Ah yes. We’re all in the know as far as how period cramps can put a bit of a dampener (pardon the pun) on your day! Menstrual cramps are something that most women will encounter at some point or another, to varying extents. Some women hardly have any pain at all - whilst others can spend the good part of a week chuffing of painkillers, hugging warmed beanbags and lamenting their womanhood,
Menstrual cramps are caused by the uterus contracting to help loosen its lining. The pain experienced is actually a result of the uterus contracting and pressing against nearby blood vessels, cutting off the oxygen supply to the muscle tissues of the uterus. It’s this reduction in oxygen supply that results in pain.
Stress, poor nutrition as well as the presence of endometriosis or fibroids are major factors in influencing the degree of period cramps.
There are a number of ways to soothe and lessen the degree of period cramps naturally:
1. Watch your nutrition
As tempting as it is to tuck into a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, the unfortunate reality is: the worse you eat, the worse you feel! Foods to stay away from include those high is processed sugars and “bad fats” - eg. pizza, cake, milk or white chocolate, ice-cream… sorry ladies! These foods are considered inflammatory to the body, exacerbating contractions (and hence the pain).
Foods to enjoy include those rich in “good fats” omega-3 fatty acids, such as eggs and salmon as well as incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet such as tomatoes, berries, nuts and citrus fruits.
Eating foods rich in magnesium including bananas and leafy greens are good for keeping water retention levels in check and other power foods such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale assist to regulate estrogen levels - also helping to lessen cramps.
Reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption a few days before your period also helps, given that these cause blood vessels to constrict - which further increase the chances of cramping.
But it’s not all doom and gloom ladies… magnesium rich dark chocolate is good for easing cramps! That’s right… chocolate. But it has to be dark chocolate.
A good way to ensure that you are getting all of your appropriate essential levels of zinc, magnesium, vitamin D and B vitamins is to take a daily multivitamin as a compliment to a healthy diet. Drinking enough water is key to ensuring proper hydration, oxygenation and water retention levels too!
2. Light exercise
Gentle exercise and deep breathing is a great way to get the blood gently flowing, oxygenating the body and vital muscles. It is also a source of endorphins which counteract the cramps.
Walking around the block may be truly the last thing that you feel like doing when the cramps are in full swing. There are other forms of exercise that are brilliant including yoga, swimming or even a bit of fun between the sheets with your partner, if you can muster the enthusiasm!
Exercise will have the biggest positive impact on menstrual cramps when done regularly as part of your lifestyle - serving the strengthen your core and abdomen muscles.
Simply put : Heat opens blood vessels, improves blood flow and dissipates the pain.
Warm baths, heat pads, hot water bottles and even your cat are top notch solutions to the pain relief factor.
4. Herbal assistance
Any herbs that are known to assist with reducing muscle spasms (anti-spasmodic) are good to use.
Clary sage essential oil rubbed on the lower abdomen at first pain is renowned for its estrogen regulating and anti-spasmodic powers.
Epsom’s salts are also fantastic given its high magnesium levels. Many also swear by herbal teas - largely due to their anti-inflammatory powers. These include teas such as: ginger, chamomile, fennel, lavender, red raspberry and many others.
5. Get enough rest
This not only includes getting enough sleep but also getting enough down-time to destress, relax, unwind and reconnect with ourselves. Stress is a major cause of cramps which is only exacerbated by poor nutrition and exhaustion. Regular sleep habits are vital for overall health and vitality and an important part of alleviating the painful monthly cycle.
Look after your beautiful self!
*In the case of severe menstrual cramping it is always advised to seek professional medical advice and opinion.