Menstrual health is a critical component of female well-being, and, in social vernacular, an important part of female empowerment. While philosophical aspects of femininity are shared, debated, and celebrated, the reality of menses can still be challenging for many of us. Bloating, lower back pain, water retention, loose bowels, digestion issues, breakouts, and mood swings are just a few of the symptoms millions of women experience each month with their menstrual flow.
Today, there are numerous tools at our disposal to help manage this time of the month. We have period-tracking applications, flexible menstrual cups to avoid messing with pads or tampons, and period-proof undies. There’s even a monthly service that delivers menstrual supplies, complete with organic treats and confections to lavish upon oneself during lady time. Whoopi Goldberg has launched a line of marijuana products aimed at those who suffer cramps. On top of these modern developments, there are also time-tested natural solutions for period pain and many of the other discomforts we weather every 21 to 28 days.
Here are some natural remedies to make your periods more manageable.
- Eat right. A little dark chocolate doesn’t hurt, and can actually help with stress reduction. But sugary drinks and treats can alter our hormones and stress levels, impacting us negatively and increasing our risk for breast cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses later in life. Junk food can also impact mood, so it’s best to minimize in that area. According to Janet Zand, O.M.D., “Vegetables rich in magnesium and chlorophyll—dense greens—can help reduce inflammation and should be eaten often, but especially the week prior to your period. You could also take a magnesium supplement, for the same result.”
- Herbs can help. Chamomile has been shown to alleviate cramping symptoms; a strong tea can be helpful in easing cramps and soothing the mood. Ginger has been shown to be just as beneficial, if not more so, because it has other healing properties, such as benefiting digestion, boosting the immune system, and easing nausea. “Combine ginger and chamomile for a soothing, delicious tea that can help ease cramps and discomfort. Each woman will react differently, of course, so you must find what works for you,” says Zand.
- Reduce Inflammation. According to recent research, there are biomarkers for the inflammation associated with painful periods, called CRP-specific proteins. Clinicians advise inflammation reduction during periods, to avoid excessive discomfort. Inflammation can be impacted by poor diet, especially excessive fat and sugars, so inflammation reduction can also be influenced by nutrition. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, there are nutritional adjustments one can make to combat discomfort during the cycle, including following a low-inflammation diet.
- Practice Yoga. Larissa Hall Carlson, a senior faculty member for the Kripalu Schools, recommends practicing yoga off the mat during flow days, or keeping on-the-mat sequences balanced and restorative. Carlson says, “Throughout my teens and 20s as a female athlete, I was pushed to exercise just as hard during my menstrual flow as I was the rest of the month. But in my 30s, as I deepened my yoga practice, studied Ayurveda, and relied upon Traditional Chinese Medicine for health advice and remedies, I discovered that by taking it easy the first few days of my period, not only did I have much steadier energy throughout the remainder of the month, but the PMS-related fatigue, brain fog, cramping, and aching I usually experienced diminished significantly.” Carlson suggests yoga nidra as a gentle mode of self-care: “Download a 30-minute guided yoga nidra practice and get cozy in Savasana (corpse pose; relaxation pose) with a cushion under the knees, a lavender eye pillow, and a warm blanket. The practice will be highly beneficial.”
- Be good to yourself. It’s important to take the space we need to rest, restore, and rejuvenate. Whether you need a Netflix marathon, have to sleep in a bit later, or take a break from the gym for a couple of days, offering yourself a reprieve from the daily grind can be hugely beneficial. Many of us don’t see our periods as sacred because of social conditioning, along with some of the unpleasantness that accompanies them. But if we change our perception and habits around menses, even just a bit, we can see the gift of fertility with a grateful heart, and nurture our femininity. Slowing down can go a long way, and once your period ends, you’ll feel rested and rejuvenated—an empowering practice.