Birth & Postpartum Doula

Instagram: @raphashandswomenshealth


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