Every month, women experience a bleed vaginally. When a baby is not conceived, the womb sheds the lining it created to house a developing baby. These few days for some women are straight forward and do not present any new issues. For others, however, it can be a traumatic and upsetting experience. Why? Some experience heavy periods and find themselves in embarrassing situations where they may leak onto their clothing. Others may suffer from painful periods. Like every other bodily function, our lifestyle can impact how severe some of these problems can become.
Dysmenorrhea, or painful menstruation, is defined as cramps in the abdomen and can be accompanied with sweating, nausea, vomiting, headaches and diarrhoea. These cramps can be in the tummy, back or legs. These symptoms can be entirely normal during a period due to the changes in the body. However, when the symptoms are extreme and impacting on the ability to do daily activities, there could be a problem.
What are the causes of painful periods? Often, if it develops later in life there can be an underlying issue with the womb. However, in the majority of cases there is no cause found, as is the case usually if it develops earlier on in your menstruating life. 67% – 90% of women aged between 17-20 years old will at some point experience a painful period. This may subside or you could continue to have painful periods in your 40’s. So, what do we do when we are having a painful period? Take painkillers, grab our hot water bottle and hide under our duvet until it passes. Is there anything else we can do if we are suffering?
- Smoking and obesity are two known risk factors that a person can attempt to alter. Losing weight can be difficult, especially if there are other menstrual issues at play like polycystic ovarian syndrome. This does not mean it is impossible. Willpower and drive to actively change your life to enable you to reduce your pain and increase your productivity, enjoyment and happiness is paramount to changing what you can do!
- Improve your nutrition – there are many research articles available on dietary changes and improving painful periods however many of them are limited for one reason or another. That, in my opinion, does not mean they do not contain some useful nuggets for change. In particular:
- Omega 3 fatty acids – these are something I have written about before, particularly when talking about mental health. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation that plays a role in increased pain during your menstrual cycle. Either taking it as a supplement or increasing your intake in your diet (the preferred option!) can have a positive effect on pain management. Omega 3 consumption has been linked with a decreased risk of developing endometriosis, another painful condition associated with the menstrual cycle. Omega 3 also help reduced stress and low mood, two factors that impact on how painful your period is and feels to you. Omega 3 can be found in high quantities in oily fish like salmon and mackerel as well as walnuts and broccoli.
- Vitamin D insufficiency is something else that has been shown to have some connection with painful menstruation. As Muslim women in hijab, vitamin D levels can drop because we tend not to have as much skin exposed to sunlight. That being said, those living in countries where there is a lack of sunlight, e.g. the UK, regardless of how much they cover up can be at risk of vitamin D insufficiency. Unfortunately, Vitamin D is not something we can make up in our diet so it is important to take a supplement, especially during the winter. It is also important to grab as much sunlight in the summer months as possible.
- Natural remedies: There are some natural remedies for period pains that you could try. These do not all have a strong scientific backing however many have been used for centuries and have important anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic effects. Always use with caution as there are no guidelines on how much is too much:
- Camomile Tea: Camomile is shown to relieve muscle spasms and relaxes nerve endings.
- Fennel seeds: Traditionally used in the Mediterranean and Asian cultures as a natural period pain relief, fennel has anti-inflammatory components. It can be used to season foods, in tea or as a supplement.
- Cinnamon: Another ancient remedy to many problems, cinnamon has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Cinnamon can be added to baking, cooking, tea or again taken as a supplement.
It is important if you have any problems with your periods, changes your cycle or bleeding flow or have any concerns that you see a medical professional to rule out any underlying causes that need treatment. Always seek advice from a dietician or nutritionist before making drastic changes to your diet.