Period pain, also known as dysmenorrhoea, is a type of cramping sensation experienced by some women during their menstrual cycle. The pain usually begins in the lower abdomen and may spread to the lower back or thighs. It can range from mild to severe period pain and may last anywhere from a few hours to several days. Irregular periods sometimes go hand in hand with painful periods.
Pain is the most common menstrual symptom, with reports in some countries of 91.5% of women experiencing period pain. The quality and severity of period pain can vary dramatically from woman to woman, and even from period to period. Often there is a dull, background ache or sense of heaviness over which can be superimposed an episodic, cramping pain. Usually the spasmodic, cramping pain is the most debilitating. It can be accompanied by vomiting, diarrhoea and/or headaches.
It is important to distinguish between primary and secondary dysmenorrhoea. Primary dysmenorrhoea is when there is period pain with no evidence of pathology. It is also sometimes called ‘functional dysmenorrhoea’. Secondary dysmenorrhoea is caused by an underlying complaint where there is pathology such as endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
The cause of period pain depends on the type of dysmenorrhoea, outlined as follows:
The causes of primary dysmenorrhoea are not entirely understood, however the trigger is thought to be an alteration in prostaglandin levels. Prostaglandins are chemicals that can increase inflammation, which increases pain. Constriction of blood vessels and spasm of the uterine muscle also contribute to pain.
If you experience period pain that is debilitating and affecting your quality of life and ability to carry out normal daily activities, it is vital that you have the pain investigated to see if it is a symptom of an underlying condition. The most likely conditions are listed below. Each has different treatment options.
Endometriosis is caused by endometrial (the lining of the uterus) cells growing outside of the uterus on structures such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, ligaments, bowel or bladder. These cells respond to hormone changes and therefore bleed during menstruation.
Adenomyosis is similar to endometriosis, except the displaced endometrial cells grow within the myometrial wall, which is the layer of muscle in the uterus. The bleeding into the muscle layer causes the pain.
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths in the uterus. They vary in size and can be diagnosed with an ultrasound. Fibroids can cause pain and pressure when they’re larger, as they may put pressure on the bladder or rectum.
Ovarian cysts and tumours
Although both benign and malignant ovarian cysts can cause pelvic pain, they are usually symptom free until quite large.
Note: Commonly women with period pain are concerned it is PCOS, however, pain is not a symptom of PCOS. Pain and PCOS can occur at the same time, however, pain is not caused by PCOS.
Poor diet quality - a diet full of processed/refined grains, high sugar, processed vegetable oils and high alcohol consumption can contribute to inflammation and disrupt hormone production. Alcohol can interfere with the detoxification of oestrogen and toxins by the liver (even at 2 drinks per day) contributing to excess oestrogen in relation to progesterone, contributing to pain, heavy periods, sore breasts, moodiness and bloating.
Toxin exposure - we are all exposed to hundreds of chemicals every day, e.g. herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, flame retardants, food additives, halogens, and solvents in personal care products, perfumes, make up, plastics, food, and water. Some act as endocrine disruptors, as they either mimic hormones or bind with hormone receptors in the body, thereby disrupting hormone function. Total avoidance isn’t possible, but we can limit our exposure easily by making better choices and filtering water, and if necessary, be guided through a detoxification program by an experienced practitioner. A heavy toxin load can disrupt hormonal production and metabolism, contributing to menstrual problems.
Poor gut health - dysbiosis of the microbiome (an imbalance in the gut flora), impacts every part of human health, including hormone regulation. The microbiome helps us to absorb nutrients, break down foods and compounds, detoxify oestrogen, and regulate inflammation. Some bacteria produce the enzyme beta-glucaronidase, causing oestrogen to build up and recirculate in the bloodstream, which can contribute to pain and inflammation.
Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.
These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.
Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected.
The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.
Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).
Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.
Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.
Other causes of menstrual or pelvic pain include:
The conventional approach to painful periods may include tests and examinations such as a pelvic examination to rule out more serious medical conditions, or referrals may be provided for:
It’s recommended to see your doctor if you experience:
If no underlying condition is found, you may have medications prescribed such as over the counter analgesics such as paracetamol or, aspirin, or non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
Other medications prescribed might include:
These measures do not address the underlying cause, and long term use of NSAIDs can cause damage to the stomach lining, acid reflux and disruption of the microbiome. This is why many women look for natural dysmenorrhoea treatments to relieve the pain, discomfort and worry of painful periods.
Natural functional medicine treatment of painful periods starts with an in-depth investigation to identify the root cause and contributing factors, to then address those factors.
A functional medicine women's health practitioner spends time investigating all aspects of your cycle in your first consultation, looking at the whole person. At Melbourne Functional Medicine, period pain specialists Vicki van der Meer and Rebecca Hughes are both passionate advocates for women’s health. In your initial consultation they will investigate your:
They may recommend functional testing to help determine the cause of painful periods, and to investigate baseline health, with tests such as:
Depending on your results and symptoms, a personalised dysmenorrhoea natural treatment strategy may target the following:
Natural remedies including dietary, lifestyle, herbal and supplemental strategies may include (depending on your condition):
All herbs must be prescribed by a practitioner ensuring correct dosages, that there are no contraindications or interactions with medications, and that they are appropriate for you.
In our unique 6-month program, you’ll be supported by your period pain specialist guiding and directing your personalised natural period pain treatment strategy, and a health coach who will support you in achieving your health and wellness goals. Making healthy changes can be hard, however, having a coach by your side will keep you on track, giving you the best chance of achieving pain free periods, and staying that way for the rest of your menstruating life.
Are you ready for a personalised, natural functional medicine treatment? Our unique model of care was designed with you in mind. Find out how, then book a call today
Your period is like a regular monthly report card, and each month your body decides if it feels ‘safe’ and has the resources needed to make a baby, and therefore produce an egg. This is called ovulation, and it regulates the rest of your menstrual cycle. There are many reasons why you might be experiencing menstrual cramps outside of your period:
Dysmenorrhoea is the medical term for period pain. Some mild painful period cramping low in the pelvis, or lower back pain in the first couple of days of your period is considered ‘normal’.
However, if your pain is between cycles, or during sex or during the flow and so severe that it affects your daily activities like work, school, study or exercise, or it can be described as: stabbing, searing, throbbing or burning - then, this is not considered normal pain and should be investigated by a medical practitioner. Any underlying pathological or structural cause of the pain needs to be diagnosed.
Once an underlying cause for the period pain has been ruled out, there are many dietary and lifestyle changes you can implement to help reduce the pain.
Removing foods that are common intolerances such as dairy and gluten can help reduce inflammation and therefore decrease pain. Identifying if you have a problem with foods that are high in histamine and removing these can also help enormously.
Improving gut health and having daily well-formed bowel motions is an essential first step to reducing pain. This will improve the metabolism of hormones and decrease the influence of gut symptoms increasing the experience of period pain.
Beyond these diet and lifestyle interventions, working with a period pain expert can help provide you the natural period pain relief you’re seeking.
Your body releases inflammatory molecules called prostaglandins and leukotrienes which cause the uterus to contract and cause painful period cramps. The uterine muscle can also spasm, along with blood vessels to the uterus constricting which also causes pain.
If you have endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, or a number of other reproductive issues, you may experience more pain, and this should be investigated.
Yes, naturopaths and functional medicine practitioners can make an enormous difference in how you experience your periods, from regulating cycles, to ensuring you ovulate and reducing pain. A naturopath period pain treatment will include a tailored healthcare plan that seeks to restore balance where it’s needed, through dietary and lifestyle interventions as well as naturopathic medicines like herbs or nutrient supplementation.
If you’re looking for naturopath period pain treatment, there are functional medicine practitioners at Melbourne Functional Medicine ready to help you be pain-free. Vicki van der Meer and Rebecca Hughes are passionate about women’s health, and can help with painful periods, with natural remedies for natural period pain relief, and strategies to reduce prostaglandins naturally during painful periods.
As naturopaths trained in functional medicine, both Vicki and Rebecca can help with period pain specialist treatment methods to restore hormonal balance and reduce pain using herbal, lifestyle and supplementary medicine.
Dysmenorrhoea is the term used for painful periods, of which endometriosis may be a cause. Endometriosis is a separate condition, caused by endometrial cells growing outside of the uterus.
Reducing the inflammation that is associated with painful periods through the release of prostaglandins requires a holistic, multi-pronged approach.
There are many things that can contribute to inflammation, from poor diet and lifestyle to suboptimal gut health. Working with a functional medicine practitioner who is a period pain specialist will help to get inflammation and therefore pain under control.
Some interventions such as Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to directly reduce prostaglandins as well as herbs such as curcumin, eating an anti-inflammatory diet, and reducing stress.
Can’t find what you’re looking for? Reach out to the team directly – we’ll be happy to assist.