If you’re anything like me, you know how painful period cramps can be. In high school, there were days when I would stay home from school because I was in so much pain! Right when my first cramp struck, I would pop three Advil and within a half hour, I was all better (except for the fact that I was deteriorating my insides).
I understand the desire for instant pain relief, but it’s so important to know what painkillers do to your body. Drugs such as Ibuprofen are in the category of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Like most other instances, people often don’t link their health problems back to things like diet, toxins in their environment, or to painkillers such as Advil or Ibuprofen. However, taking these drugs on a semi regular basis can have devastating side effects. Some of these side effects include cardiovascular problems, hearing loss, heart failure, allergic reactions, high increased risk of miscarriage, and my favorite: gastrointestinal complications. NSAIDS are extremely harmful to your gut. Whether you’re taking these drugs short term, long term, frequently, or infrequently you are still at risk for damage to your body and specifically your gut.
Many people feel at a standstill because they don’t want to feel this intense pain, so they feel that their only option is to resort to drugs. There are natural methods to ease and cure period pains! If your body is used to drugs and painkillers, you must to give these natural methods a fair chance; it may take a little bit of time to get used to them, but your body will adjust.
The first step in taking control of your menstrual cycle, is to really understand it. Did you even know there are FOUR phases in our cycle? (I didn’t either!) I discovered the app MyFlo within this past year and I can honestly say that it’s my favorite “period tracker” app, but it’s so much more than just a tracker. In the past, I have been frustrated with period tracking apps because I would forget to document when my cycle started and ended and the app would say I had been on my period for like, 20 days, and then it was completely inaccurate. This app is nothing like that; it’s extremely low maintenance and useful. I’ll give a quick overview of the four phases of the entire cycle to start, but all the detailed and more useful information is on the app! I think it’s very interesting and honestly kind of a bummer that we aren’t taught this information in middle or high school. We learn that we get a period, and that’s about it. I am a strong believe in truly understanding what is happening in our bodies when changes like the menstrual cycle occur.
Phase One: The Menstrual Phase, 3-7 days (darkest pink on calendar)
Hormones? At their lowest concentration. Great communication between brain hemispheres.
Focus? Evaluate projects and results.
Exercise? Relax and perform light exercises such as walking, yoga, pilates (napping counts).
Food? Protein, fats, fiber, low glycemic foods to keep your blood sugar steady. Seafood and kelp can help restore Zinc and Iron that you lose on your cycle.
Love? Engage if you want, don’t if you don’t! Take some time for yourself and bring your focus inward.
Phase Two: Follicular, 7-10 days (lightest pink on calendar)
Hormones? Hormonal effect on the brain is increased creativity and openness to new beginnings.
Focus? Brainstorming and creativity is high, good for planning new projects. Think big and set intentions.
Exercise? Try something new to mix it up; dance, cardio, Zumba, etc.
Food? Fresh, vibrant, and light foods will provide energy. Salads, veggies, nutrient dense grains, and fermented foods.
Love? Pay attention to arousal and foreplay and try new things in bed or out! Rock climbing, concerts, and being active.
Phase Three: Ovulation, 3-5 days (second lightest pink on calendar)
Hormones? Rise in FSH, estrogen increases, testosterone surges and then drops. Verbal and social centers are stimulated in the brain.
Focus? Communicate and collaborate!
Exercise? Lots of energy to burn. High impact workouts such as SoulCycle, BootCamp, HIIT.
Food? Raw veggies and fruit to eliminate any extra estrogen. Lighter grains.
Love? Hormones are surging, passionate play is recommended. Go out on dates and think hot and steamy!
Phase Four: Luteal, 10-14 days (second darkest pink on calendar)
Hormones? Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone reach their peak concentrations and then begin to fall to lowest levels before bleeding begins. Brain chemistry is optimized for task and detail. PMS is common during this phase because of too much estrogen production. In the first half, you have energy to spend with others and the second half is for focusing and taking care of yourself.
Focus? Check items off your to-do list. Organizing will feel satisfying. Focus is high.
Exercise? First part of the week you will have lots of energy, use for slow strength training or intense yoga. Scale back later in the week to things like walking, pilates and light yoga.
Food? Foods rich in B vitamins will starve off sugar cravings. Leafy greens to boost calcium and magnesium. Roasted and baked root veggies will help your liver and large intestine flush out estrogen.
Love? In the first half you will feel ready to engage, but may need some extra help getting there. This is a romantic phase; make dinner, get some flowers. Pay attention to your inner voice.
Now that you’re educated about the phases that are part of your cycle, why not track your own? I love this app because it’s very low maintenance. All you have to do is tell the app when your period starts, and when it ends. Even if you forget, it estimates for you! If you want to be more involved, you can track your symptoms everyday or once a week (not only during your cycle, but during any day of the month that you’re experiencing symptoms). The app even gives you advice about how to deal with the specific symptoms you’re having. If you wanted, you could EVEN get emails sent to your significant other about what kind of sex is best for the phase you are experiencing.
MyFlo has really helped me with getting to know my body, and I think it’s a really amazing tool for all women. Although all bodies are different and all bodies will feel different during different phases, I think that this app can give you validation about why you may be feeling a certain way, on or off your period. Have I mentioned it’s free? It’s awesome.
Peppermint Oil is my number one go-to remedy for cramps. My cramps leave me in severe pain, sometimes so much so that I just want to lay in bed and cry (which sometimes I do). Something that has helped me tremendously is rubbing Peppermint Oil on my lower abdomen, or anywhere where I am experiencing cramping. The Peppermint Oil acts as almost an instant pain relief. I have a roller of Peppermint Oil that is slightly diluted with Grapeseed oil that I carry around with me in case cramps strike unexpectedly. But, my favorite thing to do is to rub pure Young Living Peppermint Oil on my stomach and lay down. It is kind of a cool “icy hot” sensation, but it truly makes the pain go away for me. Another natural pain reliever oil is Eucalyptus Oil. IT works very similarly to Peppermint Oil, I think it’s just a personal preference which oil helps you most. I also use other oils to help me relax during the stressful times that surround my period. I have an Ellia Essentials Oil Diffuser and I truly love it. You’ll always find Lavender in my diffuser, sometimes by itself, sometimes mixed with Frankincense or other oils, but find which oils help you personally for pain relief and to relax your mind and body as well. Maybe even try taking a hot bath with some oils or scented bath salts such as Eucalyptus during your period and see what kind of pain relief that brings you.
Similar to Peppermint Oil, China Gel is a pain relieving lotion. It is extremely beneficial for muscle pain. I discovered it at the yoga studio I used to work at and it honestly does wonders. It is like icy-hot, but a natural and less painful version (I hate icy-hot). It tingles similarly to peppermint oil and it is a bit pricy, but rubbing the lotion on your lower abdomen really does relieve the cramping. I order it on Amazon!
Another pain relieving tool is a heating pad. If the cramps become so unbearable that I can barely move, I plug in a heating pad (I have no idea where I got it or what brand it is… my mom has had it forever). I simply lay the heating pad across my lower abdomen, and honestly I try to fall asleep. The heating pad is very relaxing and curbs the pain. My only complaint is that sometimes it gets too hot and I end up waking up from being a bit overheated. I wouldn’t recommend sleeping with it through the night, but napping with it has helped me a lot.
I actually came across this recommendation from the MyFlo app. One day, I was tracking my symptoms, and I was having severe cramps. The app recommended eating a lot of flax seeds during my menstrual cycle to help. (Make sure they are ground flax seeds in order to receive all of the nutrients from the seed, if they are whole your body minimally absorbs the nutrient dense benefits). Flaxseeds is both an anti-inflammatory and Omega-3 food, which both help to reduce bloat and period cramps. Eating anti-inflammatory foods and Omega-3’s (similar to the Paleo diet) can help curb period pains. Your body automatically becomes bloated and inflammatory during your period, so try to counter that with very simple, clean, anti-inflammatory foods. The entire Paleo diet is an anti-inflammatory diet, and I wrote a whole blog post on Paleo that you can find here!
I take Ginger extract capsules from Pure Encapsulations (one of the few vitamin brands I trust), once a day from about 5 days before I am expected to get my period, all the way through my cycle. I also try to incorporate Ginger into my diet during my cycle by drinking Yogi Ginger Tea, and my favorite: GT’s Gingerade Kombucha. The Kombucha is particularly a good idea because it is anti-inflammatory as well. I order my Pure Encapsulations vitamins on Amazon.
Even though you may not feel like getting out of bed, let alone doing a full blown workout, it can really help to relieve period pain. I can confidently say that I have never experienced period cramps while I am practicing yoga. Whether it’s going for a walk, a run, maybe you have a lot of energy and want to do some HIIT; but my favorite is yoga. Getting your body moving in any way really makes a difference. Some people don’t feel comfortable going upside down or inverting during their period and some argue that it’s bad for you. Personally, I feel fine doing inversions during my cycle, and if something feels uncomfortable, I simply come down and rest in child’s pose. Speaking of Child’s Pose, it’s a great one to do during your cycle. Some other poses that may help are: Cat Cow Pose, Hanging Forward Fold, Knees to Chest Pose, Supine Twist, Savasana or even try meditating.
I hope you will give all of these remedies a try until you find one that works for you. You don’t have to sacrifice your long term health by taking drugs and painkillers in order to find relief.
Have you ever thought about what you’re putting in your body (literally)? I think it’s interested when people care about what they’re putting in their bodies as far as foods go, but they’re not at all worried about other toxic things being put into their bodies. There are so many toxins that we probably use and ingest on a daily basis, including tampons and feminine care products. Manufacturers of these products are in no way required to list the ingredients in the product. Think about cotton for example. Most cotton in genetically engineered and sprayed with pesticides. The cotton isn’t the only problem, the ingredients that make up the fragrances in the tampons and other products is completely unregulated. The chemicals that are used to bleach these pads and tampons include chlorine, which can leave traces of dioxins in the products. This is where the real scary health risks come into play. Dioxins are highly toxic pollutants that damage your immune system, interferes with your hormone system, and has been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption.
Using toxic tampons is even worse than eating GMO’s and non-organic food with harmful chemicals because the vaginal wall absorbs things much more quickly. The vagina is a direct way for chemicals to enter the rest of the body and into the bloodstream, more so than any other body part.
The time is now to take control of your body. This is something that I am extremely passionate about because people are not educated about something that is not their fault. Women must buy feminine care products, and we have a right to know what is going into those products and what is being put into our bodies.
Safer alternatives are tampons/pads made from organic cotton. I use the brand Azalea from Whole Foods. I am also in the process of switching over to the Diva Cup! (By in the process I mean it’s sitting in the package and I’m too scared to try it). If anyone has experiences with this product, please let me know! If you are interested in buying the Diva Cup, they sell it on Thrive Market! Use this link and search “Diva Cup” for 25% off: http://thrv.me/3MHpKV