Drug-free Help For Painful Periods

Skip to the bottom for the research round-up on help for painful periods.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was on the birth control pill continuously for a few years as a way to manage such severe dysmenorrhea that my body would go into shock (so explained the ER doc) and vasovagal collapse. It didn’t happen every month by any any means, but, when it did happen, it was much worse that a mere “faint” and my OBGYN said that she would be comfortable if I remained on the pill without a period for the next 20 years.

I will say, if you can tolerate the pill, it is pure bliss in terms of skin, mood, bloating etc. Often, you don’t know how well something is working until it goes away and, for me, this was the case with the pill in certain aspects. God, why is my belly so distended when I haven’t eaten anything? Ugh, why does my skin look like I’m a 14-year old? Why can’t I stop eating today? Don’t talk to me. Don’t even LOOK at me! AHH! I’M SO HOT AND BOTHERED! I’ve had three periods since coming off the pill and I am still taken aback by these symptoms, none of which I noticed when I was on the pill.

Having said that, I am still thrilled to be pill-free. My headaches eased up after Christmas and, although I can’t 100% attribute that to coming off the pill, it is encouraging. But, the most exciting thing is that I’ve had very little cramping. This last week, the pain in my lower back was excruciating and the the increase in ME/CFS symptoms was obvious, but the cramps themselves did not even warrant a painkiller. For someone who has spent years living in fear of that time of the month ~ who has planned work and social events around the first day and made sure I was prepared for an ER visit ~ this is MIRACULOUS. I’ll take all the PMS symptoms any day over the pain.

This post so far is probably only interesting to my Mother who has heard my complaints for years and was visiting once when the pain took over, the syncope hit and the ambulance took me away, but for all the ladies out there with painful periods, here’s what I want you to know: I absolutely believe that the pain is better because of the supplements I’m taking. Last year I had researched things that could help painful periods and my doctor had also sent me some research articles, but, of course, I never really believed they could make a difference, so I never did anything with that info. Now, I know they work, although I don’t know which supplements are contributing the most. SO, here is a round-up of the research I did (from different websites and my doctor). Try some of these ideas if you suffer every month ~ it could actually eliminate pain killers!

These are the things that I take/eat/drink every day that I believe reduced my cramps:

  • Fiber supplement
  • Borage Oil
  • Fish oil
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B-complex
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc

Diet:

  • Using healthy cooking oils, such as olive oil or coconut oil.
  • Eat antioxidants, including fruits (such as blueberries, cherries and bananas) and brightly-coloured vegetables.
  • Eat almonds and dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and kale).
  • Eliminate trans-fatty acids found in commercially baked goods, such as cookies, crackers, cakes, fried foods, processed foods and margarine.
  • Avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas and sugar.
  • Avoid caffeine(ish), alcohol and tobacco.
  • Use turmeric.
  • Drink tart cherry juice, ginger tea, 6 – 8 glasses of filtered water daily.

And here are all the other tips I gathered:

  • Take daily multi-vitamin
  • Calcium citrate, anywhere from 500mg-2,000mg daily, depending on the source.
  • Magnesium, 250mg-800mg daily, depending on the source (I take 400mg)
  • Vitamin B6, 50mg-200 mg depending on the source (the week before my period, I add 100mg on top of my B-complex)
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • vitamin B3 (also called niacin; 500 mg twice daily)
  • fish oil supplement containing omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids and DHA, EPA, and GLA to inhibit the production of certain prostaglandins 1,000mg-6,000mg daily, depending on the source (I take 2,000mg + 1,000mg Borage oil)
  • Black current oil, borage oil, or evening primrose oil.
  • Vitamin E 400-500 IU daily
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin D
  • Avoid Xenoestrogens and Phytoestrogens. Xenoestrogens lotions, shampoos, and laundry detergent. Phytoestrogens are plant estrogen’s that can be found in some herbs.
  • Acupuncture
  • Engage in stress reduction activities such as yoga, massage and meditation.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week.
  • Chaste tree or chaste berry (Vitex agnus castus) standardized extract, 20 – 40 mg daily before breakfast.
  • Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), taken as a tea. Boil 2 tsp. dried bark in 1 cup water then simmer for 15 minutes; drink 3 times per day.
  • Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) standardized extract, 20 – 40 mg two times a day.
  • Evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis) standardized extract, 500 – 1000 mg daily, as a source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Evening primrose pills have to be taken everyday maybe 1-2 pills daily after food. During the period, double up the intake to 3-4 pills a day after food.
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa) standardized extract, 300 mg three times a day, for inflammation.
  • Ginger root powder in capsules

Studies:

  • Diet and vitamins — A variety of dietary changes and vitamin therapies has been reported to reduce the severity of menstrual pain, but data are limited to a few small studies. Although the limited available data appear promising, we would like to see confirmatory data from additional trials before suggesting these interventions for our patients.
  • In one clinical trial, 33 women with primary dysmenorrhea and premenstrual symptoms were randomly assigned, in a crossover design, to receive a low fat-vegetarian diet for two months or a placebo dietary supplement pill [9]. While on the vegetarian diet, the women noted a statistically significant decrease in menstrual pain intensity and duration, and they had a mean weight loss of 1.8 kg.
  • A self-report study of dietary dairy intake in 127 female university students indicated that women who consumed three or four servings of dairy products per day had lower rates of dysmenorrhea than women who consumed no dairy products.
  • Two randomized trials reported that vitamin E alone (500 units per day or 200 units twice per day, beginning two days before menses and continuing through the first three days of bleeding) was more effective than placebo for relieving dysmenorrhea in adolescents randomly assigned to either therapy, although both active drug and placebo reduced pain.
  • In a systematic review including mostly single small trials, vitamin B1 (100 mg daily), vitamin B6 (200 mg daily), and fish oil supplement (1080 mg eicosapentaenoic acid, 720 mg docosahexaenoic acid, and 1.5 mg vitamin E) were each more effective for reducing pain than placebo.

I don’t have links to these studies because they were sent to me by my doctor and I’m too tired to google them. Good luck, all!

…it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled…

What a roller coaster it has been. One day I want to write about one thing, the next day, everything has changed and I want to write a whole different post… So, I wind up writing nothing at all.

I spent three days feeling good. And I mean good. Stiffness was drastically reduced, my back pain was virtually eliminated, my energy level was up and, best of all, I had no headache. For three days, I wasn’t grimacing at my husband’s footsteps or holding my ears while we watched tv. It was bliss, I tell you. Then, a series of unfortunate events: Sunday night, my husband turned on our yet-unused gas fireplace insert (purchased because wood fires make me dizzy and my lungs burn) and the house filled with chemically burny metal paint fumes. I didn’t think much of it ~ it’s a brand new unit, after all ~ until Monday morning when I woke up very dizzy. My husband had gone to SO MUCH trouble to get this fireplace for next to nothing ~ driving out of the city to a clearance sale, standing on the roof, repairing the chimney for days, going into the crawlspace and disappearing into the hearth to run the gas, building/grinding/soldering/I-don’t-know-whating a framework because the insert was much smaller than the opening to our fireplace… So, I was upset and emotional all day. What if the fumes from the fireplace made me dizzy? Oh no, we didn’t think of that! What if the new paint or whatever doesn’t burn off and that smell lasts for ages or the permanent off-gas causes me to get dizzy or makes my eyes burn or makes my chest tight…? Where will I go while he tries to burn off the smell? Should I get a hotel? What if this bloody fireplace causes me to be worse in the long term? The usual fretting. So, we were worried and annoyed and frustrated. Also, I think everything was exacerbated by PMS because, after months of being an emotional zen master, I felt inflamed. I was distraught and enraged. I was guilty that my husband’s fireplace project might be a complete waste. Knowing my sensitivity to scents and chemicals, I was frustrated that we hadn’t taken this into consideration. I was upset that my husband wasn’t more sympathetic to how this might worsen my symptoms (he wasn’t pleased when I asked him not to turn it on again). I was furious that this disease ruins everything. That night, knowing my period was looming and taken aback by the onslaught of my emotion, I started the birth control pill again. I thought, Whoa, PMS is HELL. I need my hormones regulated again. Then, that night, things fell apart. I woke up feeling like someone had turned on a shower over me. Sweat was running down my ribs and dripping onto the bed. I was so confused. At first I thought it was blood… Then I thought maybe my cpap machine was leaking water… I hadn’t had these sort of drenching night sweats in so many months, that I didn’t even recognise the symptom. My sheets were soaked. I got up, pulled off the sheets, changed my pillow, lay down some towels. My cpap mask and headgear were slick with sweat. I had to take it all off to dry it, wash my face. And I was shaking. And scared. Was it from the pill?? Was it from the heightened anger and emotion of the day? Was it from the tart cherry juice I started drinking? Was it from the fireplace somehow? Was it because I have been taking melatonin every night for too long? I checked my blood sugar to rule out hypoglycemia and went back into fitful sleep.

My acupuncturist encouraged me to see it as a good sign. He explained that, in Chinese medicine, as the body gets stronger, you will experience some of the earlier symptoms again. He said, I had been in the Yang Ming stage, where the pathogen was deep inside my body, but, as I try to fight it off, the pathogen is pushed into the Shao Yang ~ the “Lesser Yang”, Which is characterised by the chills and sweats. He said, “Fever means you are winning.” That made me feel better for about two hours until I developed a crushing headache, which hasn’t gone away in five days. And this headache isn’t the normal one ~ it feels more like the narcotic bounce-back headaches I get. So, I start the relentless questioning again: Is it from the acupuncture (it got much worse that night)? Is it from the birth control pill? Is it from the fireplace? Did I overexert myself? Is it from the tart cherry juice, for fuck’s sake?? The hard part is that I am convinced the headache is from the pill and, if you stupidly go online and research it, like every other drug in the world, the horror stories make you want to stop right there and then. So, here I am again… weighing the pros and cons of having a viciously painful, incapacitating period over Christmas or putting up with this headache all day, every day, which is not touched by painkillers and makes me feel as if I am carrying a very dangerous, sleeping 2,000lb crocodile on my head: constant pressure and pain, never making noise or sudden movements… Right now, not being in the throes of period cramps, I choose a period over the headache and I decide I won’t take the pill tonight (imagine what I am doing to my body jumping on and off the pill like this!). However, you know one week from now, when I am curled in a ball, weeping and ~ god forbid ~ the headache hasn’t gone away, I’ll be wanting to put myself back on birth control.

Those few days before the fumey-angry-sweaty-pill day were glorious. I thought I was coming out of the dark ages. I was sleeping better, I hadn’t put IcyHot on my back in ages, I didn’t think about a painkiller for two whole days! I’ve had the surge in energy before but I can’t remember the last time I had had some relief in stiffness and pain. Heaven.

That’s my catch-up. I am just trying to maintain my tenuous grasp on Okay, so we can have a nice Christmas with my sister and her boyfriend.

Speaking of, my sister and brother came over to visit for one day last week (my brother, a pilot, had a layover here) and it was absolutely wonderful. Even though I had tried very hard not to talk too much, gesticulate too much, laugh too much, walk around too much, still, by the end of the night, my internal tremors were vibrating from scalp to toe, my eyes were unfocused, my face was red and muscles stiff… I crawled to bed at 9:15pm and thought, “That day was worth every symptom.” I am so grateful for family, for lightness and conversation and laughter. Once in a while, it is important to put fear away and forget the careful construction of the day… and just live a little.

You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it.They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster.