As a Naturopath, I have treated hundreds of women with period pain. It is very common among women, and ranges from a slight niggle to unrelenting severe pain.
The medical term for period pain is dysmenorrhea, and it is one of the most common symptoms I see in clinic. However, being common does not make it normal. It is a sign that there is an imbalance in the body that needs to be corrected.
Medicine classifies period pain into two distinct categories, ‘Primary Dysmenorrhea’ and ‘Secondary Dysmenorrhea’. Primary dysmenorrhea is the presence of period pain with no underlying medical cause. Secondary dysmenorrhea is period pain that is caused by a medical condition.
Primary dysmenorrhea (period pain with no underlying medical cause)
As a Naturopath, I consider primary dysmenorrhea to be a sign of imbalance in the body. The most common causes of this imbalance are inflammation, excess oestrogens and excess histamines.
Inflammation – just before you start to bleed, the lining of the uterus starts to shed. During this process prostaglandins are released. Prostaglandins regulate the contraction of smooth muscle (the uterus is made of smooth muscle). Prostaglandins are also involved in the inflammatory response. This process is normal, but what can happen in some women, is that they produce too many prostaglandins, which will cause pain.
So why do some women produce too many prostaglandins? The answer is simple…inflammation in the body. Inflammation can come from infection, autoimmune conditions, imbalance in gut flora, excess histamines (see my blog on histamines) environmental toxins, smoking, alcohol and inflammatory foods.
Excess oestrogen – so what causes someone to have too much oestrogen?
1. Xeno-oestrogens (things in the environment which mimic oestrogen in the body) – plastics (especially BPA) – cling wrap, take away coffee lids, disposable water bottles, tinned food, pesticides and herbicides.
2. Obesity – fat tissue actually increased the production of a type of oestrogen called oestrone.
3. An unhealthy liver whereby your liver detoxification processes doesn’t work effectively. Your liver detoxifies your oestrogen for excretion out of the body once it has been used.
4. Poor bowel function. Once your liver detoxifies the oestrogens they need to be excreted via the bowels. If you are constipated the oestrogen will be recycled back to the liver again, causing a build up of oestrogen in the body.
5. High histamines. This one is interesting. Histamine stimulates the ovaries to produce more oestrogen and at the same time high oestrogen then leads to high histamine, so it’s a vicious cycle. It is histamine that will cause period pain by contracting smooth muscle. People with the MTHFR, DAO or HNMT gene mutations are likely to suffer from high histamines (see my blog on histamines).
Secondary dysmenorrhea (period pain with a medical cause)
If your period pain is severe and unrelenting it may be caused by an underlying medical condition. You should first discuss this with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. The most common causes of secondary dysmenorrhea are:
- Endometriosis and adenomyosis
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Ovarian cysts and tumours
- Narrowing of the cervix
- Intrauterine adhesions
- Congenital abnormalities
Natural treatments for period pain
Here are my favorite diet recommendations and supplements for treating period pain.
1. Reduce intake of inflammatory foods including sugar, alcohol, wheat and gluten, dairy, processed foods, vegetable oils (canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn oils and margarine) and excessive red meat intake.
2. Increase intake of anti-inflammatory foods (vegetables, oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, olive oil, walnuts, turmeric, ginger, thyme, sage, rosemary).
3. Increase intake of brassica vegetables that help your liver detoxify oestrogen (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale).
4. For those with histamine sensitivity, you may benefit from reducing your intake of high histamine foods (fermented foods, aged cheeses, cured meats, shellfish – see my website for a full list of high histamine foods to avoid).
5. Magnesium – reduces inflammation in the body and relaxes the smooth muscle of the uterus.
6. Zinc – down regulates inflammation in the body and is an important antioxidant. When there is inflammation we needs antioxidants to mop up the damage caused by the free radicals. It is important to test your zinc levels along with copper as copper competes for absorption of zinc. You ideally want a 1:1 ratio of zinc to copper.
7. Tumeric – this amazing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herb is great to take all month to reduce inflammation in the body. You can also increase the dose with your period for acute relief.
8. Vitamin C – a potent antioxidant to help reduce inflammation. It also stablises mast cells that release histamines.
9. DIM (Diindolylmethane), is a phytochemical produced during the digestion of brassica vegetables. This amazing supplement will help you detox oestrogen out of the body, thereby reducing histamines, and period pain.
10. Calcium-D-Glucurate – like DIM, Calcium-D-Glucurate detoxifies oestrogen out of the body, thereby reducing histamines, and period pain.
Author: Joanne Kennedy
Joanne Kennedy is a degree qualified Naturopath practising in the Sydney CBD. Areas of speciality include: MTHFR, Women’s hormones; stress, fatigue and insomnia; anxiety & depression; gut/digestive health; and histamine intolerance. Jo has helped hundreds of patients with chronic and complicated health issues gain control of their health and finally heal.
Jo is currently seeing patients in the Sydney CBD at Sydney Health & Wellness Centre and via Skype. For appointments call Jo on 0400 658 003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org