How I Ditched Menstrual Cramps + Found a Blissful Bleed.
aka: My Cramp Healing Toolkit
Photo by Andrea Larson.
It’s one thing to wanna curl up and relax on your cycle, and another thing to go fetal and start speaking in tongues each month (been there. I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken fluent seal when bleeding).
Good news! After a lifetime of debilitating cramps, I’ve found some relief through daily habits that keep my flow from cramping my style. TRUTH: There are few quick-action remedies that can provide immediate relief (aside from NSAID painkillers, which I’m not a huge fan of bc of how they eff up my digestion), so the best thing to do is care for your lady zone throughout the full course of the month.
Let’s break this down; That means that every day there is something that you can add into your routine that will help alleviate cramps and bloating during the few days a month they pose the biggest threat to your comfort and sanity. I’ve been hugely inspired by the work of Alisa Vitti and her book, Woman Code (thanks, Hannah!), as her work was the first to introduce me to cyclical eating!
I also love her MyFLO Period Tracker App to help me know when I’m in each phase and what to expect.
*** BUUUUUT! If you are in severe pain please go see a doctor! I am not a doctor, just a lady with a uterus + experience.****
So I’m sure you wanna know WHY we are in pain?! Aside from structural abnormalities, or any type of illness of medical issue, The gist of normal monthly cramping is:
- We produce something called prostaglandins that ignite cramping. Kind of how electricity ignites a lightbulb. The goal of nutritional therapy in this instance is to avoid things that “turn on the electricity” so to speak and eat foods that ensure to “turn off” the inflammation + cramping.
- What “turns on” the electricity, so to speak? Well, a source is Arachidonic acid — also known as a polyunsaturated omega-6 fat (Google it + avoid it) that can increase our inflammation within the body. Arachidonic acid catalyzes a list of potent inflammatory compounds, including… you guessed it — Prostaglandins!
I love this description from an article written by Dr. Emily Lipinski ND and Holistic Nutritionist Gabriela Delano-Stephens:
In medical terms, severe cramping is referred to as dysmenorrhea, but we will just stick with cramps. During ovulation (mid-cycle) a biological chemical substance called Arachidonic acid is released leading to the production of specific prostaglandins (PG). These are naturally made in your body to mediate a myriad of physiologic effects including helping to regulate the contraction of smooth muscle tissue found in the uterus, but unfortunately, they can also be responsible for cramping.
This is because there are a number of different types of PGs, and some, such as PG2 and PGF alpha which are pro-inflammatory, stimulate uterine contractions, which cause cramping. With each contraction, oxygen to the muscle tissue of the uterus is cut off as the blood vessels in the area are pinched. When the uterus loses oxygen for a few seconds we feel pain. Note that not all prostaglandins are inflammatory! Some prostaglandins such as PG1 and PG3 are anti-inflammatory and are very beneficial for your cycle. However, the aim is to decrease the production of arachidonic acid leading to the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins.”
Yeah. Just let that sink in.
It blew my mind when I learned that I could avoid certain things, like swap my chicken for seafood, or eat vegan the week before my cycle and that was enough to eradicate my bed-ridden monthly state. Get ready for all the deetz!
That said, it’s very much about the dance of what you add in, as well as what you take out. If the info below is confusing, please email me to chat in detail!
In pain? Here’s what you can do for immediate relief. When the cramps have hit and you wanna roll on the floor and moan like you’re having an exorcism, here are my top tricks to try:
- A heating pad, I prefer reusable, but for busy days at max pain levels, try these heating pads.
- Raspberry leaf tea; this anti-spasmodic herb is incredible. I chain-drink it all day er’day.
- This cramp salve is everything!
- Clarycalm monthly blend for women can be helpful leading up to your bleed and when in pain.
B vitamin-rich foods (bananas, sesame seeds, etc. See more below!)
- E vitamin-rich foods (pumpkin seeds)
- Avoid caffeine, sugar, and alcohol (although jury is still out about matcha, some studies how the L-theanine and other soothing agents outweigh the low-caffeine content)
- Slow down and rest when you can, take a deep breath, ask for a hug.
- Drink mag calm, to soothe muscle spasms
- Increase your fiber and water intake to help your body flush out extra estrogen
- Avoid red meat, dairy and eggs. All three contain a substance that feeds the prostaglandins that produce cramping.
These will help to spot-treat your symptoms, but full relief will come from month-long maintenance!
Consider this your map to a smooth period that you can follow month-long. Trust me, your future, menstruating self will thank you!
Things to consume all the time if you wanna balance your hormones and rule the world:
Spirulina shots (whats up, iron!)
B3 (niacin): chicken breast, mushrooms, green peas, sunflower seeds
Magnesium: spinach, chard, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, almonds
- Fiber: all the veggies + add psyllium husk to your smoothies.
- Fish oil: I like Life Equals. Use code ‘MIL50’ for 50% off your entire order!
Foods to help during the follicular phase (before you ovulate, after your period)
You want this to be your most protein-rich phase or cycle! This time of the month is all about building, which might be a good time to eat animal foods if they are a part of your menu.
- Green peas
- String beans
Foods to help during the ovulatory phase (when you’re ovulating).
- Brussel sprouts
You can also take wild yam (as a pill or tincture) now thru the end of bleeding to relieve PMS symptoms and add in Vitex to lower estrogen.
Foods to help during the luteal phase (before you have your period)
- Collard Greens
- Leafy Greens
- Nettle Leaf tea
- Raspberry Leaf tea
- Sesame seeds*
- Sweet potato
- More fruits and starchy veggies!
I’ve also had great luck with Estrosense. This product is designed to help the liver flush out excess estrogen, and thus alleviate PMS symptoms. When I started taking it, I lost 10 lbs! It was such a huge detox helper for me.
You will also see major benefits here by cutting back on or avoiding caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and by reducing your protein intake – reduce all animal foods (including eggs) except seafood! Stay away from canola oil too. At this phase, you want to flush excess estrogen from the body, so increase your fiber intake and emphasize vitamin B6 rich foods.
*When it comes to seeds and menstrual cramp relief, sesame seeds are in the lead. They contain healthy fatty acids that help relax the stomach muscles and reduce cramping and are also rich in vitamin B6, calcium, and magnesium. Try sprinkling them on salads, noodle dishes or eating them by the tablespoon.
Fun fact: It’s recommended that you orgasm 3-5 days before bleeding. Hard to argue with that!!
Things to help during the Menstrual phase (your period)
- Beets – for B12!
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds (see note above!)
- Sunflower seeds
- Fish oil
- (see list at top of post)
This is a good time to up your magnesium intake – especially if you drink caffeine. It’s also good to note that the magical “menstruation cramp relief” vitamin, Vitamin E, is found in pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, so eat these seeds by the handful ladies!
Bananas are loaded with B6 vitamins that help relieve cramping and are also packed with potassium which helps reduce water retention and bloating. Try eating at least two bananas a day during your moon time, either blended up in a smoothie or as nana ice cream, sliced over granola with other fruit or just peeled, on their own.
Wanna talk more in depth about cyclical eating? Click here to book a chat (holistic nutrition consult what urrrp!?) and stay in the know by signing up for my mailing list here.