In Latin America, menstruating people are typically viewed and treated with fear and distain, and the result is they are given medications or even forced to undergo surgery by doctors who don’t understand or appreciate the sacred nature of this part of being female. Two reasons for this reaction are long-held superstitions and misinformation about menstruation as well as women feeling ashamed or afraid to discuss their symptoms and fears with their doctors.
For example, many people are considered unclean when they are menstruating and are shunned by society. Some people believe that exposing menstrual blood to the natural elements can change the weather, or that used sanitary products can cause cancer or other diseases if they are mixed in with other rubbish. These and other misconceptions and myths about menstruation are damaging to women and to society as a whole.
Changing not only women’s thoughts and feelings about menstruation and related gynecological conditions as well as those of the general population is no small task. However, one way to approach this topic is to turn to traditional, natural ways to manage menstruation and its symptoms, such as cramping, pelvic pain, food cravings, headache, mood swings, bloating, fatigue and breast tenderness and pain.
Herbal and alternative remedies have a deep history in Latin American culture, as they are intimately tied in with curanderos or traditional healers. Other natural options are used by women in other parts of the world, and have been found to be helpful. It is time for more women in Latin America to embrace these natural ways and take back control of their bodies.
Editor’s note: If you’re unsure about introducing something new into your wellness routine, have a chat with your OBGYN or primary care provider for some extra insight about how to change things up safely.
Your food choices can have a significant impact on menstrual symptoms. Choose from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially dark green leafy ones and those rich in antioxidants. Favorites include spinach, kale, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, squash, apples, berries, and bananas. Raw, unsalted nuts and fish provide omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation.
Foods that contain digestive enzymes are recommended because they can help reduce bloating and gas and assist with digestion. Be sure to enjoy papaya, pineapple, raw honey, mango, sauerkraut, kiwi, avocado, and ginger often.
Other foods can cause or contribute to inflammation and so should be avoided as much as possible. These include meats, dairy products, alcohol, foods with added sugars, and caffeine. Generally, stay away from processed foods and too much salt. All of these foods can have a detrimental impact on sleep, digestion, energy levels, and mood.
Vitamins and minerals
While it’s important to eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, taking supplements can help with menstrual symptoms as well. One of the more important minerals is magnesium, which has been shown to be effective in relieving cramps, anxiety, and bloating.
Two other minerals to consider are calcium and zinc. Calcium can have a significant impact on cramping and other symptoms. If you’re not eating lots of leafy greens, a calcium supplement may help. Another important mineral is zinc, which can increase oxygen flow in the body and help with fatigue.
Among the vitamins to focus on are B1, B6, and B12. Vitamin B1 can reduce cramping, while vitamin B6 has a role in producing hormones that can improve your mood. Vitamin B12 can have a positive impact on fatigue and pain.
Although you may not feel like exercising when menstruating, daily physical movement releases endorphins and neurotransmitters that improve mood, energy, and sleep. Exercise can help ease cramping, reduce bloating, boost circulation, and relieve headache and pain. Walking is one of the easiest and best exercises, as well as stretching and yoga.
· The chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) is a traditional remedy that may reduce food cravings, breast tenderness, bloating, and cramps. It can be used as a tea or a supplement.
· Chamomile is another herb that is best used as a tea several times a day, and especially before bedtime. This herb contains antioxidants that may reduce pelvic and stomach cramping, help with mood, and ease headache.
· Fresh ginger root makes a great tea but also can be grated and added to food. Ginger can help with nausea and cramping.
· Parsley tea may reduce menstrual cramps and help eliminate excess water weight. This herb is rich in vitamins A, B, C, E, and K. However, since you won’t get much of these nutrients in the tea, it’s also a good idea to eat small amounts of parsley as well.
· Peppermint tea has properties that can ease bloating and gas. Its ability to relax the digestive system also makes it helpful in relieving stomach cramps.
· Rosemary tea stimulates menstrual flow, which in turn can provide relief from cramping. Boil fresh rosemary for no more than five minutes and drink up to three cups daily beginning one week before menstruation begins up until the first day of bleeding. Use about 2 inches of fresh rosemary for every cup of tea.
The natural heat of the sun has healing powers, and so does more localized heat. Use of a heating pad or hot water bottle can reduce cramping and pelvic pain. If you can soak in a warm tub of water, add one and a half to two cups of Epsom salt (magnesium) to the water and soak for at least 10 minutes to help ease pain and cramping. You also can add five to ten drops of essential oils (rose, clary sage, lavender, or sandalwood) to the water to help ease anxiety.
The essential oils of various plants can help ease menstrual symptoms when applied to your skin or you inhale them. If you use the oils on your skin, be sure to use them safely: mix them with a carrier oil, such as jojoba, almond, or olive, before you apply them. Use about one teaspoon of carrier oil for every five to six drops of the essential oil.
The following essential oils can be helpful for menstrual symptoms:
· Clary sage: Helps reduce cramping, stress, and mood swings
· Peppermint oil: Indigestion and bloating can be helped if you massage the oil on your stomach before and after eating
· Geranium: Helps balance mood. You can mix this oil with lavender and peppermint oils as well.
· Lavender: Useful for reducing cramping, mood swings, and stress
Acupressure involves applying pressure with your fingers to specific points on your body. The pressure can improve the flow of life energy and thus may reduce symptoms. One of the easiest acupressure points to do yourself involves using your thumb and index finger of one hand to apply pressure to the fleshy area between your thumb and index finger of your other hand. Apply as much pressure as you can without it feeling too uncomfortable. Hold for 30 seconds, then release. This point can help relieve abdominal pain and headache.
Remember: You are a sacred divine being
Menstruation is natural and sacred. People who menstruate need to honor that part of their divine being, and society as a whole needs to view it as the life-affirming process that it is. One of the best ways to respect your sacred divine self is to adopt traditional and lifestyle remedies that provide relief from the symptoms of menstruation and shed any shame and fear you hold.
Looking to love the earth more during your period? Check out some of our favorite eco-friendly menstrual health products: