Painful periods or discomfort associated with menstruation, otherwise known as dysmenorrhea, is the most prevalent women’s health issue in the world.
It’s estimated that 50% of post-pubescent females suffer from dysmenorrhea and 10% have such painful periods that they are incapacitated for 1 – 3 days each month. This is just not right!
Until recently, dysmenorrhea was classified by the traditional medical community as being a “psychogenic” condition, originating in the ailing woman’s mind.
It was seen by doctors as having no identifiable cause nor was it the result of any known injury and in traditional medicine, if there is no cause for symptoms then they must be mental manifestations. Their treatment was simply to prescribe drugs to help with the pain and send the crazy woman on her way.
Times have changed….but unfortunately, not that much!
We now have a more comprehensive understanding of what causes dysmenorrhea. However, the solution that most women receive from their doctors is the same as it was when we were all just crazy bitches! And that solution is some kind of drug.
Luckily, there are ways to resolve your dysmenorrhea without narcotics and take back control of your cycle naturally and permanently.
In a study done in 1957, a British doctor discovered a link between fat-like chemicals in women’s menstrual blood called prostaglandins and symptoms associated with dysmenorrhea.
The doctor found that women who suffered from painful periods had 8-13 times more prostaglandins in their blood than normal women who did not experience menstrual pain.
Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that exist in all human tissue. Their main function is to stimulate inflammation when an injury occurs and constrict blood flow to the damaged area to prevent blood loss.
When a woman begins to shed her endometrial lining, a large amount of prostaglandins are released which constricts blood vessels in the uterus and causes the uterus to contract.
If too many prostaglandins are released this will cause more severe uterine contractions which will lead to the painful cramps that many women experience.
In some cases these excess prostaglandins can also enter the bloodstream and travel up to the brain where they can cause other symptoms of dysmenorrhea like nausea, vomiting, fainting and migraines.
So, if you’re suffering from painful periods, (or migraines for that matter), you have a singular enemy to aim your sights at – prostaglandins.
While conventional medicine continues to simply treat the pain produced by prostaglandins, I want to talk about the root cause of the overproduction of prostaglandins themselves.
Omega-6 vs. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Prostaglandin production is directly linked to the balance of fatty acids in the body. There are two key types of prostaglandins, PGE1 and PGE2.
Interestingly, PGE2 acts as an inflammatory agent (think pain!) while PGE1 has anti-inflammatory effects. The balance between these two is critical when looking to address issues associated with inflammation and dysmenorrhea.
So let’s take a quick look at both of these…
The anti-inflammatory PGE1 prostaglandins are the end-products of Omega-3 fatty acids while the pro-inflammatory PGE2 prostaglandins are derived from Omega-6 fatty acids. Humans evolved eating a diet that had a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids which would result in a balance between the production of both PGE1 and PGE2 prostaglandins.
However, times have changed and our modern western diet now has an Omega6/Omega3 ratio of 15:1! Quite simply, this imbalance will lead to a higher production of pro-inflammatory PGE2 with less anti-inflammatory PGE1 with the end result being more pain. It really is this simple.
How do we get our Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio back in balance?
First a little history on how we got so out of balance to begin with. The western diet had a monumental shift at the turn of the 20th century with the advent of vegetable oils. Before this, most people got their fat from animal sources like meat, lard, butter and cream.
In the 1950’s vegetable oil really took off due to a brilliant marketing strategy promoting it as “heart healthy.” Today each of us consumes, on average, 70 lbs of vegetable oil each year and there is nothing healthy about this!
In addition to numerous other health issues related to these oils, they are extremely high in omega-6 fatty acids and their consumption has directly led to the omega-6/omega-3 imbalances we are experiencing today.
Here is a list of oils you should try to avoid:
Here is a list of oils you should be using:
Just by removing these vegetable oils from your diet you will be taking a huge step towards bringing your omega-6/omega-3 ratio back in balance, but this alone isn’t enough. Removing sources containing large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids is only half the battle.
You will also need to add sources of omega-3s to your diet. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, leafy greens like spinach and kale, avocados, walnuts, and seeds like flax and chia.
In regards to meat, the large amount of meat consumed in the traditional western diet has often been blamed for our high levels of omega-6 fats. While meat naturally has a higher ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids, this ratio can fluctuate dramatically depending on what the meat you eat eats!
In a study conducted by North Dakota State University, they found that grass fed bison had an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 4:1 while grain fed bison in feedlots had a ratio of 21:1! Similar studies have also found that eggs from free range chickens have ratios around 1.5 to 1 while regular supermarket eggs have ratios of over 20:1. Whoa!
So it’s not just the amount of meat in our diets that’s the issue, it’s what that meat is now being fed by the likes of Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill and Smithfield Foods, who produce 85% of the meat consumed in America.
The humane treatment of animals is front and center in our discussions about grass fed beef and free range chickens but the tremendous health benefits of these foods should not be ignored.
It is no coincidence that our omega-6/3 ratios are now approaching 20:1 at the same time that the meat we’re consuming is also rising to the same levels.
The old saying, “we are what we eat” needs to be updated to reflect our modern times. “We are what the things we eat eat” would be a more accurate motto these days.
If your diet includes meat then it’s imperative that you find the best quality organic meats available if you want to fight inflammation and resolve your pain.
If you follow these easy steps to rebalance your omega-6/omega-3 ratios and become more cognizant of the types of fats in your diet, the positive effects you will experience in your menstrual cycle will amaze you.
This will take a little time though. Numerous studies have found that simply taking fish oil supplements dramatically improves dysmenorrhea symptoms but typically only after three months. I am currently obsessed with Rosita Real Foods Cod Liver Oil which has a high amount of EPA and DHA (the essential fatty acids you need).
If you don’t experience results right away, be patient and stick with it. They will come. In the meantime, here are some ways to alleviate the pain you’re experiencing now as you begin your journey towards pain-free periods!
Circulation is Key: The muscle contractions caused by the release of prostaglandins can cut off blood supply to the uterus causing extreme pain. To keep the blood flowing apply heat to your abdomen using a hot water bottle. Or try out castor oil packs 2-3 times a week when you don’t have your period – they are amazing for reducing pain! Here’s my castor oil pack instructions.
B12: Vitamin B12 supplements have been shown to reduce symptoms associated with dysmenorrhea. I recommend Seeking Health Active B12 Lozenges and Seeking Health B Complex because the B’s all work in tandem so it’s important to have adequate levels of all of them. Also know you can’t overdose on the B’s because they are water soluble and can’t be stored for later use.
Women have, on average, 450 periods in their lifetime. There is no reason why you should feel that “the curse” is not an accurate enough word for what happens to you each month! Our bodies did not evolve to require drugs in order to function nor were they designed to punish us and make us feel miserable for 3,500 days of our life!
Our bodies simply aren’t equipped to adapt to the rapidly changing world we live in. They don’t know how to deal with the 70lbs of vegetable oil we consume each year nor did they ever fathom corn-fed cows or factory-raised chickens.
We need to get back to basics and give our bodies the things they have been accustomed to getting over millions of years. To honor our past is the best way to shape a healthy and happy future.
Have you tried omega-3-rich foods/supplements to address your painful periods? Has it helped? Love to hear what you think of my advice and if you’re gonna try anything I suggested!