Menstrual Cramps

Menstrual cramps

can be very uncomfortable for women. That may be an understatement for some.


Menstrual cramps

are pains in the belly and pelvic areas that so many women wish would just go away during their menstrual period.

Menstrual cramps

are not the same as the discomfort felt during premenstrual syndrome (PMS). But the symptoms of both can sometimes be experienced as a continual process.

Menstrual cramps

are the #1 cause of absenteeism in women under 30 years of age. Half of women who have menstrual periods experience some discomfort, but 10% are temporarily disabled by the severity of the symptoms.

The symptoms of menstrual cramps can range from mild to severe. Sometimes they’re barely noticeable, only last a short time and are sometimes felt as a sense of light heaviness in the belly. Severe menstrual cramps can be so painful that they interfere with a woman’s normal activities for several days.

Menstrual cramps

affect more than 50% of women, and among these, as many as 15% would describe their menstrual cramps as severe.

The medical term used to describe menstrual cramps is “dysmenorrhea.” Medical people like to label two types of dysmenorrhea, “primary and secondary.”

In primary dysmenorrhea, there’s no underlying gynecologic problem causing the pain.

This type of cramping is pretty normal and may begin within six months to a year following menarche, (the beginning of menstruation), or the time when a girl starts having menstrual periods.

Menstrual cramps typically don’t begin until ovulatory menstrual cycles, (when an egg is released from the ovaries), and actual menstrual bleeding usually begins before the start of ovulation. So, an adolescent girl may not experience dysmenorrhea until months or years following the onset of menstruation.

In secondary dysmenorrhea, there’s some underlying abnormal condition, (usually involving a woman’s reproductive system) contributing to the menstrual pain.

What’s the reason for menstrual cramps?

Every month, the inner lining of the uterus, (the endometrium) normally builds up in preparation for a possible pregnancy. The woman’s body actually gets ready to bear a child.

After ovulation, if the egg is not fertilized by a sperm, no pregnancy results and the current lining of the uterus is no longer needed.

The woman’s estrogen and progesterone hormone levels decrease, and the lining of the uterus becomes swollen and is eventually shed as the menstrual flow continues, it’s replaced by a new lining in the next monthly cycle.

As the old uterine lining begins to break down, molecular compounds called prostaglandins are released.

These cause the muscles of the uterus to contract. When the uterine muscles contract, they constrict the blood supply to the endometrium.

This contraction blocks the delivery of oxygen to the tissue of the endometrium which, in turn, breaks down and dies.

After this tissue dies, the uterine contractions literally squeeze the old endometrial tissue through the cervix, and out of the body, by way of the vagina.

Other substances known as “leukotrienes,” which are chemicals that play a part in the inflammatory response, are also elevated at this time, and may be related to the cause of menstrual cramps.

What makes cramping so painful?

Uterine contractions that occur in response to prostaglandins and other chemicals, cause the cramping sensation to intensify as clots or pieces of bloody tissue from the lining of the uterus pass through the cervix, especially if a woman’s cervical canal is narrow.

The difference between more painful and those that are less painful may be related to a woman’s prostaglandin levels.

Women with menstrual cramps have “elevated levels of prostaglandins” in the uterine lining, when compared with women who don’t experience cramps. The cramps are very similar to those a pregnant woman experiences when she’s given “prostaglandin” to induce labor.

Factors that influence menstrual cramps:

Unusually narrow cervical canal
Backward tilting of the uterus (a retroverted uterus)
Lack of exercise is now known to contribute to painful menstrual cramps
Emotional stress can increase the discomfort of menstrual cramps

Every woman needs to find a treatment that works for her.

Make sure you get adequate rest and sleep, but also regular exercise (especially walking). Some women get a degree of relief from an abdominal massage, yoga, or orgasmic sexual activity. A heating pad applied to the abdominal area may relieve symptoms for others.

Some nonprescription drugs can help control the pain as well as actually prevent the menstrual cramps themselves.

For mild cramps, aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol), or Pamprin, Diurex MPR, FEM-1, Midol, Premsyn may be sufficient. Aspirin has limited effect in curbing the production of prostaglandin and is only useful for less painful cramps.

The main agents for treating moderate menstrual cramps are the “nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs” (NSAIDs), which lower the production of prostaglandin and lessen its effect. The NSAIDs that do not require a prescription are:

Advil, Midol IB, Motrin and Nuprin
Aleve, Anaprox
Actron, Orudis KT

A woman should start taking one of these medications before her pain becomes to severe. Starting medication 1 to 2 days before a period is due to begin and continuing taking medication 1-2 days into her period may be best. The best results are obtained by taking one of the NSAIDs on a scheduled basis and not waiting for the pain to begin.


Foods That Ease Menstrual Cramps:

Whole foods are best when you’re trying to ease menstrual cramps. Whole grain, fresh fruit and vegetables, and whole foods that are rich in calcium and magnesium, would be the best to eat. Broccoli, kale, whole wheat pastas, breads and brown rice are foods that help ease the pain of menstrual cramps.

Leave the skins on your veggies and fruits, since that’s where the majority of nutrients lie.

Vitamin C is good, but in order for your body to absorb the vitamin C it’s necessary to leave the “pith” on the orange, (that bitter white stuff we ususally pick off.)

The pith contains ascorbic acid that enables the vitamin C to nourish your body.

Chocolate And Menstrual Cramps:

Chocolate is also considered an anti oxidant that can help your mood as well as fight the sugar cravings. Only the dark chocolate contains these health benefits, and 1 to 2 ounces a day is all you need. But the chocolate that covers a doughnut is NOT the same.

Flax Seed For Menstrual Cramps:

A couple tablespoons can help with your cramping. Simply sprinkle them over you cereal or add it to a smoothie for a morning boost.

You can buy flax seed in an oil form or the actual seed. If you buy the oil form, be sure it says “cold pressed” on the bottle and that it’s stored in a cooler. This is an indication that it’s good quality.

Fish For Menstrual Cramps:

Fish that contains Omega 3 fatty acids contains an anti-inflammatory effect that can help with cramps as well as bloating. The added benefit is that it’s good for a woman’s heart health.

Salmon is one of the best known sources that contains this mighty anti oxidant, but Tuna, Pacific herring, and Mackerel are also good as well.

Foods To Avoid With Menstrual Cramps:

Caffeine and alcohol should completely be avoided, which to some maybe a hard thing to give up, but your pain will be decreased.

Try to eat smaller meals more often. This helps avoid dips in your blood sugar which can make you feel sluggish.

Red meats and dairy should be absolutely be avoided as well, since they actually increase the production of “prostaglandins,” which contributes to menstrual cramps.

Make sure you get enough vitamin D.

Evening Primrose Oil: This contains the essential fatty acid, gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which aids in treating pain. It’s also helpful in restoring abnormal hormone physiology, which can contribute to PMS symptoms.

DIM (diindolylmethane): DIM is a natural phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

It has unique properties that allow it to modify the metabolism of estrogen, promoting optimal estrogen balance and supporting healthy progesterone and testosterone production.

Elevated estrogen levels has been linked to the severity of PMS symptoms in women. Symptoms become more severe as estrogen rises.

DIM exerts a balancing effect on hormones and may benefit conditions like PMS, which are associated with estrogen-progesterone imbalance.

Chinese Herbs: Chinese herbs have been used to treat menstrual cramps for hundreds of years. Studies have found certain Chinese herbs were more effective than NSAIDs, oral contraceptive pills, acupuncture, heat compressions or placebos, in relieving menstrual cramp pain.

Cinnamon bark
Chinese angelica root
Szechuan lovage root
Red peony root, white peony root
Chinese motherwort

Acupuncture: A review of 27 studies found that acupuncture may alleviate menstrual cramps better than drugs or herbal medicine by stimulating the production of endorphins and serotonin in the central nervous system.

Dietary changes: Dietary changes are very helpful in relieving cramping and other PMS symptoms.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks
Reduce your sugar intake
Avoid smoked cheeses, meats, and fish (they increase fluid retention)
Making sure you get enough nutrients in your diet, especially vitamin B6, manganese, vitamins A and E, calcium, magnesium, animal-based omega-3 fats and tryptophan

Exercise: It raises your levels of endorphins, the chemicals in your brain that are associated with pain relief.

Heat: And finally, use a hot water bottle on your lower abdomen or soak in a warm bath. It may provide temporary relief of menstrual pain.

Author: Steve Berchtold


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