Hi Sandra, I'm in my early 20s and have suffered with bad period pain since my teens. I've been cleared of any underlying conditions such as endometriosis so it seems there is little that can be done except to medicate for the pain each month or shut down my periods completely with the pill. I want to explore natural options. Any advice? Thanks, Joanne.
Hi Joanne, thanks for your question. This is an important topic since many young girls and women are led to believe that normal periods involve significant pain, and disruptions to their lives and moods. This is quite opposite to the traditional medicine perspective on the menstrual cycle, which views problematic symptoms as a reflection of underlying imbalance.
In pre-modern times the female body with its innate ability to give birth to new life inspired awe and wonder. The menstrual cycle reflected the waxing and waning of the moon, and many other natural cycles, the awareness of which connected women and their societies to nature. Not surprisingly, women took a proactive approach to support a healthy reproductive system, mostly in the form of medicinal plants.
For many women today the menstrual cycle has become more of a burden than a joy. A combination of a change in emotional meaning, stress, environmental influences, diet and lifestyle factors has resulted in hormonal imbalances which reflect in pre-menstrual syndrome and a painful period. Whilst these have become common, they are not normal. A normal healthy period will turn up with little to no disruption to mood or everyday activities.
Here are the key medicinal plants that I have used clinically for a healthy cycle and to treat period pain. These are best combined in a medicinal tea or as an oral liquid, allowing the various plants to complement and enhance the action of the others.
Chaste Tree berries (Vitex agnus-castus) has a progesterone-like action, which makes it an excellent remedy for PMT and a range of menstrual and gynaecological problems related to hormone imbalance. It has a calming effect and can be used for irregular and painful periods, heavy bleeding, fibroids, headaches and to re-establish hormone balance after the contraceptive pill.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) has an affinity with the female reproductive system, helping to regulate menstruation and relieve menstrual cramps and pain. Its astringent properties help with excessive bleeding and its ability to enhance lymphatic clearance reduces uterine and breast congestion. It also supports the function of the liver, thus aiding in the metabolism of hormones and inflammatory compounds that can contribute to period pain.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) has been used traditionally to relax and strengthen women by helping to alleviate irritability and depression associated with the menstrual cycle. It helps to relax the spasms that cause period pain. As a carminative, it has a toning effect on the digestive system, in particular the liver and gallbladder, to soothe nausea and digestive upset which can occur in the first few days of the period.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) contains sterols, which have a hormone-like action to regulate the menstrual cycle. It has anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties that can help to reduce uterine congestion, pain and heavy flow. It combines well with Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) which is beneficial and nourishing for women of all ages. It helps to regulate the cycle and reduces painful periods, especially when taken together with Yarrow.
Other measures to consider include an anti-inflammatory diet that significantly reduces sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed and deep-fried foods. All of these foods drive inflammatory prostaglandins that worsen period pain. Many women report significant relief from a diet free of cows dairy and wheat, since these foods may drive inflammation in susceptible individuals. Instead, eat plenty of preferably organic fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and unrefined, cold pressed vegetable or seed oils (like olive, flaxseed, and avocado).
Magnesium works well for both prevention and acute care of period pain. Good quality magnesium taken throughout the month can help to reduce inflammatory prostaglandins. Extra can be taken during your period to relieve the pain. Zinc also reduces prostaglandins and improves blood circulation to the uterus. Clinical trials showed it was effective for period pain. I recommend taking it daily with food for 3 months.
Any plan to reduce period pain will take a minimum of three months, so ensure you can stick with the plan for the longer-term. If your condition persists or does not improve, see your leading healthcare professional.
Aksoy, A., Gozukara, I., & Kucur, S. (2014). Evaluation of the efficacy of Fructus agni casti in women with severe primary dysmenorrhea: A prospective Doppler study. The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Research, 40(3): 779-784.
Jenabi, E., & Fereidoony, B. (2015). Effect of Achillea Millefolium on Relief of Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Double-Blind Randomized Clinical Trial. Journal of Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology, 28(5), 402-404.
Zekavat, O., Karimi, M., Amanat, A., & Alipour, F. (2015). A randomised controlled trial of oral zinc sulphate for primary dysmenorrhoea in adolescent females. The Australian & New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 55(4), 369-73. doi: 10.1111/ajo.12367.