In part 3 of our series on PMS symptoms, irregular periods, painful periods, and abnormally heavy periods, we discuss painful periods. You’ll learn about the types of painful periods, their symptoms, and some ways to treat them naturally.
Dysmenorrhea is classified as painful periods. There are two ways that we look at dysmenorrhea, primary dysmenorrhea, which is the most common cause and is the absence of physical abnormalities or the absence of any identifiable pelvic disease. So the uterus is normal, and the ovaries are normal, there are no infections or nothing funky going on with the reproductive organs; that’s primary dysmenorrhea. This is the most common type.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is when there are actual physical abnormalities within those organs. This includes endometriosis, which is when we have a uterine lining that grows outside of the uterus, pelvic inflammatory disease, and adhesion. So if someone has had any trauma to the abdominal area, whether through surgeries or accidents, that scar tissue and those adhesions can cause the periods to be really painful. Ovarian cysts, polyps, and uterine fibroids are some other secondary causes that can cause periods to be painful as well.
Causes of Dysmenorrhea
Causes of dysmenorrhea include:
- Pelvic congestion, which is the lack of blood flow and oxygen to the uterus. It can cause pain, and in Chinese medicine, we call this a code uterus. If you think about it, blood has a type of energy to it. Suppose we’re not getting any blood to a particular area. In that case, that area starts to atrophy, it starts to lose its life, and it gets cold, so I like to use that overlap of Chinese medicine and Western medicine and understanding what can happen with painful periods.
- An increase in prostaglandin production. Prostaglandins are inflammatory signalars, cellular signals. They’re normal; whenever we have any inflammation, we produce prostaglandins; however, if we are in an inflamed state or eat more inflammatory foods, then we produce more prostaglandins. Those prostaglandins cause us to have more uterine cramping and even some loose stools that we can see within our periods.
- Hormonal imbalances, such as estrogen dominance. We talked about how progesterone and estrogen both have different times in the cycle where they should be highest. If we don’t have enough progesterone, that estrogen continues to dominate. If estrogen continues to dominate, we typically have more painful periods, and part of that reason is that estrogen is the grower. It grows that uterine lining. If it continues to grow, we have more uterine lining to shed. This means that we probably need more cramping to get rid of that uterine lining.
How Do We Treat Painful Periods
- Reducing inflammatory foods, especially right before the period. Dairy is inflammatory, cheese, milk, yogurt. Animal products, including beef, pork, poultry, can be very inflammatory. If you are a meat-eater, I suggest eating clean meat, so grass-fed meat, cage-free meat, meat that has not been treated with any hormones or antibiotics are best.
- Staying away from deep-fried foods, processed sugars, and even trans fats found in our snacks like french fries and potato chips. Staying away from those inflammatory foods decreases your overall inflammation, which decreases your pain during your period.
- Maintaining healthy bowels and increasing fiber. Going back to that fiber piece, it’s beneficial that we’re having regular bowel movements so we can get rid of any toxins that are within the body and so that we can get rid of excess estrogens.
- Staying active is essential.
- Avoid smoking. Smoking is highly inflammatory; it brings a lot of cellular damage to the body.
- Reducing stress can be helpful. If we’re stressed or we’re anxious, our body is automatically in a more tight state, and we’re holding on to more tension. This causes more pain because you hold that tension within your body; you hold it within your uterus. So when your uterus is already constricting and relaxing to try to get rid of that lining, the extra attention from stress makes it worse.
- Warm applications are super helpful; hot packs or Epsom salt baths are great.
- Uterine massages can be helpful.
- And then taking anti-inflammatories through diet or supplements or herbs. Vitamin E, magnesium, fish oil, or evening primrose oil can help decrease inflammation. Cramp bark and Jamaican dogwood are some herbs that I also use. Progesterone can be really helpful for this as well. I suggest speaking to a doctor before you start any of these supplements, to make sure that you’re treating yourself individually and that you’re meeting the needs that your body has.
If you’d like to discuss natural treatments for painful periods, schedule a free brief meet and greet with one of our naturopathic doctors by calling 480-588-6856.