Understanding Period Pain

Q My 20-year-old daughter suffers from the most terrible period pain. It is so bad that she cannot get out of bed for the first two days. I have tried giving her painkillers but although they sometimes take the edge off I can’t help feeling there is more we could be doing. Do you have any advice? With thanks. C.M.


When it comes to reproductive health, there are many factors to take into consideration that may support overall balance between the multiple hormones and messengers involved in this system.

Disruption in hormone functioning or a particular nutrient deficiency can have widespread effects on regulation of the hormonal cycle. The reproductive system is often regarded as a ‘delicate dance’ between all the mechanisms, messengers, hormones and nutrients involved, which emphasises the complexity of this system as a whole. Therefore, I will provide general guidelines that may be useful to support hormone balance and reduce period pains; however, if your daughter’s symptoms persist or deteriorate, I suggest that she sees a healthcare professional who can develop a tailored intervention programme for her.

Period pains can be caused by constriction of the ducts that carry blood from the uterus out of the body. This constriction may cause the blood and blood clots travelling through these ducts to contribute to pain. If this is the cause of her period pains, applying warmth to that area might help to relax the muscles that induce the constriction and thereby reduce the pain. A popular way to apply warmth is placing a hotwater bottle or ‘beanie’ bag on the lower abdomen area. Period pains are often worse in the winter seasons due to the constrictive effect that cold weather has.

Magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation, as well as dilation of arteries and ducts. In the standard Western diet, magnesium intake tends to be low and may therefore promote constriction and worsen the pain. My preferred form of magnesium intake (over and above diet) is magnesium bath salts or a magnesium spray, as it has been suggested that magnesium is absorbed more effectively trans dermally (through the skin). She can spray magnesium directly onto the abdominal area or take a 20-minute bath in magnesium-rich bath salts on a regular basis to support adequate magnesium stores.

Period pains can also be caused by an imbalance between pro- and anti-inflammatory messages in the body. In other words, proinflammatory messages may contribute to blood clotting and thereby increase the size of the blood clots that are to be cleared from the body during menstruation. The standard Western diet tends to be higher in pro-inflammatory foods relative to anti-inflammatory foods, which may add insult to injury if hormonal regulation is already out of sorts.

Pro-inflammatory foods include: red meat (especially beef), processed foods, sugar, refi ned carbohydrate foods, dairy, coffee, alcohol, nightshade vegetables (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, etc.), omega-6 rich foods (plant oils, nuts, seeds, etc.), soda drinks and take-away meals. Anti-inflammatory foods and spices include: dark-green leafy vegetables, oily fish (excellent source of anti-inflammatory compounds), avocados, most vegetables, most fruit, garlic, turmeric, ginger root, walnuts, legumes, cayenne pepper and cacao. Many women report success with evening primrose oil supplements, which contains high amounts of anti-inflammatory compounds and may therefore be soothing for period pains.

A generally healthy, nutrient-dense, wholefood diet that contains the above-mentioned anti-inflammatory foods and sufficient amounts of magnesium may therefore be useful to support hormonal regulation and reduce period pains.


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Understanding Period Pain

Jeanne van Zyl
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