Do you suffer bad period pain? You shouldn’t have to.
Period pain is common, so we tend to think it just goes with the territory of having periods. But most normal period pain will disappear with the right diet and supplements.
Put it this way: If it doesn’t disappear, then it’s not normal period pain. It’s strong period pain and might be a sign of an underlying medical condition like endometriosis.
What is normal period pain?
Normal period pain (primary dysmenorrhea) is a bit of cramping in your lower pelvis or back. It occurs during the first day or two of your period and improves with ibuprofen. It doesn’t interfere with your daily activities.
Normal period pain is caused by the release of prostaglandins in your uterus and usually improves as you get older.
Severe period pain (secondary dysmenorrhea) is throbbing, burning, searing, or stabbing pain that lasts for many days and can even occur between periods. It doesn’t improve with ibuprofen, and it’s so bad you vomit and sometimes miss school or work.
Severe period pain is caused by an underlying medical condition such as endometriosis or adenomyosis, and it can get worse as you get older.
How to treat normal period pain
Here are a few simple strategies for normal period pain:
Dairy-free diet. Removing normal cow’s milk from the diet is the simplest and most reliable ways to get rid of period pain. By removing dairy, you’re avoiding the inflammatory protein A1 casein, which means less inflammation, less histamine, and therefore less period pain (see What Dairy Does to Periods). Dairy is not the only inflammatory food. Wheat, vegetable oil, and high histamine foods are other common drivers of period pain.
Magnesium is effective for both prevention and acute care of period pain. For example, you can take 300 mg of magnesium throughout the month to dial down prostaglandins. You can then take extra magnesium during your period to relieve the pain (just don’t take so much that you cause loose bowel).
Zinc reduces prostaglandins and improves blood circulation to the uterus. It did well in a recent 2015 clinical trial for the period pain of teenage girls. I test for zinc deficiency and then prescribe 20-30 mg zinc taken daily throughout the month.
Turmeric. Like magnesium, turmeric is great for both prevention and acute care. I recommend a daily dose of a standardized extract for prevention, and then more as needed during the pain. Turmeric also substantially lightens periods.
Give yourself three months with these treatments. If you don’t notice substantial improvement, then ask yourself and your doctor: “Is something else going on?”
Do you have endometriosis?
Endometriosis affects one in ten women, and it’s a big deal. Endometriosis is not just painful periods. It’s actually a whole body inflammatory disease which is characterized by lesions which are very similar to uterine lining (endometrium), except they’re not located inside the uterus. They’re called endometriosis lesions or endometriomas (chocolate cysts), and they cause widespread pain and scarring.
Pain is the main symptom of endometriosis, but it’s not the only symptom. Other symptoms include bleeding between periods, pain with sex, and a puzzling array of digestive and bladder problems. For example, one of my patients suffered recurring bladder pain and was given course after course of antibiotics that didn’t help. She had no period pain but she finally asked her gynecologist: “Could this be endometriosis?” On further investigation, it was discovered that yes, she did have endometriosis lesions on her bladder and urethra, and they were the cause of her bladder problems.
This kind of story is not uncommon. It typically takes more than ten years to diagnose endometriosis, and in the meantime, girls and women suffer. Of all the teens who report chronic pelvic pain, 70 percent will go on to be diagnosed with endometriosis.
Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t suffer a decade of crippling pain being told it’s “just period pain”, and there’s nothing you can do. Please watch the film “Endo What?”. Please speak to your doctor. Tell her how many pain-killers you take. Tell her the pain is so bad you can’t go to work. And ask her outright if it could be endometriosis.
You and your doctor and all of us wish there was an easy way to diagnose endometriosis. A blood test for endometriosis does not yet exist, but looks like one is coming. Normal ultrasound can’t do the job, although specialized ultrasound can detect some aspects of the disease.
At the present time, laparoscopic or keyhole surgery is the only way to definitively diagnose and treat endometriosis. It sounds scary, but surgery is something you should at least consider because early excision surgery can sometimes eradicate the disease. Even when surgery isn’t a cure, it significantly reduces pain and inflammation and can give you a window to get results with other pharmaceutical and/or natural treatments.
For more information about both conventional and natural treatment of endometriosis, please see my post Endometriosis: 5 Natural Treatments that Really Work.