Got menstrual cramps? You are not alone, sister!
Did you know that 88 percent of women have significant cramping during their monthly cycle? According to a UK study, many women report that they often miss a day of work each month due to cramps, and even if they go to work, they feel like their productivity is compromised.
Heck, even at the recent Olympics, one Chinese swimmer reported she thought her team lost the relay because she was in so much pain from her period.
Are period problems normal?
Despite the fact that so many women have period pain, it is often ignored by doctors and pain researchers. It seems like we have all agreed that menstrual cramps are just a cross women have to bear, right?
While period cramps and PMS are incredibly common, they're actually not normal. They are our body's way of telling us that something is not working as well as it should be. Think of PMS and cramps as warning mechanisms, and pay attention to what is happening to your body now, because it can affect your health later.
Period pain affects your whole body
Studies show that diagnosed endometriosis is associated with a 62 percent greater risk for developing coronary heart disease, especially for women under 40. Connections like this are a big deal; heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in America, and addressing the problem early on may reduce your risk later.
Surprised that no one has ever told you this before?
If you are like most women, what people probably have told you are things like "cramps are normal," "you have bad luck," or my personal favorite: "It can't be that bad."
But it is that bad, and most of us are enduring it almost every month—unnecessarily.
What you should know about a healthy menstrual cycle
Studies have shown that women who suffer from dysmenorrhea (painful periods) exhibit symptoms all throughout their menstrual cycle, not just during their periods. Your cycle is an indicator of your overall health, and you can use it to observe how well your body is responding to the way you care for it.
The first thing you should know is that in order to have a healthy menstrual cycle, you have to have a healthy body. Even if you look super healthy on the outside, you do yoga, and you look rockin' in a bikini—a terrible monthly cycle tells us that your hormones and reproductive system aren't working properly.
Lifestyle choices work both ways: Make bad ones and your menstrual health can suffer; make good ones and your uncomfortable symptoms can improve. The good news is that there are some easy things that you can do to significantly reduce both your painful periods and PMS.
Lifestyle changes for period pain and PMS
You've gotta move those bones, ladies. And do it on a regular basis. You don't need to be taking high-intensity spin classes or boot camps, but research has shown that moderate, regular exercise was effective at significantly reducing cramps associated with menstruation. Even walking every day mixed with some yoga can get your blood pumping enough to reduce cramping.
Our hectic lives stress out every system…but especially our reproductive system. When you experience stress of any kind, your body responds by producing adrenaline, and this can cause an overproduction of cortisol (the dreaded belly fat hormone). High levels of these stress hormones can affect liver function and can contribute to both PMS and cramping in the second half of your cycle. Yoga, meditation, exercise, and journaling have all been shown to reduce stress and its negative effects on the body.
Fish oil and other omega-3s have been shown to naturally reduce period pain by improving blood flow. Omega-3s can also help reduce the clotting (and some menstrual pain) with their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich nutrients. They also decrease prostaglandin production related to menstrual pain.
If you have a magnesium deficiency (only 20 percent of Americans get the RDA of magnesium), supplementing with magnesium can be helpful for cramping. Meanwhile alcohol, caffeine, sodas, sugar, and processed foods can leach magnesium from your body and leave you prone to cramps. Luckily, food is one of the easiest ways to naturally supplement your magnesium intake, so reach for more leafy vegetables, beets, beans, shrimp, and salmon to naturally increase your daily intake of magnesium.
Research shows Chinese herbal medicine to be especially effective for common menstrual complaints. An industry-leading Cochrane Systematic Review of 39 randomized control trials, including more than 3,400 women, found that Chinese herbal formulas (like the ones in Viv's line), were almost twice as effective at treating menstrual pain as pharmaceutical treatments, like over-the-counter painkillers or birth control pills. The best part? They did this without causing any significant adverse effects. Chinese herbal medicines even outperformed other natural treatments like acupuncture and heating pads for the treatment of PMS and period pain.
As women, it's important for us to take care of our body, mind, and soul—that means paying attention to subtle hints that our body is not as healthy as it could be. Thankfully, we can make some simple, natural changes and achieve the optimal health we all deserve.