Is your period is so painful that your life practically stops when you have it?Having extremely painful periods is a sign of an underlying imbalance that can have far-reaching implications for your overall health, not just your reproductive health. Keep reading to find out what causes period pain and what you can do to stop it.
How Much Period Pain Is Normal?
If you’re like most women, you’ve experienced period pain at some point in your life. A little bit of mild cramping can be considered “normal,” especially at the beginning of your period. But ideally, you won’t even feel your period coming at all.
If you’re consistently having to pop painkillers like candy, or you’re in too much pain to go to work or school, then something deeper is going on. That type of period pain is not normal. In medicine, painful periods are called dysmenorrhea.
Your period is like a barometer of your overall health.It tells you how well your body is being nourished (or not), how much stress you’ve been under, and how much inflammation might be going on in your body.
It’s important to uncover the root causes of whyyour hormones are in turmoil so that you can find the least invasive, safest and most effective solution.
The great news is that women’s hormonal issues respond beautifully to natural medicine and, with a little detective work, you can troubleshoot your problems to get back on the road to wellness.
First, let’s explorethe causes of menstrual pain.
I‘m going to get all ‘sciency’ because I want you to really understand what’s going on inside of your body. I even made a cute little drawing to help explain everything. Bear with me and keep reading. It’ll all make sense – I promise! 🙂
What Causes Menstrual Pain?
Pain during menstruation is thought to be caused by prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Together, these compounds are known as eicosanoids.
Prostaglandins are a group of hormone-like fats that are made by our cells at sites of tissue damage or infection in the body. Their job is to direct the healing process by coordinating blood vessel constriction and blood clotting. In this process, prostaglandins cause the pain, fever, redness and swellingthat we experience with illness and injury.
Prostaglandins also play a role in the female reproductive system by controlling ovulation, initiatinglabor (there’s a clue about pain, eh?) and regulating menstrual flow. In other words, prostaglandins cause the uterus to contract.
Two specific prostaglandins have been linked to menstrual pain:PGE2 and PGF2-alpha.
Now, normally, prostaglandins are very short-lived. Once their job is done, the body breaks them down quickly.
But problems arisewhen inflammatory prostaglandins are produced in excess. Certain dietary and lifestyle factors will cause persistent tissue damage and load us with omega-6 fats, resulting in ’round the clock production of inflammatory prostaglandins.
Below is an illustration of the process. As you can see, anything that promotes high levels of arachidonic acid, the precursor to prostaglandins, can lead to pain and inflammation.
Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), an inflammatory compound, stimulates the aromatase enzyme,which raises estrogen levels. Estrogen then stimulates the COX-2 enzyme, which creates morePGE2, and thus more inflammation. It’s a vicious cycle!
Similar to prostaglandins, leukotrienes are inflammatory molecules that are released by our white blood cells.
Leukotrienes are notorious for their role in allergies and asthma, but leukotriene E4 may play aspecific role in menstrual pain.
There are many things that lead to painful periods, but I’m going to focus on the most common reasons that I see in my practice.
Keep in mind that the causes of your menstrual pain can be multifactorial, and oftenit is the total load of several imbalances that is responsible for causing symptoms.
1. Your diet is not good.
We just talked about prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and their role in menstrual cramps. But what causes your body to produce them in large amounts? Much of it has to do with your diet.
A diet fullof vegetable oils, refined grains, sugar, and alcohol is almost guaranteedto make your periods miserable. Because of the ways these foods damage your cells, disrupt your hormones, and interfere with cell communication, these foods will send your immune system into a firestorm. And that means prostaglandins and pain.
Alcohol is especially problematic for women with painful periods because it reduces the liver’s ability to detoxify estrogen and toxins. Did you know that having just 2 drinks per day can double the amount of estrogen in your body?! As shown in the diagram above, estrogen increases PGE2 (the pain molecule) by stimulating the COX-2 enzyme.
Having too much estrogen willalso causeheavyperiods,sore breasts, bloating, moodiness, and pretty much all of the things that we hate about periods in the first place! So nix the booze until you’ve made enough progress in your healing, okay?
Want to get real help now? Join our Body Bliss program and break free from period pain.
2. You have high insulin levels.
Insulin increases arachidonic acid, the precursor to the inflammatory prostaglandins that cause menstrual pain. Insulin also promotes clotting and can interfere with ovulation.
How do you know if your insulin levels are too high? Ask your doctor to order a fasting insulin test for you. Your fasting insulin levelshould be no higher than 8, but I really like to see it 6 or less.
If your insulin is too high, you need to start making changes like cutting sugar out of your diet and emphasizing vegetables, protein and healthy fats. Exercise, especially resistance exercise like weightlifting, is crucial for lowering your insulin levels. Also be sure to get 8 hours of sleep each night: Just one night of sleep deprivation can promote insulin resistance!
Signs and symptoms of imbalanced blood sugar and insulin resistance include:
- Sleep trouble
- Brain fog
- Darkened skin folds
- Belly fat
- Energy crashes or sleepiness after meals
- Sugar cravings
3. You’re not ovulating.
Ovulation is the release of an egg from the ovary. It typically happens on day 14 of the menstrual cycle. Ovulation is important when it comes to period pain because that is where you get your progesterone.
Progesterone balances the stimulating effects of estrogen; it is a very calming hormone. When you don’t have enough progesterone, it leads to inflammation. It also works in reverse: inflammation impairs your body’s ability to make progesterone, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
Having periods that are late, early, too heavy, too light or absent can all be symptoms of not ovulating (called “anovulation”). Common causes include nutrient deficiencies (especially magnesium, selenium and B6)polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and stress.
Stress is of particular importance because it reduces progesterone in two ways: 1). by “stealing”progesterone to make the stress hormone cortisol; and 2). by interfering with ovulation, your main source of progesterone.
And while we’re talking about stress, it’s worth noting that chronic stress promotes insulin resistance (see point #2 above)!
If you’re not ovulating, you need to figure out why you’re not ovulating. Are you deficient in important nutrients? Is it chronic stress? Are you eating inflammatory foods? Is it your thyroid?
Join our Body Bliss program and break free from period pain.
4. Your thyroid is out of whack.
Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck. It makes thyroid hormone, which provides the “spark” for bodily functions like digestion, generation of body heat, detoxification and ovulation. Every single cell in your body needs thyroid hormone.
The most common thyroid problem is when the gland is underactive, which is called hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism interferes with ovulation, which means you’ll be making less progesterone. And remember that low progesterone promotes inflammation.
Heavy menstrual bleeding can be a symptom of an underactive thyroid. Unfortunately many women with hypothyroidism never get diagnosed because the standard screening test (TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone) doesn’t show the whole picture. I always recommend a complete thyroid panel that includes TSH, free T3, free T4, reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies.
5. You’re full of toxins.
Did you know that even low-level exposures to chemicals and environmental toxins can cause period problems, cancer and reproductive issues?
It’s sad but true. Many of the chemicals in our environment act as “endocrine disruptors,” meaning they can mimic hormones and disrupt our hormonal (endocrine) system.
These toxins include pesticides and herbicides, metals, solvents, flame retardants, plastics, food additives, and fragrances.
These chemicals are everywhere, so there’s no foolproof way to avoid them entirely. The best thing to do is minimize your exposure (check your personal care products!), and it’s equally important to support your body’s ability to detoxify.
This is one of the foundational strategies that we teach in our Body Bliss program.
6. Your gut isn’t healthy.
Okay, this is a BIG one. The health of your GI tract is so intricately linked to the rest of your body (and mind). Practically every patient who comes to me with chronic health issues has some degree of imbalance in their digestive system.
When our guts are healthy, good things happen for us. We absorb our nutrients. Our friendly gut bacteria help us detoxify estrogen and reduce inflammation. Our hormonal systems are balanced. All good things!
But when our guts are not healthy, it sets the stage for all of the things that we don’t want. Our metabolism doesn’t work right. We become full of inflammation. Our immune system is imbalanced and we can develop autoimmunity. It can ruin our thyroid function. We can’t get rid of excess estrogen. We can’t absorb the nutrients we need. And the list goes on.
More specifically, when the bacteria and other microbes in our gut are out of balance, there are some key factors that directly contribute to period pain. Unfriendly bacteria (referred to as “gram negative”) have something called lipopolysaccharide (LPS) on their outer surface. LPS is, by far, one of the most toxic and irritating substances known to the human body. And when the gut isn’t healthy, LPS can move across the gut barrier and get into the bloodstream.
This creates a cascade of inflammation, revs up the immune system, blocks detoxification, and can specifically cause pelvic pain. In my practice, I’ve been able to link LPS with headaches, acne, and a host of other chronic conditions.
One of the most common conditions that creates a large amount of gram negative bacteria and LPS in the gut is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This is a condition where the motility of the small intestine has been compromised, and bacteria proliferate in the gut. The classic symptom is bloating after meals, usually with a “pregnant belly” look.
The other awful thing these critters do is produce an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. This enzyme causes estrogen and toxins that would have otherwise been excreted to become freely circulating again. And remember that toxins and estrogen contribute to inflammation and pain.
So what causes your gut to become so unhealthy in the first place? Hands down, the number one cause I’ve seen among my patients is antibiotic use. Whether it’s for recurrent sinus infections, UTI’s or acne, frequent antibiotic use can destroy your health.
Don’t get me wrong!
Antibiotics certainly have a time and a place. But the key is to support your immune system so that you’re not having to deal with to chronic infections in the first place.
The bottom line: If you want healthy periods, you absolutelymust fix your gut. There’s no way around it. That’s why we’ve dedicated an entire lesson to gut health in our Body Bliss program.
–> Click here to learn gut health tips in our free guide: Look Good, Feel Good!
7. You smoke.
It goes without saying that smoking is bad for you. Research shows that smoking even 1 cigarette per day is an important risk factor for painful periods. And the earlier you start smoking, the more likely you are to have painful periods.Quitting can be incredibly hard, but I’ve had more than one patient tell me that Allen Carr’s book worked like a charm for helping them quit for good!
8. You have Celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where eating gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) causes serious damage to the small intestine.
Many health care practitioners don’t realize that the symptoms of celiac disease can vary, so many people go undiagnosed. In fact, less than half of people with celiac disease have the classic symptoms of GI pain and diarrhea.
Skin rashes, neurological symptoms, fatigue, painful sex and menstrual pain can all be clues that you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.Remember, anything that causes inflammation in the gut will cause inflammation in the rest of your body!
9. You have growths.
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors of the uterus. They are incredibly common, and a majority of women will develop at least 1 small fibroid at some point. Fibroids don’t usually cause pain, but they can when they obstruct blood flow or if they grow rapidly. If your periods are becoming heavy, that can be a symptom of fibroids.
Adenomyosisis a condition where the inner lining of the uterus grows through the muscular uterine wall. This can cause heavy bleeding, cramps and bloating. Many women also have ovarian cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs that can cause painful cramps. Most of the time cysts clear on their own, but they can require treatment if they start to obstruct the fallopian tubes or they become very large.
While these growths can be responsible for pain, keep in mind that they are symptoms of underlying inflammation and hormone imbalances. That’s why it’s so important to address things like gut health and nutrition.
10. You have endometriosis.
It’s estimated that 1 in 10 women have a condition called endometriosis.
In endometriosis,the tissue that lines the uterus (called the endometrium) becomes implanted outside of the uterus, around other locations inthe body. This misplaced tissue behaves in the same way as it wouldinside the uterus and it grows and bleeds in response to estrogen. Eventually, adhesions form.
Adhesions arebands of scar tissue that can “glue” organs and body structures together. Theycan cause strong, sharp or burning pain, and even gastrointestinalsymptoms like heartburn and constipation if the scars are attachedto the intestines. Endometrial tissue can even attach to the lungs in rare cases.
The symptoms of endometriosis include:
- SEVERE menstrual cramps (sometimes even painkillers won’t help)
- Abdominal or pelvic pain between periods – when you’re not even bleeding
- Pain with sex or vaginal penetration
- Urinary problems
- Long periods
- Heavy periods (which can lead to anemia)
- Pain with bowel movements
**It is entirely possible to have endometriosis with NO symptoms or very mild symptoms, and many women don’t know they have it until they have trouble getting pregnant.**
As you can see from the list above, endometriosis can mimic gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. And sadly, a lot of women are misdiagnosed for years. The only way to get an accurate diagnosis for endometriosis is through a surgical procedure called laparoscopy. During laparoscopy, a thin tube (called a laparoscope) is inserted into yourabdomen through a small cut. The tube has a camera attached to it, allowing the doctor to see yourorgans on a video screen. If you have endometriosis, the doctor will see adhesions.
How to Stop Period Pain Naturally
I admit that I am not a fan of using birth control pills or painkillers to treat painful periods.
Why? Because birth control pills increase the risk of blood clots, they can cause permanent side effects (like loss of sex drive and vaginal dryness), and they do nothing to address the root causes of the pain in the first place.
Period problems are a message from your body that something is out of balance. When we suppress those messages, we can create additional problems.
Over-the-counter painkillers are effective for pain and can help to reduce heavy bleeding, but they can cause liver or kidney damage with long-term use. They can also damage the gut, which contributes to body-wide inflammation.
Let me be clear: there is a time and a place for medication, and you have to do what is best for you. Right now, you might need big doses of painkillers just to get through your day. No judgment.I totally get that!
But my goal as a naturopathic doctor is for you to ultimately not need those medications because you’ve done such a great job getting your body back into balance. That’s exactly what we teach you how to do in our Body Bliss program.
- Our favorite “all around” formula for healthy periods and balanced hormones is FemGlow. This is our exclusive product. Along with diet and lifestyle changes, the ingredients in this formula have produced amazing results for my patients. Whether you’re concerned about period pain, PMS, or even menopausal discomfort, FemGlow provides balanced support. And in our Body Bliss program, we share a comprehensive hormone health protocol.
- Find ways to manage stress.
- Sweating through exercise or sauna is a great way to support gentle detoxification.
- Eat an unprocessed, low-sugar, whole foods diet.
My hopefor you is that you no longer ignore your menstrual pain. And don’t let ANYdoctor tell you that you’re “just one of those unlucky women” or that you just have “bad periods.”
Menstrualpain is a sign that something deeper is going on with your health. Keep pushing until you find answers.
And if you’re serious about stopping your period pain, check out our Body Bliss program. This is the proven, real-life system we’ve developed in our clinic to help women like you get their lives back.
Disclaimer: This articleis for informational purposes onlyand is nota substitute for the professional advice of your physician or other licensed health care provider. Never avoid, disregard or delay seeking professional medical advice, or change any of your prescribed medical treatments because of something you have read on this blog. If you try any therapies or recommendations discussed on this blog, you do so at your own risk.
Our clinic proudly serves the Boulder and Denver, Colorado metro areas including Broomfield, Louisville, Lafayette, Arvada, Thornton and Westminster.
How can I make my period less painful naturally? ›
- Apply heat. "Heat can help relax the muscles contributing to cramping, so applying heat to your abdomen or back can help relieve your pain," says Dr. Borchardt. ...
- Take a pain reliever. ...
- Exercise. ...
- Take steps to reduce stress. ...
- Get your vitamins and minerals.
- Over-the-counter pain medicine like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). ...
- Putting a heating pad on your belly or lower back.
- Taking a hot bath.
- Having an orgasm (by yourself or with a partner).
This pain is caused by natural chemicals called prostaglandins that are made in the lining of the uterus. Prostaglandins cause the muscles and blood vessels of the uterus to contract. On the first day of a period, the level of prostaglandins is high.When is period pain not normal? ›
4 But if you have pelvic pain at other times during your cycle, that may signal a problem. If severe cramping is accompanied by fever, vomiting, dizziness, unusual vaginal bleeding, vaginal discharge, or if the pain is especially severe, call your healthcare provider immediately.What drink is good for cramps? ›
Research has found that compounds within chamomile tea may prove beneficial for menstrual cramps. (2) This is because these compounds (hippurate and glycine) can help to relieve muscle spasms, as well as working to relax the uterus.
Dark chocolate appears to live up to the hype when it comes to relieving period cramps. Studies suggest that eating between 40–120 grams of dark chocolate daily during your period may help reduce pain. This is probably because dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, which can relax muscles and ease aches.What food is good for period cramps? ›
Naturally, eating foods that decrease inflammation in the body will help to tame menstrual cramps. These foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Research has shown that both a vegetarian and plant-based eating pattern work to decrease inflammation in the body.Does period pain get worse with age? ›
Secondary dysmenorrhoea. This is pain caused by an underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis or fibroids. This type of period pain gets worse with age. It may happen years after your periods have started, often when you're in your 30s or 40s.Do periods get worse with age? ›
Periods can get heavier and more painful for some women after the age of 40. Sometimes it is a nuisance and sometimes it is a cause for concern.Why is my period so painful on the first day? ›
When deprived of oxygen, your uterus releases chemicals that trigger the pain sensation. Your body also releases hormones called prostaglandins that increase uterine contractions and may worsen your pain. This type of period pain usually occurs during the first two days of your period.
Is milk good for period cramps? ›
Calcium is found to reduce cramp pains, reduce bloating and water retention. Calcium is present in substantial amounts in: Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese.
Having a lot of dairy products is not the best idea, as it can cause cramping. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and ice cream contain arachidonic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid), which can increase inflammation and can intensify your period pain.Which fruit juice is good in periods? ›
Oranges are known as a top food for period cramps. Oranges contain more vitamin C than lemons, and they also contain magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D. In fact, oranges have almost as much of these nutrients as milk. A couple of oranges every day may help relieve period cramps and menstrual pain.What should not do in periods? ›
- Don't use scented toilet paper, tampons or pads. ...
- Don't wait to take medications until your cramps are bad. ...
- Don't avoid tracking your period. ...
- Don't wash your vagina and vulva too thoroughly. ...
- Don't forgo condoms during your period. ...
- Don't change your tampon infrequently. ...
- Don't let cravings win.
Having a lot of dairy products is not the best idea, as it can cause cramping. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and ice cream contain arachidonic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid), which can increase inflammation and can intensify your period pain.What foods make period cramps worse? ›
While a brownie or french fries might sound delicious, foods high in sugar, trans fat and salt can cause bloating and inflammation, which makes muscle pain and cramps worse.Do boys have cramps? ›
Men experience similar symptoms to women when they go through hormonal imbalances. Many of them are similar to the female menstrual cycle including tiredness, cramps, increase sensitivity and cravings. According to one study, around 26 % of men experience these regular “man periods.”How can teenage girls stop period pains? ›
If cramps bother your daughter, she can try: a warm heating pad on her belly. taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, or store brand) or naproxen (Aleve or store brand); this works best if the medicine is started at the first sign of cramps.Is it OK to eat chocolate during period? ›
Chocolate craving is pretty normal during this time, but it is not good when it comes to managing your period. Chocolate can elevate your prostaglandins level and you may experience more period cramping. If you want to have chocolate, have only dark chocolate and that too in a limited quantity.Does chocolate make period cramps worse? ›
While you may crave chocolate while you are on your period, it can make the period pains worse. Chocolate elevates Prostaglandins levels which therefore worsens symptoms of cramping and bloating. If you want to have some Chocolate, have a small piece of Dark Chocolate. Do avoid milk and white chocolates.