Hey Laura, what can I do for my painful periods?

Anonymous writes:

I read somewhere that there’s no medical/health reason for a woman to have a period every month.  Even one of the nurses at my gyno’s office mentioned that she just takes her birth control pills continuously so as not to have one.  I can’t put my finger on why, but this seems strange and wrong to me.  However, I have nothing to back my opinion except that that’s how women were designed and it’s best not mess with Design (and maybe that should be reason enough).  I have never taken my pills continuously, though it’s extremely tempting as my period wrecks havoc on my whole body.  Every month I get sick to my stomach, lose my appetite, and energy, and get cramps that make my whole body feel like hell.  When the cramps and aches get really bad I sometimes take Advil, but I don’t like to take it often, and it doesn’t always help much anyway.  Thoughts?  Suggestions?

Period: Full stop?
I’m with you, Anonymous. I really truly don’t believe people who try to tell me that there is no biological need for monthly menstruation. Particularly when those same people are usually trying to sell me a pill to halt my menstruation. There’s a huge conflict of interest there!

I found a sensible, pro-period statement from Jerilynn C. Prior, MD, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of British Columbia:

I think that the normal menstrual cycle is absolutely crucial to women’s health. My perspective is that the normal menstrual cycle is incredibly complex, it’s created from the brain, and it serves a general health purpose, not just a reproductive purpose.” She says that normal menstruation has beneficial effects on women’s bone and cardiovascular health.

To reduce it to ‘periods don’t matter’ is totally unscientific.*

In another WebMD.com article, she adds:

If you look at the normal physiology of the menstrual cycle, things like the breasts and the liver need a break from continuous high estrogen, and there’s a break during that time around the menstrual flow,” says Jerilynn Prior, MD, a professor of endocrinology at the University of British Columbia. “People who are touting this method say, ‘Well, women years ago didn’t get their periods as much as we do now,’ but it isn’t the same thing.” In the old days, women didn’t get their period as often because they were pregnant or breastfeeding, thus their lifetime estrogen levels were lower than today.*

I also ran across a preliminary finding that oral contraceptives contribute to long-term problems with your testosterone levels, which is often the culprit of sexual disfunction such as decreased desire, arousal, decreased lubrication and increased sexual pain.

The biggest problem I have with the over-simplification of “no biological need” is that we are more than just biological beings. Is there an emotional need? A spiritual need? A totally practical need for periods? The women in Anne Diamant’s The Red Tent certainly looked forward to their time together, resting and gossiping during their “monthly uncleanliness!”

I imagine if modern women practiced menstrual segregation - where we all enjoyed a week off from our jobs and household duties, and instead enjoyed 7 or so days of being waited on by our sister-wives - there would be far less of a push for artificial amenorrhea. :)

Anyway, I’m in no way suggesting we set up Red Tents in our backyards or anything, but I do think it is wise to look at a bigger picture than just what pharmaceutical companies are telling you about your feminine “biology.”

Help for the pain
It sounds like you’re suffering from textbook standard primary dysmenorrhea (a fancy doctor-way of saying “Sucky Period Side Effects”). Before you get going, you need to rule out other health issues that could be hiding behind your cramps. Endometriosis is a big cuprit.

If anything below rings a bell, go talk to your gynecologist.

An estimated 5 to 7 million (about 10 percent) American women suffer from endometriosis. Endometriosis usually affects women during their reproductive years and is a common cause of infertility. Many of these women do not seek medical attention because their symptoms are mistaken for normal menstrual discomfort. Many women who develop endometriosis have a greater history of yeast infections, hay fever, eczema, and food sensitivities.

Once you’ve established that it’s just plain old sucky period pain, there are plenty of non-pharmaceutical ways to fight back.

*****I’m not a doctor! Don’t do anything I suggest without consulting your doctor first, particularly if you are on some form of contraception. I don’t know how these natural remedies interact with the synthetic hormones your body is being subjected to.*********

Try increasing your magnesium levels, starting about 10 days before your period begins. There’s a significant body of evidence showing that administering magnesium can help relieve cramping. Do not go overboard with a magnesium supplement unless you have been prescribed one by your doctor after having a full blood panel done. You can get plenty of naturally-occurring magnesium by eating a diet rich in whole grains, nuts and seeds, dark green leafy vegetables. Too much calcium can retard your magnesium uptake, as will caffeine. Magnesium is absorbed through the gut, so if your overall gut health is poor, you need to work on that first - start taking a probiotic and reduce your dairy intake.

Eat a well balanced diet full of fresh fruits and veggies. Drink lots of water. Get adequate exercise. Keep stress and anxiety at a minimum. Isn’t if funny how those things seem to always play a role in our health? Hmmm. :)

Also, reducing your salt/sodium intake prior to your period will help you not retain so much water.

Angelica Root is purported to work wonders for cramps.

I had excellent results with Evening Primrose Oil as soon as I started feeling PMSy; it helped reduce my cramping, too.

Preliminary studies point to guava extract being significantly effective against dysmenorrheal symptoms. You might try taking Guava leaf tea to see if that helps.

Boiron makes a homeopathic remedy called Cyclease Cramp which combines many of the typical PMS-aiding homeopathics into one handy pill.

Homeopathics don’t always work for everyone, but I’ve always had great success with them!

Has been shown to help.

You know about hot water bottles and heat pads, of course, but those often tether you to the couch or your bed. Check out this wearable heat pad - invisible under clothing, you can take the pain relief with you!

Rainbow Light PMS Relief contains a soothing herb blend along with magnesium and other supportive vitamins and nutrients. If you don’t want to get all hippie making your own blended herbal concoctions, this might be a very good place to start!

Go natural down there
When I started using a Diva Cup, my cramping greatly diminished within about 4 periods. I know Diva Cups aren’t for everyone; if you’re a die-hard pad user, try washable cloth pads, or check out the other alternatives I wrote about here. When I used disposable pads for post-partum, I noticed a huge increase in my cramping and general Lady Bit discomfort. You might want to do your own experimenting to see if a more natural route helps reduce your cramps.

Have a baby!
Many women report a huge decrease of menstrual pain once they’ve had their first baby. If that’s not a solution you can use right now, it’s at least something to look forward to!


Another consideration
I would not be true to my hippie self if I didn’t mention my preferred alternative to synthetic hormonal birth control: Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).

This is not the rather ineffective “Rhythm Method.” It teaches you to recognize your body’s signals of fertility/ovulation and to use that knowledge to either avoid or attempt conception. It is very effective. BUT. It requires self control and times of abstinence, two of the dirtiest words when it comes to 21st century sex.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler, the pioneer of FAM, is a fantastic book even if you haven’t the least inclination toward FAM. You will marvel at the intricacies of your body’s physiology.

If you don’t want to bother learning all of the FAM tools, you can shell out the big bucks (which really isn’t that much compared to the life-time cost of birth control pills or other contraceptives) for the Lady-Comp Fertility Monitor. It charts your basal temperature for you, so you only have to remember to stick the thermometer in your mouth every day when you wake up. Basal body temperature is only one aspect of the FAM, but it can be a pretty good indicator over time, as your body’s temperature rises slightly before and during ovulation. The Lady-Comp is 99.3% accurate, but only as effective as your obedience to its little red-light/green-light indicators! Again: self-control. :)

Anyway, I always urge my lady friends to rethink their contraception choices. Thirty-plus years is a long time of pumping your body full of synthetic hormones and suppressing its natural (whether needful or not) processes. I believe there is a healthier way!

Hey Laura, I think... Hey Laura, what can I do for my painful periods?

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