Period Problems: How to Alleviate Menstrual Cramps

alleviate menstrual cramps

There is a repeated conversation on Twitter where someone said that no matter how many times they’ve experienced their period, they’re still surprised by the intensity of the pain. Honestly, I can relate. My period had been so painful that I’ve felt like I would pass out. Pills don’t usually work to alleviate menstrual cramps for me and the only consolation I got from older women is that it would be less painful after I give birth. Sigh! First of all, pain is usually an indication that something is wrong. Yes I know that it is very common to feel period pain but that just means that we are suffering unnecessarily. Based on our general habits and shared dietary choices, we are more often than likely to experience the same plight. If you were experiencing the same intensity of pain in a different part of your body, you would be very concerned.  

Please note that I am not a doctor. I am not medically trained nor certified as a health care professional, I am just offering suggestions based on observations during my personal experience. So far, I have experienced my menstrual cycle over 240 times and I didn’t understand what a menstrual cramp was until about the 60th cycle. At that point in my life I had moved away from home to transition to University and was more responsible for my own diet. Looking back, this was the first clue as to how important your diet is as it relates to how your body functions. 

Anaemia & Iron Deficiency 

Growing up, terms like anaemia and iron deficiency were often thrown around in conversations but we never really took it seriously. That was my mistake. I had reached the point where I felt like my body was operating in “low power” mode. I was always exhausted, very forgetful and was finding it difficult to focus on completing simple tasks. It was strange but I just thought that I was burnt out. I randomly went to the doctor for a checkup and was told that I am iron deficient. Apparently, the doctor could tell by looking at my palms and my eyes, She said they needed to be more “red”. Try to compare the colour of your palms or the bottom of your foot to that of a man’s and see the difference. Men don’t lose blood as much as women do so their blood count would be higher. 

As a menstruating female, it is imperative that you consume meals rich in iron. It is no surprise that your body absorbs more iron from red meat than it does from other sources. Additionally, it is recommended that you enhance your body’s absorption of iron by including food containing Vitamin C in your diet. Please see a list of recommended food options below to help mitigate iron deficiency:

Food containing IronFood containing Vitamin C
Red Meat: 
 – Curried Goat/ Mutton
 – Beef/Steak (logically, medium rare may produce better results)

Vegetables: 
Callaloo
– Beetroot

Legumes:
Kidney Beans
Lentil
Chickpeas
Fruits:
– Strawberries
– Tomatoes
– Oranges
– Grapefruits
– Tangerines
– Watermelons

Regulated Digestion

Disclaimer, in this paragraph I will incorporate a slightly vulgar language to get my point across. If you are sensitive to the word ”shit” you may skip the paragraph but note that it is very important… Here goes: If you are eating daily then you should be shitting daily. No exceptions. When you consume food, digestion occurs when your body breaks down the food molecules in order to absorb the necessary nutrients then it gets rid of waste in the form of shitting. When you feel the need to shit, let it out. If you have shit inside your colon while your period is starting, it’s likely to cause pain or discomfort. Some foods take longer to digest than others but including servings of fruits or vegetables in your diet may help to regulate digestion in your body.

Coffee is not always your friend

I use to drink coffee religiously for 2 years. I didn’t drink it for the caffeine but it was great for digestion. I drank my coffee black, with cinnamon, no sweetener nor cream literally every morning. After a while, coffee wasn’t helping me like it use to. I felt dehydrated yet bloated even when I wasn’t on my period. The problem with the coffee was that it was flushing all the nutrients, including the iron I needed, out of my system. I was so skinny too because it was making me lose weight. Eventually I just had to quit coffee… I officially converted to tea. Gradually, I stopped feeling bloated, my digestive system improved and I started re-gaining healthy weight where even my breasts were feeling more full. This was my first step to recovery. 

Update your diet

I started to buy iron supplements and made an effort to eat meals that were rich in iron. Yes, I was feeling so much better but I was still experiencing excruciating menstrual cramps. It was then that I considered that maybe there were foods that I was eating that was contributing to the cramps. I began making notes of my meals before and during my menstrual cycle. What I discovered surprised me. I found out that boiled eggs, dairy, spicy and some powdered seasoning increased the intensity of my pain. Meat that takes over 48 hours to digest created other problems so I avoid them during that time as well. I still need the calcium and protein etc so I either get them from other food sources or consume them after my period is done.

I even decided to change my eating habits. I choose to eat plant-based food at least 2-3 days before my period begins and on the first day. Day 1 of my menstrual cycle is usually the worst. I track my cycle using the Flo App and even though it is not 100% accurate, it helps to at least estimate the days. I can’t even fault the App because for some of us girls, our menstrual cycles are subjected to change without notice. My saving grace is that I have mild pre-menstrual symptoms at least 3 days before the beginning of my cycle which is usually the indication for me to get my diet in order. Call it a pre-menstrual detox. 

I will admit that it requires discipline because I have to avoid comfort food at that time as well. I’ve decided though that it means alleviating my menstrual cramps, so I’ll make the effort to wait. It also helps if I keep my tummy and feet warm. As such, I’ll either wear a camisole under my outfit or a tummy warmer and socks on my feet. I even changed the pads I wear. Some of them have chemicals that are suppose to keep you dry but often cause more problems. Choose cotton pads. Yes, it’s a whole process! Sometimes I feel like I’m jumping through hoops to not feel period pain but once I made it a habit, it got easier.

lady experiencing period pain

So remember ladies, the DO’s and DON’Ts to alleviate your menstrual cramps include:

  1. DO eat iron-rich foods accompanied by foods that contain Vitamin C
  2. DO take iron supplements in emergency cases (Feroglobin works for me)
  3. DO eat plant based meals at least 2-3 days before and during your period to detox
  4. DON’T intake dairy, boiled eggs, spicy food, powdered seasoning or hard-to-digest meat 2-3 days before and during your period
  5. DO keep your tummy and feet warm
  6. DO wear cotton pads (I use Women’s Touch or Curves, which are both Jamaican brands)
  7. DO drink water daily 

Sometimes it feels so unfair that women experience this kind of trauma on a monthly basis. This is the punishment we get for not getting pregnant. It is what it is. At this point we just need to adjust our lifestyle so that we don’t suffer so much. If you’ve tried these tips and are still experiencing severe menstrual cramps then maybe it’s time to visit the doctor. Good luck girls! 

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