If you're reading this, chances are you have menstrual pain. Studies have shown that 84 percent of women have experienced cramps in their life, and a whopping 43 percent of you suffer from pain every single period. Perhaps you're one of the lucky ones who can pop a Midol in the a.m. and move on with your life. But what if you suffer from those nightmare cramps that make it too painful to sit still? That have no interest in relaxing in a hot bath? The ones that don't even respond to chocolate? We spoke with experts — both medical and holistic — to track down some new ways to attack these menstrual monsters from every battleground.
"Cramps usually mean there is an estrogen dominance," says Dr. Jennifer Burns, naturopathic medical doctor at the Bienetre Center. To get yourself back in balance, Burns suggests taking iodine, magnesium and vitamin B. Dr. Daemon Jones, naturopathic doctor, also swears by magnesium for your time of the month. Jones suggests dividing "magnesium supplements in doses throughout the day." You'll have a range of options: Magnesium citrate powder is "extremely absorbable" in the body, Jones notes, whereas "magnesium oxide is only about 4 percent absorbable." Talk to your doctor about which supplement is right for you.
If you'd rather go the natural route, Burns recommends herbs such as dandelion and milk thistle, available in tea form online or at your local organic grocery store. Burns says, "[These are] used to help the liver function better and should help with regulating estrogen as well."
Both doctors agree that around the time of your period, it's also beneficial to add these supplemental nutrients directly into your diet. Try a seaweed salad for iodine; bananas for magnesium; and beets, avocado and lean proteins for your mixture of B vitamins. Another easy trick: Make sure your salt is iodine-fortified.
Topical remedies can also assist, says holistic health coach Lauren Birgitta. She recommends stocking up on essential oils to alleviate cramps. "My favorite is doTERRA's Serenity scent blended from lavender, sweet marjoram, Roman chamomile, ylang-ylang, Hawaiian sandalwood and vanilla bean," she says. Birgitta suggests applying the oil "with a spoon of coconut oil across the belly or lower back." (Good news for essential oil fans: A 2006 study of female college students proved that aromatherapy oils work as part of "nursing care" for cramps. Try lavender, clary sage, and rose — those scents were proven to assist cramps of a pain level greater than 6 on a 10-point scale.)
If you feel mobile enough to exercise, spend a few breaths in a yoga pose to relieve lower back pain. Try kneeling with your chest forward, then bending backward with your chest toward the sky. The camel backbend will release your pelvis and hip flexors while your back — which tends to hunch over in pain — gets a deep stretch. A simple forward bend over your knees will also open up the pelvis and send signals to your lower body to relax. Don't let anyone tell you whether you should exercise on your period — listen to what your body is telling you.
Burns also notes that there may be underlying health issues for your cramping. "[Cramps] could also be due to uterine fibroids or cysts," she says. "If you feel that you have heavy bleed and cramping, you might want to get an ultrasound done to make sure there aren't any medical conditions causing the cramping." Of course, you'll also want to get a borderline crazy amount of dark chocolate, a huge blanket and a heating pad for good measure.
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