Painkillers aren’t the only form of relief for period pain – there are other things you can try to make your time of the month easier.
Could the humble sesame or sunflower seed be the answer to your monthly woes?
A new trend in the US – seed syncing – is being hailed the great new hope when it comes to dealing with period pain.
Kim Jones has the lowdown…
Whether it’s cramping, throbbing, aching or smarting that radiates from the tummy area to the back, hips and thigh, period pain comes in many guises.
Most women will experience it at some point, especially if they have high levels of prostaglandins.
Now a major new nutritional trend from the States is hailing the simple act of eating seeds as key to calming these symptoms.
Known as seed cycling or syncing, it involves eating particular seeds during the two phases of your menstrual cycle – before and after ovulation – to feed you an ideal mix of fatty acids, compounds and nutrients, such as zinc, magnesium and selenium, which help to balance your hormones.
Hormonal imbalances are thought to contribute to everything from irregular or heavy periods to cramps, breast pain and even menstrual migraines.
Karen Devine, a UK nutritionist who already uses seed cycling with her clients, finds – like many naturopathic practitioners – that more and more of us are looking for natural ways to control heavy, painful periods rather than resorting to synthetic medication or taking the combined contraceptive pill.
She says: “Many of my female clients are happy to try seed cycling as it’s very natural and easy to incorporate into their daily diet.
“Seeds can be added to smoothies, ground up into foods or eaten just as snacks – and as they’re available in most supermarkets, you don’t have to go out of your way to include them in the weekly shop.”
Here’s the lowdown on how to try it for yourself – plus other natural ways to cut the cramps:
1) TRY SEED CYCLING
In the first half of your cycle (day one of your period to day 14 – the follicular phase), eat a tablespoon each of pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds (also called linseeds) to balance oestrogen levels.
On days 15 to 28 (the luteal phase), eat a tablespoon each of sunflower and sesame seeds to balance progesterone levels.
“The concept is fairly simple,” says nutritional therapist Tracy Harper.
“The seed hulls contain lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that may help to regulate hormonal imbalances, while the seed oils contain essential fatty acids that provide the building blocks for making hormones.
“The seeds therefore assist the body in either prod-ucing more or processing and eliminating excess hormone.”
It’s really easy to add seeds to your diet.
Buy them raw and either sprinkle over your morning cereal, porridge, salads and soups, or grind and add to smoothies or soups.
2) LIE BACK LIKE A FROG
yoga teacher Tara Mestre says: “The body tenses up when you’re suffering from menstrual pain, but this puts muscles under stress and can exacerbate pain. Some restorative yoga poses can help you relax.
“Try the Reclined Bound Angle pose – lying on your back with your legs apart in a frog-like position.
The openness of this pose is particularly good because it helps the body completely let go of tension.”
Here’s how to do it: First lie back on the floor or on your bed.
Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees drop to either side of your body (like a frog).
You can use a pillow under your back and head – and under your outer thighs – to support you.
Then place your hands on your tummy (or on the floor next to you) and breathe in deeply for a count of four, so your tummy rises, and out for a count of six, with your tummy falling.
Stay in the position for at least five minutes.
3) GET YOUR KIT ON
While it’s tempting to curl up on the sofa in your pyjamas when cramps kick in, a new study suggests that getting up and into your gym kit might help ease period pain far better.
Researchers from St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and menstrual tracking app FitrWoman found that 78% of women said exercise reduced the symptoms of their period.
Moderate intensity exercise (where you’re breathing fairly hard but can still hold a conversation) was deemed the most effective.
“Try cycling or swimming – they’re low-impact and easy on the joints,” suggests James O’Loan, consultant pharmacist at doctor-4-u.co.uk.
4) EAT YOUR BEETS, ASPARAGUS AND CELERY
Nutritionist Emma Thornton says: “Beetroot juice is rich in nitrates which gently dilate (or relax) our blood vessels, helping increase blood flow and oxygen to the tummy and uterus, which can ease discomfort and cramping.”
Asparagus and celery can help keep bloating and water retention to a minimum during your period as a result of their generous potassium content, which helps lower sodium levels in the body and increases urine production.
“Or try a herbal remedy like A.Vogel Agnus Castus drops (£10.50 from health stores and avogel.co.uk).
“The tincture, made from berries, can help ease both bloating and cramps, although it’s not suitable if you’re taking hormonal contraceptives.”
5) TIME TO COOL IT
Cuddling up with a hot water bottle is an age-old cure as it increases blood flow and relaxes muscles, reducing discomfort. One study found that using a 40C heat pad is as effective as ibuprofen.
But did you know that cooling can also relax muscles and bring anti-inflammatory, analgesic properties?
Be You stick-on patches (£6.99, beyouonline.co.uk) are infused with essential oils of eucalyptus and menthol.
When applied to the lower abdomen or lower back – wherever you feel cramping the most – they produce a tingling, cooling effect, numbing the body’s pain receptors and relieving inflammation.
6) CUT BACK ON CAFFEINE
Drinking coffee during your period could make cramps worse. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it makes blood vessels (including those in your uterus) constrict, making cramping more painful.
Limit coffee to a maximum of one cup a day during your period – or swap to chicory coffee or chamomile tea, which contain two compounds, hippurate and glycine, which can help to relieve muscle spasms and relax the uterus.
Chamomile also has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce cramps further.
7) WEAR IT WELL
Wearable devices that help ease period pain include the Livia (£119, mylivia.com), which works like a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine, helping to block pain signals.
Clip the small control pad to your waistband, then attach two electrode gel pads to your lower abdomen and switch on.
An independent clinical study found that 80% of women with period pain who used the device were able to cut back or completely stop using pain medications.
8) RUB IT BETTER
Massage will help relax your abdomen, but if you add essential oils, the effects can be extra soothing.
Mix two drops of anti-spasmodic clary sage, two of geranium and one of analgesic rosemary into a tablespoon of coconut oil and rub in circular movements into the abdomen.
9) MORE MAGNESIUM
Studies have found that magnesium supplements help ease cramps by relaxing the smooth muscle of the uterus and by reducing the prostaglandins that cause the pain.
You should be able to get enough magnesium from a balanced diet – good sources of magnesium are nuts, wholegrain bread, dark green leafy veg and even dark chocolate.
But if you feel you’re not getting enough, try supplementing with Link Nutrition’s Magnesium capsules (£15.95 for 30, linknutrition.com). They’re food-based so are easily absorbed.
10) ALL BETTER WITH ALGAE?
A study published in the European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology found that supplementing with chlorella, a fresh-water algae, helped reduce the severity and duration of period pain.
The algae was thought to help reduce levels of pain-producing prostaglandins, inflammation and oxidative stress.
Try Sun Chlorella A Tablets (£21.95 for 300, sunchlorella.co.uk).