For the majority of women, menstruation should last 4 days with scarlet-colored blood and no cramping. Any variation of this is not considered normal or healthy. During menstruation, the uterus sheds its lining from the top to the bottom. But factors such as environmental toxins, inflammatory processes, miscarriage, childbirth (especially by cesarean), trauma, abuse, infections, and scar tissue can disrupt regular flow. Tissue and blood material that should have been cleansed out is left behind and builds up, causing the reproductive system to work harder the following month(s). Cramping results when the uterus has to contract more to get rid of more debris. Build up in the uterus can cause hormones to flare, which manifests in symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), and over time can lead to fibroids. Old blood can even back up into the fallopian tubes and cause pain and issues in the ovaries. While most of these issues can be prevented (to a degree), you’re likely already experiencing these symptoms and need treatment. What can be done? OB-GYNs have instruments and procedures to address every issue--dilation and curettage (D&C), ablation, fibroidectomy, oophorectomy, and hysterectomy. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. When they fail to correct the problem, they leave a whole set of irreversible symptoms, often requiring more procedures and hormone supplements. While such procedures are necessary at times, we’ll be exploring other options for achieving a healthy reproductive cycle.
What are some natural things I can do before I menstruate to reduce PMS?
Exercise. Women who exercise throughout the month have less PMS, less depression, less cramping, and lighter periods. Exercise is very important to the detoxing process, and can help you detox the abundance of hormones flooding your system prior to menstruation. Drinking water also helps to augment this process. Exercise helps regulate fat cells. Fat cells increase inflammation in organ systems throughout the body. Exercise helps us de-stress. Stress is one of the leading causes of inflammation.
Avoid salt and sugar. Comfort eating is common when you don’t feel good. But comfort foods are often salty and sugary, like chocolate, potato chips, ice cream, and pizza. Salt makes you bloat, which increases pain, and sugar increases inflammation, which also increases pain and disrupts mood. Rather than comfort eating, try doing other things that make you feel good, like getting a manicure or pedicure, giving yourself a facial, or buying a comfortable pair of lounge pants.
Avoid cosmetics, shampoos, and lotions that contain phthalates, parabens, and triclosan. Products containing these substances can disrupt hormones.
Consider an anti-inflammatory diet. Inflammation can manifest in many ways, even as irregular cycles and painful periods. In many cases, if you can heal the gut, it leads to greater health throughout the body. Foods that can cause inflammation include dairy, corn, soy, sugar, wheat, peanuts, eggs, and almonds, among others. You can have allergy and sensitivity testing done to find out which foods trigger inflammation in your body. Encourage gut healing and health by taking probiotics, digestive enzymes, and fish oil, and using collagen or bone broth. Consult your doctor to discuss what would be best for you.
Have a wellness exam. During a wellness exam, your doctor will check your vitamin and mineral levels, many of which are important to know in terms of reproductive health. Vitamin D is a precursor to estrogen and progesterone, meaning you need it, and enough of it, for the body to produce adequate levels of estrogen and progesterone. 100-200 mg of B vitamins can act as a diuretic and decrease bloating. 100 mg daily of Vitamin E can help with breast soreness. Low iron levels actually predispose you to heavier periods, so anemia leads to greater anemia. Low vitamin A levels can predispose you to dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation). Low thyroid levels (hypothyroidism) can cause heavy periods. Don’t assume a hard period is normal. Check where your body is at and what you may need to supplement.
What are some natural things I can do during my period to make it more manageable and comfortable?
Chaste Berry (vitex). Chaste Berry helps to relieve PMS and regulate irregular periods. Talk to your doctor about when and how to take it. This supplement can lower breast milk supply. Do not take if you are breastfeeding.
Clary Sage/ClaryCalm. Clary Sage is an essential oil that helps with hormone balance and menstrual pain. ClaryCalm by doTerra is a topical blend of Clary Sage and other oils that provides a soothing and calming effect for women during menstruation.
Heating pads. Heat helps to soothe muscles, ease the body’s discomfort, and minimize cramps.
Avoid taking tylenol. Tylenol depletes the body of glutathione, an important substance for detoxing, which is important during menstruation.
Pamper yourself, and don’t forget to laugh!
In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, I’d like to recommend two other treatments: Mayan Abdominal Massage and vaginal steaming.
Mayan Abdominal Massage. The uterus is supposed to bleed from the top of the uterus down. In order for this to happen, the position of the uterus is very important. I had a partial uterine prolapse during the birth of my third child. When this happens, the uterus can fold down on itself like a sandwich instead of being straight up and down. For a number of reasons, the uterus can become flat, lying backward, or folded at the top (see photo), and all of these mal-variations affect normal flow, leading to longer periods (up to 8-10 days), excess brown blood, excess mucus, and increased risk for infection. Mayan massage is a deep abdominal massage (typically painful, especially the first time) that resets the position of the uterus. Sometimes it also includes wrapping material around your hips to keep them at a certain angle. A mayan massage therapist will teach you self-care so you can help yourself at home. The more you do it, the less painful it is. For more information, click here.
Vaginal steaming. Many cultures around the world practice regular vaginal steaming, and consider western women extremely dirty for not. The practice was handed down through the generations via midwives. When men started to dominate the OB-GYN occupation, the sharing of such techniques was replaced by the cutting and scraping of modern instruments. I do acknowledge that in some cases of dysmenorrhea, medical intervention is necessary. But many cases can be treated by vaginal steaming. Women steam to shorten or lengthen their cycles, regulate ovulation, and even lose baby weight.
Vaginal steaming is done by steaming herbs like a tea, then placing the pot in a premade box (see photo), and sitting over it. If you don’t have a box, place the pot on a towel on the floor and kneel over it. A cape can be worn around the waist and over the box to keep steam inside from only coming out of the hole. The steam works to help infiltrate the tissues and break up all hard and sedimented debris so it liquefies and comes out.
The herbs used differ depend on the treatment needed. Cleansing herbs are used for old residue, postpartum, and general use, though not for women with short menstrual cycles. Gentle herbs are used for short menstrual cycles (27 days or less) and interim bleeding. Disinfecting herbs are used for active infections. Cooling herbs are used for hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Consult a vaginal steaming specialist before treating. For more information, visit Steamy Chick online.
Jaimeé Arroyo Novak, FNP