Experiencing period pain

15 Natural Ways to Relieve Period Pain

JUNE 30, 2023

by Sara Beaumont, FAE, HRHP | @reverencefertility

A friend of mine once shared that her unmedicated labor was easier to bear than her period cramps, because at least she got breaks in-between contractions.

I believe her. Not only does birth offer breaks, but it's a natural physiological progression. The relentless intensity of period pain is unfortunately common, and it's often described as stabbing, burning and debilitating, but it's not normal. It can be reduced or resolved, which is what we'll focus on in the post.

As menstruation draws near, tender breasts on the outer sides, mild cramping, and subtle changes in mood are normal. Cramps are often caused by increased levels of prostaglandins responding to the inflammatory process of shedding the endometrial lining. Moderate to severe pain that disrupts your daily routine is not normal.

You can go around the pain. This is one reason to take the pill (or another form of hormonal birth control like the pill). Hormonal birth control essentially shuts down the menstrual cycle and its symptoms. Unfortunately, symptoms are likely to return when they’re no longer suppressed by the synthetic hormones in birth control. You can also take an NSAID like ibuprofen to help manage moderate pain, and time doses to anticipate some relief when you need it most.

Or you can examine and address the pain. There's no magic pill for this route. It usually involves diet and lifestyle changes compounded with time (three months or more) to experience progress. But over time, it’s possible to experience long-term relief, whereas, over time, the pill depletes the body of essential nutrients, may cause mood disorders, is notorious for decreasing libido, and can present other unwanted side effects. If possible, I advise limiting the use of hormonal contraceptives to short-term spans of life — times when life isn’t manageable any other way. I recommend avoiding birth control altogether for young people, whose cycles are still maturing.

Realistic Lifestyle Subtractions

We know that processed foods, industrial seed oils, refined flours and sugars, conventional meat and dairy, alcohol and toxic exposure increase inflammation. For some, caffeine makes a significance difference, and of course, we can't forget to mention stress. Reducing these factors is foundational for addressing painful periods.

Sustainable lifestyle subtractions take time and effort, so I recommend starting with one of the above to address first. You know which one. Integrate it until it becomes second nature to reach for an avocado oil when cooking at high heats, enjoy half calf or decaf, substitute chemical-based cleaners with natural alternatives, do less, or pour only mocktails during the week.

You don't need to be perfect to see improvement. Imagine that you're carrying a heavy backpack full of everything that puts stress and inflammation on your body. You can't completely empty the bag, because not everything is in your control. We just need to lighten the load enough so that your body can function more optimally. This is why some people can have processed foods and not have period pain. Their backpack must be lighter overall. That's not to say processed foods are a benefit to their body, or that they won't have an effect someday, but I think you can appreciate the visual -- what's weighing you down?

Lifestyle Additions

Additions can be easier to implement and support you as you work on addressing the subtractions. As always, check with your provider for medical advice.

  • Prioritize your ZZZZZs. Quality rest is a game-changer. Sleeping 7-9 consecutive hours overnight in a calm, dark space supports your hormones and sets your body up for optimal daytime functioning.
  • Take (or take more) magnesium. Magnesium relaxes the smooth muscles in the uterus. Opt for magnesium malate (ideal for plant-heavy diets) or magnesium glycinate. You can take anywhere from 300-1300 mg depending on your symptoms, lifestyle and tolerance. This can take a little experimentation. Once you find the dose that does you right, add in calcium supplementation in a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium. In other words, take twice as much calcium as magnesium.
  • Incorporate rhythmic activities like dance, or try yoga, meditation or breath work, or a similar outlet to increase relaxation and promote oxytocin.
  • Eat your oily fishes. Consume oily fish like trout or salmon 2x per week, or supplement with cod liver oil or fish oil.
  • Increase your intake of B vitamins, particularly B6 (careful not to exceed 200 mg daily). Vitamin B6 is a co-enzyme in the synthesis of dopamine and serotonin, and it can help to balance hormone, reduce sugar/salt cravings premenstrually and increase liver metabolism, which helps to eliminate estrogen from the body.
  • Promote blood flow with gentle movements like walking and stretching.
  • Enjoy herbs like fennel, turmeric and ginger. Ingest as teas, spices, or supplements to help reduce inflammation. Turmeric reduces inflammatory prostaglandins and histamine, both of which can contribute to symptoms.
  • Cyclically introduce zinc. Supplemented around 30 mg of zinc with food in the week prior to your period.

Been there, already done all that? Consider the following:

  • Invest in acupuncture, which can help to promote blood flow, decrease stress, and support reproductive hormone functioning.
  • Try abdominal massage modalities that can help to address areas of congestion or structural concern that are inhibiting your flow, and/or give yourself an abdominal massage with essential oils like lavender, sage, cinnamon or cloves, mixed with almond or coconut oil.
  • If you’re experiencing gut issues (IBS, loose stool, bloat, gas, etc.), seek a specialist in the area of gut health who can work with you to support your system’s necessary ability to excrete hormones from the body. We place so much emphasis on hormone production that hormone elimination can get overlooked — but it’s so important.
  • Give your pelvic bowl some love. You might consider seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist, attending pelvic steam sessions to help improve stagnation, or reading the book, “Wild Feminine” by Tami Lynn Kent to explore self-love practices directed toward tending your womb and pelvic bowl.
  • Locate your options for functional medical support, especially if you’re experiencing an array of symptoms that can’t seem to be untangled from one another. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the generic information out there, and it’s important to have a personalized assessment when there’s a lot of different conditions presenting all at once.
  • Know the power of uncommon herbs to help. I highly recommend working with a knowledgeable Herbalist to look into herbal remedies that aren't common "grocery store" herbs.
  • Insist on being evaluated for endometriosis, adenomyosis and uterine fibroids if nothing is bringing you relief. A diagnosis gives you a framework to understand and work toward managing your pain in more informed ways. Endometriosis causes severe period pain that can’t be treated by over the counter pain medication or digesting some turmeric. It affects every 1 in 10 people who cycle, but it’s wildly under diagnosed and often requires self-advocating.
  • Last but not least, chart your cycle. Charting can reveal the root causes for your period-related issues because charters pay attention to their whole cycle and fluctuating hormones. These daily observations help to monitor lifestyle changes closely.

Sometimes, people identify their hormones as the root cause of period concerns. The question is, what are hormones responding to? Could it be stress? Is it the environment? Is it unfavorable conditions in the gut or an overtaxed liver? Or D, all of the above?

It’s easy to blame the messenger, and our hormones are responsible for their roles in how we feel. For example, when estrogen is running the show all cycle long and progesterone is not functioning in tandem, then heavier periods, period cramps and premenstrual symptoms tend to surface. But the question remains: why the disharmony?

For individualized support with your period pain or premenstrual symptoms, let’s schedule some time chat at a free consult or information session.

To your period peace,

- Sara

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Fertility Awareness Educator Sara at Reverence Fertility

About the Author

Sara (she/her) is a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner and Fertility Awareness Educator serving clients virtually and locally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since 2016, Sara has used fertility awareness based methods to avoid pregnancy, optimize her fertility, time a pregnancy with her partner and navigate postpartum fertility.