Periods can be rough for some women. The female body prepares for the chance to have a baby each month, and when that doesn’t happen, the body sheds the lining of the uterus it prepared and sends it out of the body through menstrual bleeding. The shedding of the uterine lining is what we call a “period,” though a woman’s menstrual and hormonal cycle happens for an entire month and affects every area of a woman’s health.
Menstruation can be a hormonally turbulent situation–especially the first few times, as you’re still trying to figure out how to live with these changes during puberty. This young age can be confusing, making periods even more difficult for some young women. Beyond that, there are some women whose periods cause more severe pain, sometimes called dysmenorrhea. This can come in the form of heavier blood flow, largely irregular cycles, or more painful menstrual cramps. This is not normal, however common it may be. It’s not a sign of good health.
The “Quick Fix” isn’t Necessarily the Best Fix
When you have a heavier, irregular, or painful period, looking for a quick fix can be tempting. This quick fix often comes in the form of birth control pills or an over-the-counter painkiller. There are many reasons birth control isn’t the best answer to period pains, not the least of which is that it doesn’t fix the problem. Birth control is a quick mask, not a quick fix.
The good news is that there’s hope to restore health and proper function so that your period doesn’t have to be unbearable, and you don’t have to look for a way to “turn it off.”
WHAT CAUSES A PAINFUL PERIOD?
Puberty starts in the “tween” years, but it’s affected by all the years leading up to that time. What the body is fed and nurtured with when it’s young will impact how its growth and health will show itself down the road.
Several things can knock the body far enough out of homeostasis throughout the years to affect what happens during puberty. These are things you might not think much about, such as soy-based baby formulas or eating out of plastics – especially plastics that have gone through a microwave — have a significant impact. This is especially true if you’ve been using them for a while. Other substances like glyphosate, fertilizers, and other agricultural chemicals in the environment or food eaten will also influence how the body operates and can impact periods in particular.
Yeast or bacterial overgrowth in the gut also causes period pain. Yeast is linked to estrogens and leads to more estrogen dominance. Estrogens thicken the endometrial lining, so an overgrowth means more to clear out, leading to heavy bleeding and a painful period as the body breaks down more tissues.
This can also lead to endometriosis, where the endometrial lining grows outside the uterus, such as fallopian tubes, ovaries, the wall of the uterus, or the ligaments around it.
You need to be careful with antibiotics, which can cause yeast to grow. If your teen had frequent ear infections as a child, which led to multiple antibiotics, they are more likely to have estrogen dominance.
HOW IS A HEAVY, PAINFUL PERIOD FIXED?
There is not a one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to things that happen within the human body. Each body processes things like food and the surrounding environment differently, meaning there isn’t one blanket answer to anything. An abnormal period is no exception. The way to address the problem depends on what else is happening in the body.
Is the body estrogen-dominant? If so, it may mean the liver needs attention. Is the body progesterone-dominant, leading to a need to work on mental stress? Are there allergies or a gut infection that needs to be addressed? Are there other toxins from your environment you’re regularly taking in? Is there something else going on in the body?
DON’T EXACERBATE THE PROBLEM YOU’RE TRYING TO FIX.
Finding out what’s going on within the body that needs to be addressed is the first step to finding the answer. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lifestyle changes to be made to help ease abnormal periods.
- Get rid of the plastic in your life. Use glass storage containers instead and address these hidden sources of plastic.
- Detox from sugar. Sugar affects your hormones, feeds infections and bacteria, and worsens inflammation. Detoxing from sugar helps your body as a whole and your gut in particular.
- Stop eating soy. Soy affects your thyroid and your hormones.
- Keep the lines of communication open and clear. Puberty can be challenging for parents and teens, and stress can affect your overall health, including your period. Be honest with each other; remember you’re on the same team journeying toward adulthood–not fighting each other. If you need help keeping conversation honest but civil, read our tips on round table discussions around the family table.
- Remember that it’s not just about taking an herb or a pill. Healing your body is a process that can be hard and take time, but lifestyle changes to heal the body will reap far more rewards than just a less painful period.
What can be Done, now?
A woman’s menstrual cycle may be painful for a few reasons, depending on what’s happening within her body. For this reason, it’s impossible to suggest a single supplement to help ease painful periods, even if something like passionflower can ease cramps. While many articles will suggest things like more magnesium or this or that supplement, if the body doesn’t have a deficiency of that nutrient, it won’t necessarily help the body return to pain-free homeostasis. That’s how we end up with competing answers on whether this or that truly helps.
That said, you can try a few easy, natural pain relievers. These won’t necessarily help the period itself but may help ease the pain.
There’s nothing quite as soothing as putting something warm over your lower abdomen when your cramps are acting up. Many women use a microwavable heating sock, but if you’re trying to stay away from the dangers of the microwave, a hot water bottle, heating pad, or snuggly pet works just as well. Or! Run a hot bath. You can even add a bit of peppermint or lavender essential oils to help calm down and clear the mind.
Switch Your Period Products
Are you using pads or tampons with dye or synthetic materials in them? What about plastic cups with chemicals you don’t want in your body? In 2014, Women’s Voices for the Earth was commissioned to test four types of the most common menstrual pads and found that all of them leak harmful chemicals. These chemicals include carcinogens, reproductive toxicants, and irritants. 
Another study found that period pads and diapers have more phthalates than common plastic products.  If you’ve already gotten rid of your plastics, you’ll also want to switch your period products. It may be that your body is sending pain signals to tell you something needs to be addressed, but you’re simply writing it off as part of the “menstrual experience.” Check out some of our recommendations here.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleeping is vitally important, especially for women. Did you know that women need two hours more sleep than men do? Why? Lack of sleep will cause much more stress on a woman’s body than a man’s. Men and women are biologically different, and that includes their circadian rhythms. A woman’s body fills her hormonal fuel tank between 9 pm and 1 am. If you’re not getting sleep in that time, ladies, you are depleting your hormonal reserves, which can, in turn, lead to more painful periods. Furthermore, lack of sleep has been shown to increase pain sensitivity. 
While you certainly don’t want to overdo it and work against your body, moving your body a little bit can bring more relief than you may think. Nothing too intense but going for a walk or stretching might be just what’s needed to ease your discomfort. It also distracts your mind, which may be even more helpful!
PERIODS AND TIME COMMITMENT
Women have periods for decades. If the period is hard, irregular, and painful, the symptoms point to a larger underlying issue. What is the time commitment to healing the body? Much like the question “How do you fix it,” this answer depends heavily on a person’s health and function. A hard period indicates something isn’t right within the body.
- What is the woman’s toxic load? If the woman has been in contact with fewer toxins, things will likely clear up faster than they will for a woman who has come into contact with more toxins.
- How is the woman’s gut health? Your gut affects more areas of your body than you likely think – the immune system, the nervous system, even your brain. If the woman looking to clear up her period has good gut health, doing so will be much easier.
- Does the woman want to get better? This may seem like a silly question at face value, but if you don’t want to get better, you won’t do the work that is needed to get better. If the woman is told to eat one thing and stay away from another but isn’t serious about getting healthy, it’ll take much longer to heal than someone who puts the work in. There’s a large difference in the results between a teen who comes into The Wellness Way to get help “because my mom made me come here” and someone who comes in because they recognize that there’s a problem that needs to be fixed and they’re willing to do what it takes. You can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to do.
Like everything else in the body, period pain goes back to traumas, toxins, and thoughts.
What if a Painful Period is Something More?
There are some cases where a woman’s menstrual cycle is more painful because of a medical condition. Fibroids, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and adenomyosis may all be causes of worse period pains outside of what is mentioned above.
In these cases, something more than a hot water bottle or light exercise may be needed to ease the pain. Many articles will suggest seeing a gynecologist or other fireman health care provider. The simple fact of the matter, however, is that these conditions, too, come from the body responding to its environment of traumas, toxins, and thoughts. So, even if you have a women’s health professional helping put out the fire, you don’t want to neglect rebuilding the house afterward, or else the problem will likely come right back.
In the long run, taking care of your body and restoring proper function is the only way to truly regain health and kick painful periods to the curb.
HOW LONG IS IT IN THE LONG RUN?
Menstrual pain isn’t the problem–it is a symptom of something wrong at a deeper level. The quick fix of hormonal birth control–popping a pill and having your period go away entirely–is only masking the symptoms, not fixing the problem. Letting the hard periods and painful cramps continue – whether felt or masked — allows the real problem to continue longer than it needs to.
Hard or irregular periods and painful cramps aren’t normal; they aren’t healthy, and what your body is trying to tell you through them can lead to long-term health problems if they aren’t addressed. If your body can’t clear hormones well, that can lead to endometriosis and infertility. If your body can’t metabolize certain things, that can lead to cancer. Hormone imbalances lead to disease.
The good news is there are ways to help heal the body and address the underlying problem–you don’t have to be in pain for decades, and a painful period isn’t normal. Contact a Wellness Way clinic today to get started with testing or schedule a consult.