What's the Deal with Menstrual Cramps?!
I am going to be REAL upfront with all of you … I still struggle with some intense period pain each month.
Just like clock-work, day one of my period comes around, and I am hit with some mega cramps.
It can be really frustrating to work so hard on your diet and stress reduction and still find yourself curled into a ball with a heating pad, essential oils (and let’s be real, some ibuprofen), each month.
As it is with most things, the work I love sharing the most is also exactly what I have worked through, (or am currently working through), myself.
So, in typically Nina fashion, I hit up my favorite hormone books/holistic coaches to figure out what in the WORLD is going on with menstrual cramps, and the science behind them.
one thing is for sure - severe period pain is not normal. We’ve been conditioned to believe it’s something we must live with as part of being a woman…but that just isn’t true.
A little science…
First, let’s talk about what is going on in your body when those cramps strike.
For starters, we all have endometrial cells that form the lining of our uterus. Each month, as our uterine lining breaks down, we get our period.
As we shed our endometrial lining, we also release what is known as prostaglandins. These hormone-like compounds deal with inflammation in the body, and as you might have guessed, have A LOT to do with the menstrual cramps.
So here’s the deal… we produce 3 types of prostaglandins: PGE1, PGE2, & PGE3.
Out of the 3, only ONE of them, PGE2, deals with the inflammatory and uterine contracting side of period pain. So, the more PGE2 that your body releases, the more period pain you will experience.
The other two (PGE1 and PGE3) actually counteract uterine contractions and act as our body’s natural pain reliever. It’s like our own personal ibuprofen!
Now, that’s great and all…but where in the world are PGE1 and PGE3 when we need them most?!
Well, the reason we are dealing with such intense pain, is because there is an imbalance between the 3 prostaglandins (clearly…lol).
The body is releasing WAY too much PGE2, which is outweighing the benefits of PGE1 and PGE3.
So what can we do to get to the root of this imbalance and start feeling better?
Omega 3 & Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Let’s get to the root -- prostaglandins are directly related and derived from omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids.
Unfortunately, our western diet is FILLED with too many of the inflammatory omega-6 fats and oils (something our ancestors we were not used to).
Meaning, that the delicate ratio between the two fatty acids can become QUICKLY imbalanced, resulting in imbalanced prostaglandin levels.
One of the best things you can do to help reduce your cramps each month is focus on reducing your omega-6 intake and increasing your omega-3.
Now, don’t get my wrong… we need quality omega-6 fatty acids too (in moderation). But, the goal here is to even out the playing field. How can you increase the amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3 in your diet?
Inflammatory Omega-6 oils and fats to AVOID:
All highly processed and refined oils (CANOLA, safflower/sunflower, soy, peanut, corn oil.. you name it). Swap these cooking oils for avocado, coconut, olive oil, or ghee instead.
Industrialized animal products (especially red meat and diary). Note: grass-fed meats and free-range eggs are significantly lower in the omega6/omega3 ratio and can be a nutritious and healthy addition to your diet in moderation. Listen to your body and see what feels right! Remember, you are what your food eats!!
Processed food, even if labeled organic, contain many of the inflammatory oils mentioned above. Read your labels :)
Anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats oils and fats to ENJOY:
Salmon and oily fish (sardines, mackerel, tuna…). Note: make sure these fish are wild and sustainably caught, as well as mercury tested.
Flax, chia, and hemp seeds
Environmental toxins and xenoestrogens are another big thing to be mindful of when dealing with period cramps…but why?
These types of toxins in our environment increase the amount of estrogen circulating through your body. They are compounds in our environment that literally mimic our naturally occurring estrogen in the body.
Too much estrogen in the body thickens the uterine lining. A thicker uterine lining = more painful menstrual cramp. and More estrogen directly affects the release of prostaglandins.
Environmental Toxins and Xenoestrogens to AVOID…
Non-organic and toxic cleaning supplies
Non-organic and toxic beauty products
Non-organic and toxic candles (sorry, Bath and Body Works…)
I may post another blog post just on environmental toxins and go into more detail later :)
increase your Magnesium
Supplementing with magnesium is also an incredible way to help reduce menstrual cramps, and many women are deficient in this nutrient. Highly absorbable forms of magnesium include: chelate and glycinate. I also use natural vitality, it is magnesium citrate which isn’t quite as absorbable, but I still like it :)
There are numerous other ways we can help to support our hormones and reduce cramping each month, but these areas are a GREAT place to start.
Focusing on proper nutrition (eating enough fruits /veggies & cutting down sugar/caffeine), reducing stress, and really focusing on the health of your gut and liver are crucial.
In my new 6-week group coaching program we will go over ALL of the ways you can bring balance back to both the mind and body and help ease some of these unwanted symptoms.
We launch January 28 - March 4th. And I would LOVE to have you!!
I would also like to note that severe menstrual pain can also be due to an underlying and more serious medical issue such as endometriosis, fibroids, cysts, etc. Make sure that you discuss your symptoms with your gynecologist to rule out and/or treat any of these conditions.
This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis.