Updated: Jul 11, 2020
To help make sense of your menstrual cycle, it is important to understand the interplay of hormones and physiologic responses your body goes through to build and shed the uterus lining. The cycle begins with menstrual bleeding which is the shedding of the lining of the uterus that builds up monthly to prepare for pregnancy. For many women a normal menstrual period typically lasts about four to eight days. Low levels of estrogen and progesterone tell your body to begin menstruation. The cycle can be divided into two phases, from day one of bleeding to ovulation, is the follicular phase. The length of this phase can vary considerably if ovulation is delayed due to stress, diet or other factors. The second phase of the cycle is the luteal phase which occurs from ovulation to the last day before the new period begins. The length of luteal phase is more finite than the follicular phase. The typical menstrual cycle is 28 days long, though it is still considered regular if you bleed every 24 to 34 days.
Regular periods are a sign that your body is functioning normally, with a few exceptions being if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, postmenopausal, or have a medical condition that causes your periods to stop. Your cycles may change in different ways as you get older, but irregular, painful or heavy periods may be signs of hormone imbalances. Dysmenorrhea is painful menstrual bleeding that is caused by contractions of the uterus and is the most common problem women report. It can also lead to other unpleasant symptoms like low back pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea and fatigue. Some women get severe pain which interferes with daily activities like work and other activities for one or more days every month. Women often try over the counter medication or the pill to improve their painful periods. If you suffer from severe symptoms, I would encourage you to get medically evaluated before attempting to treat yourself through change in diet, herbal or nutritional supplementation.
If you suffer from severe symptoms, I would encourage you to get medically evaluated before attempting to treat yourself through change in diet, herbal or nutritional supplementation.
Menstrual pain is caused by hormone substances called prostaglandins which promote inflammation and are involved in muscle contractions, blood vessel constriction, blood clotting and pain. Naturopathic treatment for painful periods focuses on the root cause of the cramps, which is inflammation rather than just treating the symptoms. An effective holistic approach includes dietary recommendations, exercise, rest and stress reduction.
There is no better way to take charge of your health than with a proper diet. Adopting an eating plan as part of your healing process is a great foundation for long-lasting health. Dietary recommendations include eating a well-balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and healthy fats as well as avoiding your individual food intolerances. Decrease intake of foods which tend to be pro-inflammatory like dairy, animal products, processed carbohydrates and alcohol. Try to eat mostly organic foods and have each meal contain protein, fiber and healthy fats, which includes non-farmed salmon, halibut, sardines, avocados, olive oil and coconut oil.
Seed cycling is a seed rotation plan which helps to restore hormonal balance by using food as medicine. It works so well because the hulls of the seeds contain chemicals called lignans which help modulate the hormonal pathways of the body while the seed oils are comprised of essential fatty acids that provide the building blocks for steroid hormone synthesis. As each seed type contains variations of these lignans and fatty acids, rotation of these seeds through the month provides the body with the variety of precursors it needs to create normal hormonal cycles. The rotation plan can be done according to either the menstrual cycle (if it is fairly regular) or phases of the moon (if the menstrual cycle is absent or too irregular). You can add the seeds on a salad, cereal, vegetables or mix them into a little rice or soy milk and drink them. It adds a crunchy taste to foods. It is best to use organic and raw seeds.
From days 1-14 of the menstrual cycle (or from the new moon to the full moon) have 1
tablespoon per day of a mixture of ground flax and pumpkin seeds.
From days 15 – 28 of the menstrual cycle (or from the full moon to the new moon) have 1 tablespoon per day of a mixture of ground sesame and sunflower seeds.
Exercise is a great therapy for numerous ailments, including reducing period discomfort since it activates the production of endorphins, a naturally occurring stimulant in your body. A moderate daily level of physical activity can boost your mood, reduce stress and stimulate healthy circulation of blood and lymph. The trick is to maintain a regular exercise program of at least 30 minutes for 3 to 5 days a week. This can be walking, cardio, yoga, calisthenics or any type of movement you enjoy. Incorporating good lifestyle habits is necessary for the body to improve function and heal. In addition to eating well and keeping yourself active, you should pay attention to the way you breathe and most importantly, give yourself time to rest.
Rest and stress reduction go hand in hand since stress can cause inflammation and sleep is essential for improving health. Optimizing sleep should be one of the first things you want to work on. Some women find that getting 7-8 hours of sleep is enough while some need more. Some nutritional supplements that help reduce inflammation and period pain include fish oil and magnesium glycinate. Homeopathic medicines such as Mag Phos and Chamomile can work wonders! There are also several botanical herbs that can be used to improve menstrual pain by providing analgesic effect like Jamaican dogwood and antispasmodic effects like Cramp bark and Ginger. Other herbs that help support hormonal balance include Chase tree, Black Cohosh, Maca, Red Clover, and Wild Yam.
Although menstrual pain can be a little tricky, you should know that alternative health care options like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine have successful outcomes in treating menstrual pain and not just managing the symptoms. Treatment depends on what is causing your pain, from endometriosis, fibroids or ovarian cysts. Before consulting a provider, try charting your symptoms to help verify their cyclical nature and what factors may trigger them.
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