That time of the month. I can almost hear the collective ‘groan’ as I raise this topic. Up to 50% of the female population experience primary dysmenorrhea (period pain) each month. So either you have the pain or have a friend or family member who suffers with it. But did you know that in the USA it is estimated 600 million working hours or 2 billion dollars are lost annually because of incapacitating period pain?  That’s huge!
While medical interventions can be successful with managing the pain, many women do not wish to have long-term chemical exposure from medication month after month. Fortunately, non-drug alternatives exist that can help manage period pain naturally. Before I explain how these natural therapies can work let me give you the low-down on what causes period pain.
There are two types of period pain – primary and secondary. Primary is the most common cause which means that the pain produced is not caused by an underlying medical condition. The pain usually starts 1-2 days before menstruation and is felt in the lower abdomen, back or thighs and is commonly described as aching or cramping. Pain levels can range from moderate to severe and can greatly affect day to day activity. 
Secondary dysmenorrhea is due to an underlying medical condition such as PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids or an infection. This type of pain usually begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and has other associated symptoms.
Natural alternatives which help relieve primary dysmenorrhea can also help assist some pain caused by the underlying medical condition but treatment of secondary dysmenorrhea should always be discussed with your primary physician and may require medical intervention alongside natural therapies.
The cause of primary dysmenorrhea (i.e. common menstrual cramps) is due to a chemical naturally produced by our body called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins play a number of different roles in our body including the tightening and relaxation of smooth muscle (such as in the uterus) as well as dilating blood vessels and modulating inflammation. Women who experience primary dysmenorrhea have shown to have increased production of prostaglandins from their endometrial tissue – the part that sheds each month. This results in increased tone in the uterus and stronger, more frequent uterine contractions which can lead to inflammation. While inflammation can be protective it also stimulates nerve fibers to send pain signals to the brain, so we get period pain. 
How can you help decrease excessive prostaglandins and inflammation in the body naturally?
Prostaglandins are produced from a chemical substance called arachidonic acid, which is essentially an omega 6 fatty acid. Our fatty acid balance is essential for our health particularly in relation to regulating inflammation. While omega 6’s are essential we often consume too many omega 6’s in our diet from canola oils and sunflower oils in fried foods, and not enough omega 3 fatty acids. When our fatty acid balance is thrown off it often increases arachidonic acid, which can increase prostaglandins and aggravate those menstrual cramps. Utilizing the tips below to decrease inflammation can help modulate the painful prostaglandins to help you decrease the pain associated with that time of the month.
Eating anti-inflammatory foods particularly those packed in omega 3’s are a great way to reduce inflammation and help normalize the fatty acid balance between your omega 3’s and omega 6’s. These include salmon (preferably fresh or frozen wild or canned sockeye), sardines packed in water or olive oil, herring, and black cod, organic omega-3 fortified eggs; hemp seeds and flaxseeds (preferably freshly ground); or taking a fish oil supplement (remember to read your labels to check the EPA and DHA dosage to make sure that it is therapeutic!).
Increasing fruit and vegetable intake as well as limiting caffeine, sugar and fried fatty foods (which contribute to inflammation) is also essential. Now I know some of you are thinking: “How do I avoid those sugary and fatty foods around that time of the month when I crave them so much?” The key is not to deny those cravings; it is to make healthy swaps. For example: instead of the sugar and a fat laden thick shake, make yourself a delicious coconut milk smoothie which contains healthy medium chain triglycerides and can be naturally sweetened with bananas and cacao to satisfy your sweet chocolaty cravings. As well as being delicious, these foods also contain micronutrients such as iron, magnesium and potassium which help your body fight inflammation so you can satisfy a craving and also use your food as medicine!
Did you know that another way to decrease inflammation is through Chiropractic adjustments? In a randomized clinical pilot study “Pain and Prostaglandin Levels in Dysmenorrheic Women following Spinal Manipulation” the results show that not only did the perceived period pain levels decrease in the patients receiving an adjustment but also blood tests showed prostaglandin levels also decreased!  In addition to this, further research has shown that spinal manipulative therapy has less risk and fewer side effects than taking medications . Our Chiropractors not only assess and specifically adjust your spine but they also recommend specific stretches and exercises which can enhance your treatment and can also help with the management of symptoms.
So if you or a friend is suffering each month, know that there are natural effective alternatives to treat your period pain. If you have any further questions about your pain or supplements or even want to know how else you can make healthy swaps ask one of our highly trained Chiropractors!
- Dawood MY: Dysmenorrhea. J Reprod Med 30: 154, 1985
- Widholm O: Epidemiology of premenstrual tension syndrome and primary dysmenorrhea. In Dawood MY, McGuire JL, Demers LM (eds): Premenstrual Syndrome and Dysmenorrhea, p 3. Baltimore: Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1985Dawood MY:
- Dysmenorrhea and prostaglandins: Pharmacological and therapeutic considerations. Drugs 122: 42, 1981
- Kokjohn, K: The effect of spinal manipulation on pain and prostaglandin levels in women with primary dysmenorrhea. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological therapy (1992) Jun 15 (5); 279-85
- Spears LG. A narrative review of medical, chiropractic and alternative health practices in the treatment of primary dysmenorrhea. J Chiropr Med, 2005 Spring;4(2):76-88.