Painful periods and bad PMS are two of the biggest issues I help women overcome. Periods happen every month (for most of us — if not, read this post), and you’re going to deal with it until you reach your 50s (again, for most of us), so why not make your period pleasant? Your period is a window into your health and hormone balance. Here are some tips to make your periods more pleasant.
If you’re not on hormonal birth control, I recommend charting your cycles using the Fertility Awareness Method, which involves taking your basal body temperature each day before you get out of bed. This will not only help you understand your cycles via temperature fluctuation, but you’ll learn exactly when your period is due, when you ovulate, and how to plan for or prevent pregnancy. Once you know when your period is due, you can better plan to make it pleasant. This book does an excellent job explaining how to get started charting your cycles.
First off, some period info: If you have heavy periods, unpleasant digestive symptoms, clotting, bad cramping, or you feel like you only get “2 good weeks per month” (a phrase I hear quite a bit), you’ll want to do some advance planning to improve your periods over time. Read this post on what to eat during each phase of your cycle.
Cramping is caused by hormone-like substances (prostaglandins) that trigger uterine muscle contractions, causing pain and inflammation. Prostaglandins also increase the contraction of the smooth muscles in the bowels leading to diarrhea and abdominal pain during your period. To reduce prostaglandin production, clean up your diet.
Remove inflammatory foods such as sugar, coffee, alcohol, processed foods with refined salt (sea salt is OK), conventionally raised animal products (which contribute to estrogen dominance), dairy, and gluten, which is difficult to digest and contributes to GI inflammation. Include anti-inflammatory foods such as wild salmon, sardines, leafy greens, chia seeds, and walnuts. Choose organic animal proteins. Liver can be incredibly beneficial for hormone balance!
Include beneficial fats such as coconut oil, real butter/ghee, olive oil, and avocado. Add a B vitamin complex and evening primrose oil. Make sure you reach your optimal weight: Excess adipose tissue can significantly raise estrogen levels, leaving you estrogen dominant, a condition that can worsen your periods.
Cramps and heavy periods can have other causes, such as hormone imbalance (low progesterone or estrogen dominance), fibroids, endometriosis, hypothyroid, or PCOS. Click here for more tips to reduce cramping.
How to Make Your Period Pleasant
If you chart your cycles and know when your period is coming, start preparing a week ahead of time. Reduce your sugar and booze intake during PMS week. I know that sucks because it’s exactly what you’re craving! Stick to 70% or higher dark chocolate, which is very beneficial. Drink anti-inflammatory green tea. Alcohol cravings during PMS are related to estrogen dominance, so work on hormone balance. Vitex can help balance progesterone levels, which normalize cycles and fertility.
If you notice you’re more tired, be kinder to yourself and allow for more rest. Aside from green tea for a boost, take supportive adrenal herbs (rhodiola, ginseng, ashwaganda) or try rhodiola alone for extra energy during the week. Make sure your blood sugar levels stay balanced, and give your liver some love. I recommend green juicing for extra cleansing.
Add a probiotic if you are prone to constipation or alternating constipation/diarrhea the week before and during your period. Balancing gut flora and lowering prostaglandin production helps. Get some probiotic foods like raw kraut!
During your period, think about your products. I recommend switching to menstrual cups to avoid using tampons. Tampons are made from cotton doused in pesticides (do you really want that next to your cervix?) and they affect the vaginal PH. They may also alter menstrual flow and contribute to cramping. You know the best reason to ditch tampons and pads? Saving tons of money AND you can wear the cup overnight with no mess. I absolutely love mine. You can wear it for 12 hours, depending on your cycle, and it’s super comfortable.
Drink ginger tea to reduce bloating and cramping. Uterine tonic teas with raspberry leaf are useful too. Eating lighter during the first few days of your period may minimize discomfort. I sometimes eat minimal animal products for the first 2 days and focus on cleansing foods such as green drinks, roasted beets and carrots, smoothies with spirulina and chia, leafy greens, and bone broth-based soups for minerals, depending on the time of year. (and a good amount of dark chocolate, but that’s ok, it’s a superfood! Avoid the dairy and sugar-filled milk chocolate.)
Listen to your body. I feel so much better eating a light, vegetable-based diet during my period, but I crave lamb and beef the week before, so I eat mindfully and accordingly. This doesn’t mean to go crazy on the junk food and wine if that’s what your body is telling you! Those cravings likely mean you need more protein and good fats to stabilize blood sugar levels and support dropping hormone levels. If you crave sweets, have some dark chocolate or make some paleo brownies rich in healthy fats, not the unhealthy, sugar-rich packaged junk filled with damaged fats and chemicals.
Essential oils can be a great help. A few drops of peppermint and ginger rubbed on the abdomen daily during PMS and during your period can ease cramping and bloating.
If your periods are heavy, try this menstrual flow support, a blend of herbs to reduce heavy flow. Acupuncture may help, too.
Some women feel more introspective and more fatigued during their periods. That’s fine. We’re out of touch with the rhythms of our bodies in our 24 hour faced paced societies. Take more time for yourself if possible during your period. Don’t exercise excessively for the first day or 2. Take a warm epsom salt bath and enjoy calming herbal teas. Get plenty of rest. I love how the book Way of the Happy Woman describes how to balance your body and cycles with the seasons.
Resources to Help Balance Your Hormones
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.