Period pain is the most common gynaecological symptom reported by women and menstruators of reproductive age, but did you know that period pain isn’t actually normal?! I know right, it’s mind blowing. We are often led to believe that period pain is normal and all part of being a woman or female. And if you do happen to experience period pain you are labelled as ‘one of the unlucky ones’.
I know first hand just how horrible and debilitating period pain can be! When I came off the oral contraceptive pill in my early 20’s, little did I know my periods to come were going to be excruciatingly painful. On the first 1-2 days of my period, Every Single Period, the pain was so severe I could barely function. I was bedridden with pain, having to (but not wanting to) rely on ibuprofen and holding out for the pain relief to kick in and take the edge off. The pain would often be accompanied by loose bowels (more on this shortly) and sometimes nausea too.
It wasn’t until I started to address my diet and lifestyle and implement some of the natural solutions for period pain I’ll be discussing in this article, that I finally began to reduce the severity of pain cycle after cycle until I became completely period pain-free!! Now, I rarely ever have period pain and if I do on the odd occasion, it is incredibly mild and manageable.
Period pain isn’t something you have to struggle, live or put up with. You really don’t! Nor do you have to rely on painkillers or heavy pain relief medication just to be able to function in your daily life. There are so many natural solutions and strategies you too can implement in your life that can reduce and manage your period pain, and maybe even eliminate it entirely!
Types of Period Pain
Dysmenorrhoea is the medical term for menstrual pain or painful menstruation. There are two types of dysmenorrhoea, primary dysmenorrhoea and secondary dysmenorrhoea.
Primary dysmenorrhoea is menstrual pain or cramping that occurs just before and/or during your period. The pain is often felt in the lower pelvis or in the lower back, or both. Period pain is typically experienced just before your period starts and/or on the first 1-2 days of your period. This type of pain is usually mild to moderate and can be relieved by natural treatment or with pain relief such as ibuprofen.
As your uterine lining starts to break down in preparation for your period, it releases prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that play a role in a variety of physiological processes in the body – such as in pain and inflammation. In regards to your period, prostaglandins stimulate the muscles in the uterus to contract to help shed the lining. Prostaglandins are a normal and necessary part of the process. They are usually at their highest on the first day of your period and levels gradually go down as your bleeding continues and your uterus continues to shed its lining. However, too many prostaglandins can cause pain, like period pain.
This type of period pain and having too many prostaglandins is often caused by excess inflammation (usually due to diet, poor lifestyle, and nutrient deficiencies), hormone imbalances (like having too much oestrogen and/or not enough progesterone), and nutrient deficiencies (such as magnesium, omega 3s, and zinc for example).
Secondary dysmenorrhoea on the other hand is period pain that is caused by a disorder of the reproductive organs. This type of pain is considered to be more severe and can feel like throbbing, burning, searing or stabbing pain. It often is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dizziness, faintness, radiating pain, etc. It may start a few days or so before the period and usually lasts longer throughout the period, and sometimes at other times during the cycle. For some, the pain tends to get worse over time.
Secondary dysmenorrhoea is caused by conditions such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, uterine fibroids, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Ectopic pregnancy can also cause severe pain.
Period Pain, Poops & Prostaglandins
Ever experienced loose bowels or diarrhoea on your period, especially when you have period pain? Well this is caused by those pesky prostaglandins I talked about above. Just as prostaglandins stimulate contractions in the uterus to release its lining, they can also stimulate contractions in the bowel, resulting in more frequent bowel movements. And if you are someone who has a high amount of prostaglandins, which causes period pain, this too can cause loose poops and diarrhoea during your period.
Natural Solutions for Period Pain
Acute Relief / Short-term
- Magnesium – Magnesium is incredible for both acute period pain relief and period pain prevention. It helps to reduce prostaglandins during your period and prevents the formation of too many prostaglandins when taken throughout the cycle. Magnesium also helps to relax the uterus. I recommend 300mg of magnesium bisglycinate daily.
- Fish oil (Omega 3) – Omega 3s are essential fatty acids found in oily fatty fish, fish oil, nuts, and seeds. They contain anti-inflammatory properties, which help to reduce excess levels of inflammation-promoting prostaglandins that cause pain and cramping in the uterus. The best absorbed forms of Omega 3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA, which are found in salmon, sardines, and fish oil.
Another form of Omega 3s is ALA that is found in plant-based foods like walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. However, ALA is poorly converted into DHA and EPA. Including fatty fish in your diet a few times a week and/or supplementing with a good quality Omega 3 (DHA & EPA) supplement can be very beneficial in preventing and reducing period pain. If you do not eat fish (i.e. you are vegan or are allergic) you can supplement with an algae-based omega 3 supplement. Algae/Algal oil is naturally rich in EPA and DHA, and is just as bioavailable as fish oil.
- Zinc – Zinc inhibits prostaglandins, reduces inflammation, and can help prevent period pain. Zinc has also shown to be an effective immune-modulating treatment for endometriosis.
- Turmeric / Curcumin – You may know turmeric as the yellow spice used in common Indian dishes. This spice has so many therapeutic benefits thanks to its active ingredient, curcumin. Curcumin reduces inflammation and prostaglandins, which not only helps with preventing and relieving period pain, but is also a great supplement if you experience heavy menstrual bleeding. As well as reducing inflammation and prostaglandins, it can also lower excess oestrogen, all of which can help to reduce heavy menstrual bleeding. Both turmeric and curcumin can be found as concentrated supplements and are generally safe to take all cycle round.
- Ginger – Similar to turmeric, ginger also has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties that have shown to be quite effective in relieving menstrual pain and cramps. Ginger can also help relieve symptoms such as nausea and bloating that can be associated with period pain. Ginger can be taken as a tea, supplement, or tincture.
- Chamomile tea – You may think of chamomile tea as a tea to help you relax and sleep at night or relieves digestive symptoms. But did you know chamomile tea can actually help period pain? The herb chamomile has antispasmodic properties, which means it helps to stop muscle spasms. Chamomile tea has shown to relieve muscle spasms in the uterus and relieve painful menstrual cramps.
- Cramp bark – Just as the name suggests, the plant, cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), can do absolute wonders for period cramps! Cramp bark has antispasmodic properties and helps to prevent and ease painful contractions and spasms of the uterus. It is usually taken as a tincture and can be taken a few days leading up to your period and on the first day or two of your period.
- Heat pack – Oh the old faithful heat pack! I’m sure nearly everyone who has ever had period pain has used a hot water bottle or wheat bag at some point to help ease their pain and cramping. I sure have! Applying heat to the lower abdomen helps to relax the muscles within the uterus and increases blood flow to the area, which can help ease pain. You can use a hot water bottle, heat pack or wheat bag. I personally love Wili Heat Bags. They use lupins (a type of legume) instead of wheat, and can be used as heat and cold packs.
- Warm bath – Just like heat packs, having a warm bath can also help to relieve period pain. The warmth of the water will help to relax the uterine muscles and reduce pain. Make sure the water temperature is warm and comfortable and not scalding hot. You could even add in some magnesium flakes or epsom salts to help ease cramping.
- TENS device – TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation and is a device or small machine that works by using pulse therapy to interrupt pain signals being sent to the brain. Meaning, no pain signal = no pain! It’s a noninvasive method of delivering small electrical pulses through the skin via sticky pads (called electrodes) placed on the lower abdomen and lower back. TENS machines are used for all sorts of pain, such as back pain, arthritis, labour pain, and yes, even period pain. Ovira and ZoeTech are two Australian based companies who have created their own TENS devices to specifically help with pain relief from period pain and cramps to endometriosis pain.
- Exercise – For some women and menstruators, exercise during their period can be very effective in relieving period pain. Gentle exercise like walking, stretching, yoga, Pilates, or swimming, can help to get the blood circulating, relieve physical tension, as well as promote the release of endorphins, which are hormones that not only elevate your mood but are natural pain relievers too. It isn’t necessary to do a long or intense workout during your period, if anything, it is the time to go slow and be gentle on yourself.
For some of us, we may not find exercise during the first few days of our period appealing at all or we may find it more draining than uplifting. Instead, for you, rest might be what you need. And that’s okay too! Exercise throughout the rest of the cycle can be just as beneficial for preventing period pain than no exercise at all. Always listen to your body. You know your body best!
Addressing the Root Cause / Long-term
- Clean up the diet – To reduce excess inflammation in the body that contributes to period pain, it is so important to remove (or at the very least drastically reduce) inflammatory foods. This includes refined sugars, processed and refined foods, vegetable oils, junk foods, commercially produced meats, processed meats, artificial food additives, soft drinks, energy drinks, alcohol, and potentially even gluten and cow’s dairy.
Instead, fill your daily diet with fresh, wholefoods and anti-inflammatory foods, such as fresh vegetables and fruits (particularly berries), good quality grass-fed and/or organic meats and eggs, fatty fish, whole grains, healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut products, raw nuts and seeds, etc.), and herbs and spices.
- Reduce chemical and toxin exposure – One of the biggest inflammatory triggers that can cause inflammation, hormone imbalances, and period pain is environmental toxins called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). These toxins enter the bloodstream and can mimic our own oestrogen, but in a much more disruptive way. EDCs cause an accumulation of circulating oestrogen in the body, which causes the uterine lining to become thicker than it is supposed to between periods. This thicker lining means that it can cause more cramping and pain during your period, and for many women it can cause heavier periods too.
EDCs are found in plastics, such as food packaging and food storage, beauty products from lotions, shampoo and conditioner, sunscreen, deodorants, perfumes, make-up, etc., household cleaning products, and even in our foods from residual herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, etc., and so much more!
Unfortunately EDCs are everywhere in our modern world, but we can make conscious choices to reduce our EDC exposure. As a good place to start, this can include swapping plastic food storage containers and drink bottles for glass and stainless steel. Replace your cosmetics, body and hair care products, as well as household cleaning products for natural and eco-friendly products. There are so many options available these days! I use Nourished Life* for my one-stop-shop for natural house and beauty products. Buy organic fruits, vegetables, meats and eggs, if you can. If you’re on a tight budget, follow the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 guidelines and/or grow your own produce, ensure meats are hormone and antibiotic free, and ideally free-range and grass-fed, and eggs are either organic, biodynamic, free-range and pasture-raised, or from your own chickens at home.
- Support hormone detoxification through liver and bowels – Oestrogen, along with other hormones and toxins, is processed through the liver and turned into waste products ready to be eliminated from the body (aka through the bowels as poop!). Poor liver detoxification and irregular bowel movements (constipation) can contribute to an accumulation and recirculation of ‘second-hand’ oestrogen in the body. This recirculation of recycled oestrogen that was meant to be excreted from the body can enter back into the bloodstream and cause excess oestrogen levels, contributing to all sorts of hormone imbalance symptoms like period pain, heavy periods, and PMS.
Reducing your chemical and toxin exposure (as mentioned above) can significantly help reduce the burden that is placed on the liver when trying to break down and detoxify these toxins. Also, working on gut health and ensuring you are drinking enough water and eating adequate amounts of dietary fibre to promote healthy daily bowel movements will ensure you are clearing out toxic wastes and recycled oestrogen from the body.
- Stress management – Did you know that stress can actually make period pain worse? Yep, it totally can! For me, I rarely experience period pain anymore, but when I’ve been under a lot of stress in a menstrual cycle, you can bet my next period is going to be more painful than usual – especially if I haven’t put my ‘period pain prevention plan’ in place the week before my period is due. Some of these natural solutions for period pain are wonderful stress management tools – exercise, yoga, warm baths, acupuncture, massage, and even magnesium can all be so beneficial in reducing stress. Talk therapy, journalling, rest, meditation, breathing techniques, guided relaxation, and time in nature are some other kinds of stress management strategies you may like to explore.
- Acupuncture / Acupressure – Acupuncture and acupressure are Traditional Chinese Medicine therapies. Acupuncture uses very fine needles gently inserted in the skin in various, but very specific, areas (or points) on the body. Acupressure is very similar to acupuncture, except rather than using fine needles, manual pressure is applied to specific points on the body. Both acupuncture and acupressure can help to prevent and relieve period pain (as well as address hormone imbalances and other cycle concerns). These therapies are best done by a qualified Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor/Practitioner or Acupuncturist. However, once you’ve been shown the correct acupressure points for period pain relief, you can easily do these yourself at home.
- Abdominal massage therapies – There are various specialised abdominal massage therapies that can help with preventing and relieving period pain. Some of which include: Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy®, Mercier Therapy, and Womb & Fertility Massage Therapy. Each modality uses different techniques and strategies to relieve pelvic congestion, increase blood circulation, release tension, and more!
- Castor oil packs – A castor oil pack is an external therapy done on the lower abdomen. The practice is done by applying castor oil, which comes from the castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, to the lower belly and pelvic area (in the area between your hips). From there a cloth is placed over the oiled area followed by a heat pack. This practice is best done lying down. Castor oil helps to move and cleanse lymph and blood, and helps to reduce inflammation and congestion – which is great for period pain prevention! This movement that castor oil promotes can help to break up internal adhesions and detoxify tissues. The application of heat increases circulation and the absorption of the oil into the tissues. Castor oil packs are not recommended during your period, so it is best to do this a few times a week throughout the rest of your cycle. It is also not recommended during pregnancy. If you are trying to conceive, only do castor oil packs during your follicular phase before ovulation and avoid during your luteal phase. Castor oil is not to be taken internally.
- Continue with magnesium, zinc, omega 3, and/or turmeric/curcumin supplementation either all cycle long or the week leading up to your period. Therapeutic modalities such as massage and acupuncture throughout the cycle can also help with period pain management and prevention.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of period pain relief strategies or solutions. Depending on the severity of pain and you as an individual, some of these natural solutions may work better for you than others. Some may provide relief in the moment when your period pain kicks in, whereas others require persistence and are best continued throughout the entire cycle, or at the very least, taken or applied the week leading up to your period. Since period pain is a messenger telling you that something is up, it is recommended to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes for lasting pain-free period results.
It’s also worth mentioning, you do not need to do all of these natural solutions or take all of the recommended supplements and herbs. I recommend improving the diet, replacing beauty and cleaning products with natural ones, selecting a supplement or two, as well as another couple of natural solutions and strategies to try for at least 2-3 cycles to determine if they are working for you.
When to Seek Help
If your period pain is so severe that you cannot perform your normal daily activities and/or is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, feeling faint or actually fainting, and you struggle to find relief, it’s time to see your doctor and have this investigated. Experiencing pain like this, again, isn’t normal, nor is it ‘just a part of being a woman’!
Conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis, uterine fibroids, and pelvic inflammatory disease, as well as ruptured ovarian cysts and intrauterine device use can cause varying degrees of pain. For many, these conditions and scenarios often cause severe pain.
If you feel overwhelmed, not sure where to start or what solutions would be right for you, or if you have tried some natural solutions already and haven’t seen results, I’d love to support you to help you find relief from period pain – and for good!
I work with clients 1:1 through naturopathy consultations to help them uncover the cause of their period pain or cycle concerns and provide effective treatment solutions for better periods and happy hormones.
If you’d like to learn more on how to work with me or book your appointment, you can head here.
Medical Disclaimer: The herbs and supplements mentioned in this article are for informational purposes only. It is recommended to speak with your healthcare provider, Naturopath or Nutritionist before starting any new nutritional and/or herbal supplement to determine if it is right for you. The information provided in this article is not to be used as medical advice.
*Affiliate links – These links are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click the link and make a purchase. Some affiliate links within this article will provide you, the customer, a discount at the checkout. Your support makes free content like this possible and I am so grateful for that! There is absolutely no pressure to buy any products I recommend.
Briden, L. (2018). The Period Repair Manual. Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd.
Elboim-Gabyzon, M., & Kalichman, L. (2020). Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) for Primary Dysmenorrhea: An Overview. International Journal of Women’s Health, 12, 1-10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6955615/
Khalesi, Z. B., Beiranvand, S. P., & Bokaie, M. (2019). Efficacy of Chamomile in the Treatment of Premenstrual Syndrome: A Systematic Review. Journal of Pharmacopuncture, 22(4), 204–209. https://www.journal-jop.org/journal/view.html?doi=10.3831/KPI.2019.22.028
Osayande, A. S., & Mehulic, S. (2014). Diagnosis and Initial Management of Dysmenorrhea. American Family Physician, 89(5), 341-346. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2014/0301/p341.html
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