For those of us who deal with dysmenorrhea, aka periods from the seventh circle of hell, I’ve got a good line up of zero-waste and holistic period pain management options for you. When PMS rears its ugly head for many of us ladies, the conventional options are all we feel we have at our disposal to help manage the pain.
Thanks to my endometriosis, I’ve tweaked and tested so many snake oil remedies out there and have weeded out the ludicrous. I know every lady is different, but I hope some of these suggestions can bring you relief as you journey towards a more sustainable and zero-waste lifestyle.
In my first post we talked about why it's important to have a toxin-free and eco-friendly menstruation cycle, in my second post we chatted about what zero-waste options you have for menstruation, and this final post covers all things period pain management. Enjoy!
Please note: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you end up clicking and purchasing an item. I worked hard to find my trusted favorites and I want to share them with you so you don't have to deal with all the crappy junk I had to go through. Nuff said
How To Use Heat For Period Pain
This is a no-brainer, but many of us have been using plug-in heating pads that go right in the garbage when they break (and let’s face it, they break often). A simple 5lb bag of organic rice emptied into a pillowcase or cotton bulk bag, then heated up in the microwave for 90 seconds is the best no-waste option I’ve found. It stays warm for up to 45 minutes and is easily malleable to your lady bits. You can even get a second bag of heated rice and put it on your low back. It’s heaven, my queens. I’ve been using the same old bulk bag of rice for over a year.
You can also opt for a fair trade natural rubber water bottle. Whatever eases the pain, am I right?
How To Use Essential Oils To Manage Period Pain
There are a few wonderful essential oils that help with inflammation and pain, some of which you may already have in your arsenal. Lavender, clove, frankincense, clary sage, and cypress essential oils have shown to suppress prostaglandin levels. What are prostaglandins? Before your uterus goes full tsunami on you, the endometrial cells the line the uterus make a ton of prostaglandin. Then when the endometrial cells break down during menstruation, all those prostaglandins are released which constrict the blood vessels in the uterus and make its muscle layer contract - causing dreaded cramps. Thus, the more prostaglandins, the more period pain.
The seven days leading up to the start of your period, topically apply a mix of these essential oils to your abdomen each day. Use a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil. There are some awesome pre-mixed essential oils for menstrual pain like this one, but you can always purchase the bottles individually and make your own mix in a separate bottle. When applying the essential oils, do no more than three drops of each. When using new oils, be sure to test a small patch of skin on the underside of your wrist with one drop of the new oil in a dime-sized amount of carrier oil, then watch for a reaction. The most important thing is to listen your body and start small. When I started implementing this strategy, the first day of my period (the most painful day) was so much less intense. Plus I smelled lovely the week leading up to it!
My go-to for organic fair-trade zero-waste essential oils is Mountain Rose Herbs.
Experiment With Fasting To Fight Period Pain
There is rising evidence on the benefits of fasting for the human body, and it bodes well for period pain management. Evolutionarily-speaking, humans didn’t always have a constant source of food, say like three meals a day with snacks in between. Hunter-gatherers spent days without food and the body had to evolve a coping mechanism to deal with times of famine. That coping mechanism is a switching of the metabolism from burning glucose to burning fat, AKA ketosis. While you may think that the body would eat muscle first, this isn’t the case. You may also think that our brains survive only on glucose as a fuel source, this isn’t the case either. Your body is fully capable of running on fat stores, in fact, it is written in your genetic makeup.
When you forgo eating for a period of time, your let your body go into detox mode instead of it constantly being in digestion mode. If you are dealing with extremely painful periods, it’s possible one of the hormones your body needs to detox during your cycle is excess estrogen. Estrogen is detoxed through the bowels and the liver. First your liver conjugates excess estrogen in tandem with necessary B vitamins, selenium, and glycine. Then healthy bacteria in your gut are responsible for removing that excess conjugated estrogen at a certain point in your cycle.
In my personal experience, I’ve successfully used a two or three-day fast to allow my body to detox excess estrogen the three days leading up to my period. The results have been promising and feel like a miracle: completely painless periods, no ibuprofen taken, and using heated rice bag mostly for minor back pain.
It sounds scary to go without eating for a day or two, but if you prepare a mentally and time it right it can be a great learning experience. If you want to learn more on how we do two to three days fasts, head over to this blog post.
How To Supplement With Magnesium To Help With Period Paid
Magnesium is a crucial mineral for our well being. This powerhouse nutrient is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, from regulating our blood glucose levels to keeping our heart rate in check. When it comes to PMS, magnesium helps decrease cortisol, our stress hormone, and it relaxes our muscles (buh-bye cramps!). Currently, less than 30% of adults in the US consume enough magnesium according to the RDA. Why is there such a widespread deficiency for such an essential mineral to our well being?
If you eat a diet high in refined sugar or are an avid caffeine drinker, all your magnesium is being carted out your body through your kidneys. Typically, most high-sugar foods don’t offer a lot of return on investment when it comes to the minerals and nutrients it takes to digest them in the first place. You inherently create a nutrient deficit when you don’t put back what you use up. As for caffeine, I'm guilty here myself. Your kidneys are given no choice but to do a mineral dump when you drink highly caffeinated beverages.
If you are a dark-colored soda drinker (which so many people are, p.s. please dear god stop and switch to Kombucha), you are taking in a high amount of phosphates. Those increased phosphate levels bind with magnesium inside your digestive tract, keeping the magnesium from being absorbed into your body.
Lastly, and I think the scariest of these reasons, is that our soils are severely deficient in magnesium. Over the last 50 years, we have seen a marked decline in magnesium levels in our agricultural top soils and thus, the food we eat. When our plants can't take up enough nutrients from deficient soils, that means when we eat those deficient plants we also become deficient. Why are our top soils deficient in magnesium? My opinion is we have stripped many of the necessary nutrients from soils with conventional agriculture by not using compost to return to the soil what we've taken. We have undone the closed loop of nutrient cycling over the course of the last 50 years thanks to Big Ag's tunnel vision concerning what soil needs to be productive. It's a big domino effect that is costing our health big time.
What type of Magnesium should you use for supplementation?
First, if you can cut it, skip coffee and soda the week leading up to your period. As mentioned previously, this creates a huge magnesium dump in your system and sets you up to be magnesium deficient when you need it most — during menstruation.
There are tons of options when it comes to magnesium supplements, from numerous brands to the type of magnesium, to how your body is given this necessary mineral. There are many different forms of magnesium in nature - magnesium bicarbonate, carbonate, chloride, oxide, chelated, etc. Magnesium chloride has the highest bioavailability of all, meaning it is the most readily absorbed and used by our bodies. Magnesium that is chelated is another highly bioavailable form of magnesium. Look for chelated magnesium glycinate or citrate for oral supplementation. On the flipside, many cheap store-bought magnesium supplements use magnesium oxide, which is the lowest on the totem pole concerning bioavailability. Be sure to check labels for the form of magnesium you plan on buying!
The two options for how you can supplement magnesium are oral and transdermal (topical). There is a lot of debate in the supplementation world on the effectiveness of oral vs. transdermal supplementation of magnesium. Magnesium is a sneaky mineral to monitor as the most common blood test, a serum test, can't accurately show if you are genuinely suffering from a deficiency because magnesium only makes up 1% of our blood serum. Many studies monitored urine secretion over a few weeks and concluded that topical applications of magnesium are about as good as oral supplementation. What I will say is that many people can go through some, ahem, explosive side effects (toilet bomb central), when taking magnesium orally because of the relaxing effect it can have on your bowels. When you apply magnesium topically in the form of a lotion or gel, you don't deal with the potential of a panicked bathroom run.
For an oral supplementation, I recommend the Doctors Best Brand. Personally, I've never dealt with the diarrhea taking these pills. You can also get a yummy magnesium powder that you mix into hot or cold water and drink with the Natural Vitality Brand, but I will be honest and say both myself and my man have had serious toilet explosions when we drink more than two servings of this form a day. As for topical applications, I use this one at night. I apply it to my underarms since it's the most absorbent skin on the body and tuck myself into bed. A word of warning though, don't apply it to freshly shaved underarms cause it stings like hell! A final option is soaking for 20 minutes in a magnesium salt bath with these fantastic bath salts.
I take 200mg of magnesium everyday, but the week leading up to my period I increase my dose by another 200mg. Then when the red wave hits I increase it again by 200mg, for a total of 600mg on the first day (when cramps are at their worst). Please know that every woman will require a different amount, so I encourage you to listen to your body and find the amounts that work for you and your cycle.
Track Your Period To Help Prevent Issues Before They Start
When I started mapping my cycle, I took my period pain management to a whole new level. Your cycle has multiple phases and you should familiarize yourself with each one to understand what effects they have on your body.
Our cycles last 28 days on average and evolved in tandem with the moon's cycle, which is also 28 days. More on this in a future post!
Menstruation: Day 1 - 3/5 The first day of your cycle is the first day of menstruation. Periods last on average from three to five days.
Follicular Phase: Day 1 - 13 Beginning the day of menstruation. Your pituitary gland secretes Follicle-stimulation hormone which subsequently causes estrogen to rise. Luteinizing hormone is also released via the pituitary, which encourages the egg maturation and ultimately provides the hormonal trigger to stimulate the ovulatory phase, AKA party town.
Ovulatory Phase: Day 14 It's show time! The egg is released from it's follicle and makes its way down your fallopian tube.
Luteal Phase: Day 15 - 28 While the egg goes on its hero's journey, the follicle that housed it stays put on the surface of the ovary and transforms into what's called a corpus luteum. It starts producing tons of progesterone in hopes that the egg with find a swimmer and snuggle up into the side of our uterine wall. If you do get preggo, this corpus luteum sets up long-term camp and chugs away producing progesterone for the remainder of your pregnancy. If not, sad sad corpus luteum shrivels up and dies. The sudden drop in progesterone is what ultimately triggers menstruation, and makes you crabby AF.
Start using essential oils and supplementing with extra magnesium around day 20 to help combat PMS.
There are a handful of great apps to track your menstrual cycle. I've used M. Cycles in the past, but now I'm doing it in my bullet journal and it's freaking awesome. I line mine up with the moon cycle for the month (again more on this in a future post), and then I map out the phases listed above. It helps me prep for mood swings and potential pain.
If you want to dive deeper into the hormonal aspect of menstruation, I highly recommend Dr. Lara Briden's Period Repair Manual. It's been a lifesaver for me and my endometriosis.
I hope these tips help you not only with period pain, but also with cutting down on unnecessary waste in your home. By swapping bagged rice for broken heating pads, utilizing essential oils instead of Ibuprofen, tracking your cycle, experimenting with fasting, and supplementing with magnesium, there are numbers ways to tackle PMS from a sustainable and holistic point of view.
Have you found any zero-waste or holistic options for dealing with period pain? Chime in below!
Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to composting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we strive to live sustainably and turn these five acres from just property to a fully functioning small-scale homestead.
Grab the Ebook
1. Joe Salatin
2. Rachel Carson
3. Wendell Berry
4. Temple Grandin
5. Diana Rodgers
6. Bea Johnson
7. Allan Savory
Favorite Books of 2019
1. Restoration Agriculture
3. A Sand County Almanac
4. The Small Scale Poultry Flock
5. Deep Work