When it comes to menstrual cramps, most women’s go-to solution is ibuprofen, advil, or some other over the counter pain killer. But did you know prolonged use of pain killers can cause a stomach ulcer? One of my family members had this happen to her. It can also cause all sorts of digestive problems, and in extreme cases, liver damage. Modern medicine is wonderful for short term ailments or as a temporary solution, but our bodies are not build to deal with it forever without painful side effects.
But there are so many natural solutions out there for pain, if you’re willing to have an open mind and change some of your daily habits. Often what these solutions boil down to is living a healthier life style with a better diet. Today I’d like to share with you some of the changes I’ve found beneficial to decreasing my own menstrual cramps.
Why do we get menstrual cramps?
While we may not be thrilled about it, most women have to accept the fact that periods come with cramps. In fact, one study states that “around 80% of women experience period pain at some stage in their lifetime”. But what causes that pain? Most of us know that our period is caused by the shedding of the uterine lining. That seems like it would hurt, but crazy enough, that’s actually not the cause of most menstrual cramps.
When you are on your period, your body sort goes into a (far less painful) mini-labor. The pain in your lower back is often caused by a slight spreading of the hips. While shedding its lining, your uterus contracts to help push everything out. These contractions can sometimes cause your uterus to push against nearby blood vessels, resulting in the oxygen supply being cut off to muscle tissue in the abdomen. This is what usually causes the pain we know as menstrual cramps.
Honey calms menstrual cramps almost as well as NSAIDs
Drinking hot tea is a one of my favorite things to do when I’m on my period. It helps me relax and the heat it generates in my stomach helps me to feel better. Some companies market specific teas to help with menstrual cramps, like chamomile and fennel teas. However, there is very little actual science behind this, and we have no real evidence that these teas actually help more than others.
But there is real evidence that honey helps with menstrual cramps. Though we still aren’t sure exactly why, several studies have demonstrated that regularly including honey in your diet can significantly decrease menstrual pain. In one 2017 study, they used honey alongside mefenamic acid. The groups that ate honey for several weeks leading up to and during their period showed almost the same amount of pain reduction as the groups took the mefenamic acid. (Mefenamic acid is an NSAID and works similarly to ibuprofen.)
I have noticed an improvement in my own menstrual pain since I started drinking my tea with honey instead of sugar. Give it a try and see if it works! If nothing else, honey is very healthy for you, and drinking tea helps you to stay hydrated, which is another great way to avoid painful menstrual cramps.
Heat helps your abdominal muscles relax
Due to the natural fight or flight response our bodies have, pain causes our muscles to tense. When we are in continual pain for extended periods of time, it can often become hard to get those muscles to relax. Heat “stimulates your sensory receptors to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain”. While this can result in basically instant pain relief, it will also help your muscles relax. By essentially turning off the pain receptors, you allow your mind to relax, and in turn it will allow your muscles to relax for the time being.
There are multiple ways to use heat to help with menstrual cramps. Long steaming hot baths are one of my favorites. Psychological stress can increase your menstrual pain, and long baths will also help you to relax and take care of your mental health. A hot shower can do the same thing.
Heating pads are also an ideal way to help with painful menstrual cramps. Several months ago I made my own heating pad and filled with it dry rice. Dry corn or beans also work well. It is easy to heat these up in the microwave and use them again and again. It might be a good idea to invest in a cover for this kind of heating pad, as the actual pad can not be washed. If you’re not a crafty person, you can easily find heating pads online–they even have some adorable microwaveable animal plush heating pads. And in a pinch, a water bottle filled with almost-boiling water and wrapped in a towel works too.
Yoga can release the body’s natural pain killers
Our natural response to menstrual cramps is to lie in bed or on the couch because it hurts to move. While vigorous exercise probably isn’t an option for most of us when we’re on our periods, gentle exercise is actually one of the best ways to relieve menstrual pain. As Elle says in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
Endorphins do make you happy, but they are also your body’s natural pain killers. Endorphins are a chemical neurotransmitter that interact with opiate receptors in our brain–creating the same sort of reaction our brains have to morphine or codeine. One way that we can produce endorphins in our body is by regularly exercising. In this way, we can reduce not only menstrual pain, but also the amount of daily stress we are dealing with.
Even if you aren’t exercising regularly, gentle exercise while you’re on your period can help reduce pain from menstrual cramps. One thing I love to do on my period is a menstrual cycle yoga routine. Yoga gets me moving, but it’s still gentle enough that I’m not putting myself in more pain. The routine below is with one of my favorite YouTubers–her voice is very calming, and she helps you to really focus on your body and how it feels. I encourage you to give this routine a try. I’ve found it very helpful with my own menstrual cramps.
Dehydration can cause muscle cramps
The recommended water intake is 6-8 glasses of water a day, but let’s be real–very few of us actually drink that much. I struggle with drinking enough water myself. But drinking water is extremely important during your period. Your body is working over time trying to flush everything out of your uterus, and the pain it might be in causes your body to have to work harder just to do normal every day tasks.
When your body doesn’t have enough water, it actually starts retaining water. It basically has to ration its water supply because it doesn’t know when you’ll be drinking more water. This causes bloating, which can increase your menstrual pain. Not to mention that lack of water causes headaches, muscle fatigue, and a myriad of other unpleasant symptoms.
If water isn’t usually your preferred drink, try drinking tea or flavored water. You can also try eating foods that are high in water content. Most fruits and vegetables naturally have a lot of water in them. Try watermelon, cucumbers, celery, or even a salad. Yogurt and cottage cheese are also good options. Whatever you eat or drink, try to avoid alcohol on your period, as it can cause dehydration.
Psychological stress might increase menstrual pain
After everything we’ve discussed in this post, I think it’s pretty clear that there’s a link between psychological stress and menstrual pain. Multiple studies have been done on this topic and they’ve all been pretty consistent–your mental state absolutely effects your physical state. Prolonged psychological distress causes muscle tension and a decrease in endorphins.
So the best way to reduce your menstrual pain is to take care of yourself mentally. Allow yourself to take care of your own well-being. Regularly do things that relax you and make you happy. Yes, you have responsibilities and people that are counting on you, but you also have a responsibility to take care of yourself. Keep your life filled with positive people and experiences. Remember it’s okay to tell people no. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself!
That’s all I’ve got for today. Stay home and stay safe. Until next time!
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