During the menstrual cycle, the endometrium, the internal lining of the uterus (or womb), thickens in preparation for nourishing a potential embryo. If fertilisation does not occur, the endometrium is shed, expelled by contractions of the womb’s muscular wall. This produces a 3-7 day-long flow of menstrual blood: the much-dreaded period.
Unfortunately, it’s not always the gentlest of processes. For some women, uterine contractions cause significant pain in the lower abdomen, sometimes radiating to the back or thighs. Others suffer frequent headaches. These various problems are grouped under the term dysmenorrhea.
Often occurring in teenagers, but sometimes at a later stage, period pain is usually the result of over-secretion of prostaglandins – the hormones that stimulate uterine contractions (1).
However, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with period pains every month! There are natural, simple solutions that can help give you a breather and put you back in control.
A little old-fashioned warmth, in every sense: despite being somewhat outdated, the humble hot-water bottle remains a ‘girl’s best friend’ when it comes to period pains. Placed on the lower abdomen for around 20 minutes, it helps relax the womb’s muscles while at the same time significantly reducing pain signals (2).
If you don’t have one, a hot water compress or warm bath works too!
Massaging, tapping or pressing pressure points continuously can also reduce menstrual cramps (3). Try these 3:
After half an hour’s physical activity, the body releases beta-endorphin which seems to have a positive effect on the sensation of pain and improve the sense of well-being. Exercise and periods are therefore not incompatible, quite the reverse! Not to mention that being active is an excellent way of getting rid of nervous tension, which is often more intense at this time of the month (4).
What’s the best form of exercise to pursue? In theory, any type of activity is fine. The best thing to do is listen to your own body and make sure you do something you enjoy. Combat sports or rapid movements (sprinting ...) may prove too demanding. There’s no sense in using up every last bit of your strength: a little stretching, a low-intensity cardio session, or simply walking should do the trick!
Behind the tar-like appearance of shilajit (also known as mumiyo or black asphaltum) lies a wealth of treasures. Used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, this mixture of humic and mineral substances boasts no less than 85 different minerals and trace-elements. Contained in the sedimentary rock of Tibet, China and Russia’s high mountain ranges, it is released as an exudate when activated by heat, forming precious ‘mountain tears’ (5).
. An important aid to women in their reproductive years, shilajit helps relieve menstrual discomfort. It’s the star ingredient in certain dietary supplements (such as Super Shilajit, based on purified shilajit standardised to 60% fulvic acids for optimal efficacy).
If you constantly feel under pressure, be aware that stress also plays a role in menstrual pain (6). The mechanisms at play are similar to a complex butterfly effect, but in essence, the cortico-hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, the ‘musical director’ of the menstrual cycle, appears to be very sensitive to variations in emotion. All it takes is one irritation, shock, or jolt to the nerves for this finely-tuned harmony of hormones to become a cacophony.
It’s therefore important, both during and in between your periods, to protect yourself from sources of tension as much as possible. Various practices such as yoga, sophrology and meditation can all help you manage your emotions better. Another very simple solution is to give up all stimulants (coffee, tea, alcohol…) while you are menstruating.
Better known as velvet bean, Mucuna pruriens is a tropical plant from India and Africa recognisable by its yellow pods covered in irritant hairs.
However, it’s the plant’s bean-like seeds which are of interest to the scientific community. VIPs in the world of Ayurvedic medicine, they can help ensure problem-free menstruation and menopause (7).
Supplementing with velvet bean (such as with the product Mucuna pruriens, with 15% natural levodopa) can therefore be beneficial in relieving feminine discomfort.
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