Today I’m excited to share some ideas for how to relieve period cramps and insights into the “why” behind your PMS symptoms from expert Dr. Deborah Epstein. She has a very unique take on PMS and painful periods that focuses on the root issues (which I obviously love!). If you’re wondering how to get rid of period cramps and PMS, please read on — there is some great advice in this post! – Elizabeth
In your grandmother’s time, everybody called it “the Curse.” If your own monthly period pain is bad enough that you wonder whether the Wicked Witch of the East has cursed you too, you’re certainly not alone.
But while cramps and PMS (premenstrual syndrome) are common, they aren’t normal. Or healthy.
I may be able to help. Is your experience anything like the moderate to severe PMS my patients have told me about?
- Are you forced to park yourself on the couch for a day or 2 (or 3?) each month, with a hot water bottle on your belly, trying not to move?
- Does your menstrual pain wake you up at night, or sometimes cause you to vomit?
- Are you cranky and irritable with your kids or spouse (in a way you usually aren’t) the week before or during your period?
- Do you avoid planning things the week before or during your period, because you can’t predict how bad it’s going to be or who you’ll have to cancel on again?
How to Relieve Period Cramps: Understanding the Reason
If you’re sick of having PMS and period cramps, sick of suffering, sick of wasting days each month lost to the pain and unable to live your right life, you might be surprised to learn: not only can you free yourself from your period pain – you can do it without drugs.
Anyone who has searched the web on this topic has read plenty of blog posts offering natural remedies to cure PMS and suggestions for how to get rid of period cramps. Often they offer good suggestions.
But if you haven’t found the suggestions to work for you, it’s because your PMS is more severe than those tips can touch. Or, there’s a deeper underlying cause.
It might help to know there’s a good reason for your pain. Understanding the reason can shed light on some solutions.
Pain is an important messenger, alerting you that something is wrong, and asking you to fix it.
Think about when you’ve touched a hot skillet on the stove with your bare hand; it hurts, and you immediately fix it by pulling your hand back. You might fix it further by running your hand under cold water, or cutting a slice of that aloe vera plant you wisely keep nearby, and rubbing its healing gel on the burn.
The pain here isn’t the problem; it’s simply the messenger alerting you to the fact that you have a problem.
Consider that if you have bad PMS or dysmenorrhea, that pain is actually a helpful message! It’s as if that witch you thought had hexed you was actually Glenda, the Good Witch of the North, delivering important news.
How to relieve period cramps? Listen to the message
The only hitch is that Glenda seems to be keeping secrets. The contents of her message often are not immediately clear. If Glenda could speak in plain English, she would want you to know that she’s sending cramps not because she enjoys hurting you, but because she loves you.
In fact, your body uses menstrual cramps to signal one or more of 3 critical imbalances. She’s using pain as her messenger, because she’s desperately trying to get your attention.
So while you’re searching for how to get rid of period cramps, Glenda is asking you to look a little deeper.
Since she can’t speak English, let me help interpret her 3 secret messages.
- First, pain is an inflammatory dynamic. If you have excess pain, chances are you have excess inflammation.
- Second, PMS is frequently a result of hormone imbalance. Often it’s an excess of estrogen or not enough progesterone (or both).
- Third, an excessive “Toxic Body Burden” will often manifest as cramps and PMS, because your liver is in charge of metabolizing toxins and metabolizing hormones. When it’s overloaded on its task of detoxification, it might not be keeping up with its other jobs (like metabolizing hormones). In addition, many toxins we’re exposed to in everyday life are known hormone-disruptors.
So, how to stop period cramps the easy way?
You came here t learn how to relieve period cramps, but it’s more complicated than that. Remember, fixing the pain isn’t necessarily fixing the problem.
You can (maybe) manage the pain by taking painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications. But if you simply shoot the messenger, does that render the message meaningless? Painkillers don’t solve the underlying problem if you have a chronic low-grade inflammation. They just leave you with dulled pain and chronic low-grade inflammation (which causes trouble, over time).
This is true of herbal painkillers as well as pharmaceutical ones. I’m no wicked witch myself – I’m not advocating that you suffer for no reason. If you need herbal or other painkillers in the short term, while you learn how to relieve period cramps by fixing the long-term problem, that’s fair.
I am, like Glenda, simply advocating that you heed your body’s message and also fix the long-term problem.
External hormones (such as the birth-control pill) might manage your pain without painkillers, but they’re still not doing anything to solve the underlying problem of hormonal imbalance (or toxicity). They’re just replacing your own hormones with external hormones, without restoring your own delicate physiological balance.
Now That I Understand the Message, How Do I get rid of my period cramps??
By now you understand the crux of it: your pain isn’t your problem, it’s only a sign that you have a problem.
Fortunately, the “3 secrets” I shared above lend themselves tidily to 3 strategic solutions.
1) Remove sources of inflammation in your body.
Boy, was that sentence easy to write. Unfortunately, easier said than done. Let’s take a look at two common causes of inflammation, so you can consider removing the sources.
The so-called “Standard American Diet” (SAD) is characterized by high intake of sugar and refined flours, high intake of processed food, and is based on “industrial” agriculture methods.
It turns out that this is a pretty ideal recipe if our goal was to increase inflammation.
So the first step is to develop nutritional habits that focus on real food, not processed food.
The second step is to make a careful examination of which foods might be fine or even healthy for other people, but whose ingestion causes trouble in your body. This is a classic food sensitivity.
Your individual body’s difficulty in digesting a certain food can set up a chronic low-grade gut inflammation. This contributes to pain and inflammation elsewhere in your body – including your uterus.
The 6 most common food sensitivities (outside of chemical additives) are: gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, soy, and eggs. Undertaking this careful examination can be downright confusing.
But keep reading; you don’t have to struggle through that on your own.
2) Balance Your Hormones.
In the conventional medical world, it’s common to prescribe birth-control pills for a hormone imbalance. However, this simply suppresses your own out-of-balance hormones by replacing them with external hormones, much like painkillers suppress your body’s messages of pain. The same is true of the so-called “natural” progesterone creams. This strategy does nothing to correct the underlying imbalance.
Let’s take a look at the multiple places in the lifecycle of your estrogens and progesterone that a hormone imbalance can arise.
At the beginning of the hormone lifecycle, your ovaries rely on certain members of the “B” vitamin family, to participate in hormone synthesis. You could have either an inadequate supply of the important vitamins, or you could have ovaries that aren’t working optimally. Either of those could underlie a hormone imbalance.
At end of the lifecycle, a common contributor to the imbalance problem is an overburdened liver.
Your estrogens and progesterone are routinely metabolized and destroyed by the liver, because we need different levels of them at different points in our menstrual cycle. When everything’s working right, the rate of creation and destruction are in a state of dynamic balance.
And whose livers are overburdened? Probably yours.
That’s the reality for those of us living in the developed world, and especially in the United States. As a society, we permit a lot of pollution to be dumped into our environment. Plus, those of us who have ever eaten anything close to the SAD have taken in a lot of toxicity in the food (or not-food chemical additives) we’ve eaten.
3) Reduce Toxic Body Burden.
Our innate detoxification systems (primarily the liver and kidneys) are hard at work metabolizing and excreting toxins every day.
Yet, these systems developed many thousands of years ago, in response to a world with far fewer toxins than we encounter in modern daily life. A regular program of cleansing and detoxification is essential, because we live in a toxic world.
Imagine your liver and kidneys as garbage collectors. Let’s say all you could put out on your curb for your garbage collectors was a tiny little container each day. The garbage would pretty quickly pile up in your house, wouldn’t it? And that would soon affect the proper functioning of your house, much like the toxins stored in your body affect the proper functioning of your organs.
Toxins come into our homes and ultimately our bodies from a myriad of sources: plastic water bottles and food-storage containers; everyday cleaning products; beauty products; common home and garden chemicals; pesticides in our food; pollution in the air; industrial wastes dumped in our waterways… The list goes on.
One important part of this solution is to reduce our exposure and intake of these toxic chemicals (i.e., bringing less junk into the house). The other part is to undertake a concerted program of full-body detoxification (like spring cleaning your house!).
For a lot of women, we hear about doing a “Cleanse” or “Detox”, and our minds leap to fasting, and we tune out everything else that follows.
I’m in full agreement with Elizabeth: neither of us are advocates of the many detox fads and extreme programs out there.
For most women, I recommend a whole-foods-based nutritional Cleanse, twice a year. There are many ways to accomplish this in. In my version, for about 4 weeks, we take out all alcohol and recreational drugs, coffee, and processed foods. We also replace those 6 food groups that most commonly are the culprits in food sensitivity (gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, corn, eggs). Instead, we laser-focus on nutrient-dense foods for high-powered nutrition.
That foundation of clean and rich nutritional intake sets the stage for your body’s innate detoxification systems to work more efficiently. (Imagine you are an energizer bunny on your spring-cleaning mission, and you are now allowed to throw away twice as much garbage each day.)
How to Relieve Period Cramps – Where to Start?
The key to how to relieve period cramps is to stop it at the source. When you solve the underlying imbalances, your body no longer needs to use pain to send you messages. You can get more information about my recommendations at my site here.
My website delves into the 3 solutions at a strategic level. For many of you, it’s just the right amount of information to implement the 3 solutions on your own.
For some of you, the process might seem like a bit of a struggle on your own, whereas you know interactive guidance and peer accountability increases your opportunity for success.
If for some reason the timing isn’t right just now to begin the deeper changes I’ve discussed here, I’ll close by offering 3 easy baby steps to move you closer to pain relief:
- Reduce sources of inflammation. Move in this direction by reducing processed food, restaurant food, and other convenience foods in your diet. You don’t have to go from zero to sixty. Begin by becoming more mindful of what you’re currently doing, and resolve to make a 10% improvement.
- Balance your hormones. Choosing one of the natural remedies discussed on this blog post is a great place to start experimenting if you haven’t already.
- Reduce Toxic Body Burden. Plastics are a huge source of hormone-disrupting chemicals we bring into our bodies. Switch from drinking out of plastic containers to drinking from glass or stainless steel.
Whether you’re ready for baby steps or big steps, I’d love to hear about your good plans and intentions. What is your personal doable next step?
Dr. Deborah Epstein writes and offers natural solutions for women at her site Lumina Health. She focuses on gut health and balancing hormones as a way for women to live their most vibrant life naturally.
More Women’s Health Articles:
- Attention Women: Controlling Anxiety with Simple Lifestyle Changes
- Get Rid of PMS for Good: 5 Root Causes
- Body Bashing: When “Normal” is Just Wrong
- Do You Know Your Type of Beauty?
- How to Prevent Binge Eating
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Elizabeth is the founder and creative director at The Nourished Life. Her mission is to help people find a more balanced (less stressful!) approach to living a happy, healthy life. Read more about Elizabeth here.