Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Natural Remedies for Menstrual and Pre-Menstrual Discomfort

Written by Jessica Kramer
Our bodies communicate our needs. They hold and express our emotions and they are constantly at work performing physiological functions. When seeking a remedy for menstrual discomfort it is always important to remember that your body is unique and individual. Not only does your body differ from other women’s bodies, but it differs from month to month and year to year. As our bodies mature and our environments and lifestyles change, our bodies’ behaviors’ and needs will change too.

Our bodies communicate our needs. They hold and express our emotions and they are constantly at work performing physiological functions. When seeking a remedy for menstrual discomfort it is always important to remember that your body is unique and individual. Not only does your body differ from other women’s bodies, but it differs from month to month and year to year. As our bodies mature and our environments and lifestyles change, our bodies’ behaviors and needs will change too.
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When feeling {mosimage width=400} discomfort it is easy to approach it with a singular interest in eradicating the discomfort—after all, who wants to continue to feel discomfort? The problem is that when we forget to recognize the innate intelligence of our bodies, and don’t take the time to gain a deeper insight into why we are having discomfort, we most often end up in one of two situations: We spin our wheels attempting everything we can possibly think of to eradicate the discomfort, or we successfully eliminate it for a short period of time before the discomfort reappears in the same form, unresponsive to the previously successful measure, or it reappears in a different form, still informed by the same basic issue.
When experiencing premenstrual or menstrual discomfort it is very important to take a step back and ask yourself and your body some key questions: When did this discomfort begin? Have I experienced this since my first menstrual cycle or did it begin sometime after that? If I’ve not always had this discomfort, what sort of shifts took place in my life around the time the discomfort began? A change in the amount of rest I get? A change in diet? A change in relationships or an emotional change? Do I have enough time for myself? Do I get adequate nutrients, or do I just get adequate calories? Am I adequately hydrated? Do I balance activity and rest? Is there a need for my body, mind, or heart that is not being met, and what might I do to meet that need? All in all, what is my body trying to tell me?

If the discomfort you experience is emotional upheaval, as distasteful as this may sound, get to know what your emotional upheaval looks like. Most of us have a specific emotional place that we go to when we are down, and it’s even more specific when it’s related to menstruation. Do you feel hopeless? Angry? Lonely? Insecure? Unattractive? Irritable? If you become familiar with an emotion that emerges and/or the story that goes with it, it will have less of a hold on you. When the familiar story emerges, you can remind yourself that you are about to start bleeding, or just did start, take a deep breath, give the feeling a little respect, and remember, your hormones are swinging about and in a few days these feelings will be a distant memory.
Remember that life in a body is a great big experiment. It’s a process of getting to know your body and its needs. Try one approach for a few months to see what impact it has. If that works, great. If not, let that one go and try the next. Talk with other girls and women about their experiences with their periods and cycles and find out what works for them or what symptoms are common. You just might emerge from the discomfort with a deeper understanding of and stronger connection to your body, not to mention a stronger support of female friends.

Some Natural Remedies

Adequate hydration in the form of not only water, but coconut water, Recharge, another natural electrolyte beverage, or my personal favorite, water with a little organic fruit juice and a pinch or two of Celtic sea salt (or other high quality unrefined, unbleached sea salt).
  Allow yourself more rest, at least while you are bleeding. Menstruation is a natural time, both historically and physiologically, to rest and turn inward.     
  Cramps and constipation can sometimes be the result of liver congestion. An easy way to help clear liver congestion is fresh lemon juice in water every morning 20-30 minutes before eating.

Make sure your body is nourished with plenty of nutrients and minerals. There are many great sources of nutrients and minerals like: 

Various kinds of seaweed. Kelp can be purchased in dry, powder, or capsule form. Sprinkle kelp powder into your food. Put dry kelp into soups and stews while they cook and remove it before eating. I never cook soups or beans without some kelp added during the cooking. It adds amazing flavor even to chicken soups and aids digestion of beans. Or take a kelp supplement. Eat dark leafy greens, such as kale and collards, which are rich in calcium, iron, chlorophyll, and a whole lot more.

Herbal teas are nourishing and enjoyable to drink warm, at room temperature, or as iced tea. Nettle leaf, red raspberry leaf, and oat straw are incredible herbs that come together nicely. Nettle is a wonderful all-around nourishing herb with a fresh green flavor that most enjoy. Red raspberry leaf is an astringent herb that is high in iron and a general uterine and reproductive tonic. It has a nice and rather mild flavor though some find it too astringent when brewed on its own. Oat straw is soothing to the nervous system. I recommend an infusion that mixes a total of 1/2 cup of mixed herbs. After doing this, cover the infusion with 4 cups of boiling water and let it steep for 1-6 hours or overnight. Strain and drink at room temperature, reheated on the stove, or sweetened with honey and cooled in the refrigerator or with ice. Drink 2-4 cups per day and feel free to add a little peppermint or lemon verbena if you’d like to add some more fun flavors. Herbs can be purchased in natural food stores or online in bulk loose leaf.

Take a supplement of fermented cod liver oil. High quality fermented cod liver oil is rich in essential fatty acids as well as many other essential vitamins such as vitamins A and D. It is beneficial for many menstrual and premenstrual symptoms. 

Heavy bleeders who are left feeling depleted by the time they’re finished bleeding may benefit from Floradix Iron and Herbs. It is a concentrated syrup of cooked herbs and foods. The beauty of this supplement is that if you need it, it will taste like ambrosia. If you don’t need it, it will have a sort of metallic taste.

Some women find that eliminating or significantly decreasing dairy intake can have a surprisingly noticeable impact on premenstrual breast tenderness and cramps.

Similarly, other women find that decreasing refined sugars and refined flour decreases cramping and general menstrual related congestion. (With both sugar and dairy, you probably don’t need to eliminate it altogether but rather cut back on it significantly; though you will have to see how your body responds.)

For some women caffeine intake causes breast tenderness and liver congestion. If this is the case, you might want to eliminate caffeine or switch from coffee to black tea, green tea, or mate.

  For menstrual cramps and backaches, aromatherapy massage oil rubbed on your lower belly and lower back can provide relief from pain and spasms. It is extremely important to purchase therapeutic-grade essential oils, which are not what you find at your local natural food or cosmetic store. If you look around on the Internet there are a handful of companies around the world selling therapeutic quality essential oils and carrier oils. I get mine from Aromatics International.

To make cramp and backache oil, add 1 drop of bergamot oil to 1 ounce of Arnica oil, trauma oil, St. John’s wort oil, or sesame or olive oil for carrier oil. (Do not use more than 1 or 2 drops of bergamot oil per 1 ounce carrier oil. It is a wonderful healing oil but too much of it applied to the skin is “photosensitizing,” meaning that skin exposed to the sun after too concentrated an application of bergamot can create a burn of sorts.) Then mix it with:                
3 drops lavender
2 drops Roman chamomile
2 drops sandalwood
2 drops lemongrass

Some of the menstrual discomforts that women experience, such as cramps and constipation, are the result of a “tilted uterus” or other organs that are somewhat displaced and/or ligaments that are twisted, shortened, or inflexible. This can be realigned through various kinds of bodywork, such as Mayan Abdominal Massage or Visceral Manipulation.
For irregular cycles or extreme cramping you can try vitex tincture (also known as chaste tree berry tincture), which regulates the hormones. Vitex is a strong herb, so I recommend that you read more about it or seek the guidance of an herbalist before beginning to use it.

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