There are many different causes of period pain, the most common being pain caused by an increase in prostaglandin chemicals. Prostaglandins are inflammatory mediators that cause the muscles and blood vessels of the uterus to contract. When excess levels of prostaglandins are present in the uterus, this can contribute to uterine cramping (aka period pain). A small amount of these chemicals are needed for the lining to shed, but too many will cause period pain.
The next most common cause of period pain is endometriosis - affecting 10% of the population.
No matter the root cause of your period the treatment is all pretty similar. With any pain situation, the goal is to reduce inflammation and relax the uterine muscles.
These are my favourite ways to reduce period pain:
Increase magnesium intake: Magnesium reduces prostaglandins and regulates muscle contraction and relaxation, alleviating menstrual cramping. Include lots of dark green leafy vegetables each day or a supplement.
Increase omega-3 fats: omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects, working to reduce inflammatory prostaglandins associated with period pain. Consuming oily fish 3-4 times a week will give you plenty of omega-3's to help fight period pain.
Add in a zinc supplement: Zinc regulates hormones, supports the immune system, and inhibits the production of prostaglandin, reducing period pain. Most women will need a supplement to get a therapeutic dose of zinc to achieve pain reduction. 30-50mg of zinc daily can really make a difference to pain levels.
Reduce alcohol consumption: This can be a big help for many people with period pain! Two key reasons:
- Inflammation: Alcohol can increase prostaglandin levels.
- Liver function: Alcohol is processed by the liver, and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to dysfunction. The liver plays an important role in regulating hormone levels in the body, so liver dysfunction can contribute to hormonal imbalances and worsen period pain.
Try removing alcohol for 1-2 cycles and see how your pain improves.
Period pain is something most women will experience in their lifetime but is not normal. Periods should be pain-free, that's not to say you won't feel anything during your bleed, but the sensation shouldn't be bad enough to need painkillers or time off school or work. Any period pain should be investigated if you find that nutritional strategies are not enough to decrease the pain. Make sure you bring it up with your GP if period pain is bothering you.