What causes period pain? And how can I make it easier?
From a physical perspective, period pain can occur as your womb wall starts to contract with more intensity to promote a bleed / shedding or the womb lining. As this happens it can impact the flow of oxygen to your womb. Without oxygen, the tissues in your womb release chemicals that trigger pain and a group of inflammatory lipids called prostaglandins. These encourage the womb muscles to contract more, further increasing the level of pain. And the more prostaglandins there are, the more inflammation and pain. It’s unclear exactly why some women may produce more prostaglandins than others – it’s likely a combination of genetics, the cyclic hormone drop, alongside lifestyle factors.
The cyclic change in oestrogen and progesterone levels before a period has systemic impact on the bodily system including brain neurotransmitters (principally serotonin) – which will then impact emotional and physical wellbeing (aka PMS), potentially manifesting in pain alongside of typical PMS symptoms.
If you are experiencing pain it is important that you rule out any potential underlying issues that could be at play – endometriosis, fibroids and pelvic inflammatory disease.
With this in mind, how much of period pain is genetic, and how much is caused by lifestyle factors?
Like with all things, you can’t change who you are and your own genetics. But you do have an ability to mute the expression of them. There is likely a genetic link to period pain but the environment that you create for your body via diet and lifestyle will have an impact. The aim of the game is to inhibit prostaglandin production, which we can do via an anti-inflammatory diet. If we can inhibit prostaglandin production then we can most certainly drive it via the diet too – so lifestyle has the potential to negatively impact period pain too.
For example, nutrient deficiencies in particular the B vitamins and magnesium, high alcohol intake, smoking, liver function, ultra processed food intake, a pro inflammatory diet lacking in omega 3, not enough exercise or endorphin boosting activities.
So, how can you make it easier to manage?
Topically using heat on the area of pain – hot water bottle
A good long soak in an Epsom salt bath – heat + a good dose of magnesium from the salts
Boosting your endorphins can help, so getting outside for gentle walk in nature – exercise is amazing for your endorphins, but go easy if you’re in pain.
You can also nutritional boost your endorphin levels with cacao powder and things like chilli
Sparking joy with positive action by doing something fabulous for your nervous system – remind the body that it is safe and do something you love (watch a chick flick, listening to Beyonce, home facial, paint your nails, knitting, whatever floats your boat)
Long term ideas are eating an anti-inflammatory diet and boosting nutrients which could be deficient and supplementation of things like evening primrose oil and magnesium and a good quality b complex.
Evening primrose oil contains GLA which can interfere and inhibit with the production of inflammatory prostaglandins.
Although Ibuprofen can be great to soothe the immediate pain, long term frequent use can have a negative impact on your gut and stomach health. I would also say that turning to ultra processed chocolate isn’t a great idea to do regularly as this can be pro inflammatory. Instead go for a 80% + chocolate or make a nice warning cacao drink.
But the biggest mistake would be to ignore it. If it is affecting your quality of life or preventing you from doing things that you love please do seek help. There is likely always something positive that can be done.
Are there any supplements that can help?
Are there any other good products you recommend to soothe pain and discomfort, e.g. heat pads?
Classic hot water bottle is always fab and also a Netflix account or a good book – slowing down and resting is very important!