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Natural Support for Your Menstrual Cycle

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Natural Support for Your Menstrual Cycle
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A monthly reminder of the miracle of fertility, periods can also cause unwanted side effects. From physical pain to depression, many women suffer in silence. However, there are numerous natural ways to reduce period pain and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

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The menstrual cycle is the female body’s way of preparing her uterus for pregnancy. Each month, a nurturing environment is created inside the uterus from special cells, which can feed and protect a fertilized egg. If no egg is fertilized, this uterine lining is shed, a blood called a period or menstruation, in preparation for the next month’s cycle. This usually lasts 28 days although this can vary, and most women experience this cycle from their teens until menopause — which usually occurs in their 50’s.

What Are the Symptoms of PMS?

Pre Menstrual Syndrome is a collection of symptoms typically experienced one to two weeks before menstruation. Changes in hormonal levels during the menstrual cycle affect every woman differently and some women experience unwanted side effects as a result of naturally occurring fluctuations in circulatory hormones and neurotransmitters. The most common physical and emotional symptoms related to PMS are:[1,2,3]

Physical Symptoms Emotional Symptomss
  • Back, muscle and joint pain
  • Changes in mood stability or concentration problems
  • Headaches
  • Feeling irritated or tense
  • Skin issues like acne
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Breast tenderness
  • Hypersomnia / insomnia
  • Digestive disorders such as diarrhea or constipation

 

  • Food cravings or alterations in appetite

For some women these symptoms are mild, yet for others they can have a dramatic impact on day to day living. However, there are several ways you can support yourself to eradicate or reduce the symptoms of PMS.

Vitamins

Calcium and B vitamins, such as vitamins B1, B2 and B6, are beneficial for the treatment of PMS.[4]
They are involved in the metabolism of different neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which in turn play a role in the initial development of PMS.[5] Therefore, to successfully alleviate PMS it is important to take the vitamins roughly two days prior to symptom onset. Observe your body and its reactions to know when to take action.

Supplements

Several supplements are beneficial in the treatment of PMS. Evening primrose oil reduces breast tenderness, irritability and feelings of depression. The secret behind this is gamma-linolenic acid. This acid is a precursor of prostaglandin E1, which dampens the biologic effects of prolactin. Since it is this prolactin that many women with PMS are especially sensitive to, the intake of evening primrose oil can, through its high concentration of gamma-linolenic acid, be very helpful in the treatment of PMS symptoms.[6]

Try to include these beneficial nutrients directly into your diet, or take a supplement. The following healthy foods contain high concentrations of helpful vitamins:[7]

  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Cow’s milk (CAUTION: be sure to choose organic milk — it will not contain the antibiotics otherwise given to cows producing non-organic milk)
  • Soya milk (CAUTION: soya is often genetically modified, so be careful which products you buy — choosing organic is a good way to ensure your soya milk is natural)
  • Spinach
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Bananas

Exercise

Various American studies investigating the impact of exercise on PMS reported two key benefits:

  • Exercise increases endorphin levels, which elevate mood.
  • Exercise influences the steroid hormone cycle, improving PMS symptoms.[8]

Regarding the latter point, research on athletes found that those with low steroid hormone levels also display low levels of menstrual cycle symptomatology.[9] While it is certainly not desirable to have a dysfunctional menstrual cycle due to excessive exercising (several hours a day), a moderate amount of physical activity decreases the negative symptoms of your period.

So, even if it feels like additional unwanted effort, exercising could be just what is needed to improve your symptoms.

Acupuncture

An important Korean review of acupuncture studies reported symptom improvements through different acupuncture techniques. The review comprised of 8 studies and 9 interventions that included Korean hand acupuncture and moxibustion technique, amongst others. Specifically, physical symptoms such as breast pain, head and backache and heat rushes could be alleviated with acupuncture techniques.[10]
Why not visit a well-established acupuncturist to help you to deal with your PMS symptoms?

Herbal Medicine

In addition, evidence demonstrating herbal medicine’s helpful role in the treatment of PMS was found.
Chaste tea extract (vitex agnus castus), gingko (Gingko biloba), saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus), and Xiao yao san, a traditional Chinese herbal medicine, are natural plant remedies that can support you when you’re feeling troubled by your monthly period.[11] Chaste tea extract, for example, has long been used for gynecologic conditions, including PMS, and was found to be involved in central dopaminergic activity that might play a role in mood instability during your period. Saffron is involved in serotoninergic mechanisms and, on top of that, has long been used to alleviate stomach problems.[12]

Maybe your acupuncturist also has professional knowledge about herbal medicine?

Get Your Cravings under Control

Food cravings can be heightened during your period, specifically for fatty and sugary foods. Fortunately, there are healthy ways to satisfy these food desires with snacks that are also packed full of nutrients to support your body:

  • Dark chocolate: contains magnesium and theobromine, which reduces blood pressure and plays a role in appetite control.
  • Dried fruits: rich in iron, dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins.
  • Nuts: high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Sunflower or pumpkin seeds: rich in vitamin E, protein, dietary fiber, minerals and healthy fats.
  • Fruit smoothies: contain fructose, a good alternative to the refined sugar typically contained in candy and cakes.

Keep these healthy alternatives in your kitchen so that you can quickly satisfy your cravings when they arise.

Painkillers and Natural Alternatives

There are numerous over-the-counter painkillers to alleviate period-related pain, including Paracetamol, Ibuprofen and Aspirin. However, these medications can cause some unwanted side effects, including triggering nausea or other stomach problems. Fortunately, the following natural herbs have been shown to relieve pain:

  • Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens):[13] contains irioid and phenylpropanoid glycosides, exhibiting cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities amongst others, and is used to treat lower back pain.
  • Capsaicin (capsicum; active component of chili peppers):[14] plays a role in the release of endorphins, shares the same pathway as pain and is used to relieve the latter.
  • Peppermint oil (mentha piperita):[15] is very high in menthol and alleviates stomach problems by displaying carminative (combatting flatulence) and antibacterial actions.
  • White willow bark (salix alba)[16]: the active ingredient is salicin, which is also the main component of aspirin. It reduces pain and inflammation. Other compounds include polyphenols and flavonoids that are antiseptic, antioxidant and boost the immune system

General Guidelines

In addition to the above tips, which include the use of beneficial supplements, exercise, acupuncture and herbal medicines, tips to handle cravings and painkillers, there are some general guidelines that will have a clearly positive impact on your period discomfort.

Stay well Hydrated

Always make sure you drink enough — especially during your period. Dehydration can lead to a worsening of your menstrual cramps. Drink a couple of hot or warm drinks during the day, since this will increase the blood flow to your skin and relax strained muscles.

Adjust your Diet

ThinkstockPhotos-177691191As you’ve discovered, there are various nutrients that can help you to stay more comfortable during your period. Thus, aim to incorporate the foods that are listed above, which contain lots of beneficial vitamins and minerals, into your diet. In addition, if you struggle to drink a lot, eat more foods that have high water content, such as watermelon, cucumber and lettuce. Furthermore, fiber has been found to lower menstrual pain by lowering blood estrogen levels, which in turn leads to cramps when abundantly available[17]. And while we’re on the subject of nutrition, stay away from junk food as French fries and burgers increase bloating![18]

Periods are part of being a woman, but that doesn’t mean they should be uncomfortable or painful. You don’t have to reach for medication; you can use natural remedies to relieve your symptoms. Some of them may be taken pro-actively before the start of your period, such as evening primrose oil and B vitamins. Others, like exercising, acupuncture and herbal painkillers, can be used during your period to manage your symptoms naturally. 

References
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