Cramps are actually a symptom of an underlying problem. They can be cured (more or less – and may be especially problematic for women with endometriosis. Go here for more on that). The only thing that is required to do so is to look at the underlying causes. Once those are taken care of, the cramps almost always go away, or at least are eased considerably.
My bestselling book on women’s health, Sexy By Nature, is another great resource for curing menstrual cramps with a healthy, paleo diet.
Paleo and menstrual cramps: other symptoms
An important side note before getting started is that the same problems that cause cramping are the ones that cause a heavy menstrual flow. Managing to cure one very often cures the other. This is helpful for a lot of women. Heavy blood flow reduces iron levels and can make women weak, woozy, and anemic. What’s worse, a heavy period is arguably the biggest pain in the ass on the planet.
There are three respects in which a natural, paleo approach can ease the pain of and even cure menstrual cramps. They are:
curing micronutrient deficiencies, cooling inflammation, and restoring hormonal balance.
Paleo and menstrual cramps: Micronutrient deficiencies
Micronutrient deficiencies are a problem for menstrual cramping because micronutrients are key components in the contraction and relaxation of muscle tissue. Electrolytes in particular, which would be potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium, all have well known muscle-relaxing effects.
In fact, deficiencies in any of these nutrients is the primary cause of muscle cramping elsewhere in the body. Magnesium especially. (See my favorite magneisum supplement here.) With adequate intake of each of these nutrients, as well as the whole slew of micronutrients and vitamins that are enriched on a paleo diet, the intense pain of abdominal muscle cramping can be eased.
A paleo diet maximizes micronutrient intake by the simple fact of keeping a woman’s diet within the range of whole foods. This helps first by eliminating sources of empty calories. Empty calories include all desserts, breads, baked goods, sodas, and wheat products.
These foods contain almost nothing of nutritional value, except for perhaps some B vitamins and a bit of these micronutrients, but all of these nutrients can be obtained from animal and other plant products in much higher quantities.
Moreover, empty calories, particularly wheat-based calories, have downright negative effects on nutrient absorption. Wheat foods contain proteins called lectins, which bind with micronutrients strongly enough that they prevent normal digestive chemicals from being able to absorb the micronutrients themselves. For this reason, empty calorie foods such as bread can actually make an individual’s micronutrients pass right through her. When a woman replaces these empty, or even micronutrient-stealing calories with vegetables and animal products, she naturally increases her intake of just about every vitamin and mineral.
Foods that are particularly rich in magnesium include nuts, cruciferous vegetables, and halibut. Foods rich in calcium include sardines, dairy products, cruciferous vegetables, and meats. Foods richest in potassium are bananas, avocadoes, tomatoes, cruciferous greens, and salmon. Organic vegetables have higher proportions of nutrients than inorganic ones.
You can also make sure to get good electrolytes by drinking mineral water from time to time. I personally drink one bottle of this brand (renowned for having the best nutrient content) of mineral water.
Vitamin E has been shown by itself to reduce the pain of menstrual cramping. Good sources of vitamin E are cruciferous vegetables such as spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, and chard, almonds, peppers, asparagus, tomatoes, and carrots. Vitamin E is also available in high amounts in meat products. Most importantly for paleo dieters, vitamin E is four times as concentrated in grass fed meat than feed lot meat.
Paleo and menstrual cramps: Inflammation
The paleo diet is anti-inflammatory. This is in part because it eliminates inflammatory foods such as wehat, sugar, and omega-6 PUFAs which are found in almost all vegetable oils (canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, soybean oil, etc).
The anti-inflammatory benefits of paleo don’t stop there. Paleo is rich in foods that have inflammation-fighting effects. Grass-fed beef and bison, wild-caught seafood, fermented cod liver oil, and vitamin- and anti-oxidant- rich plant products are all great examples.
Menstrual cramps are typically the worst when the body is the most inflamed. During even a healthy menstrual cycle, the reproductive organs get inflamed. But it is manageable. When the immune system is in a state of hyper-activity with systemic inflammation, it becomes less manageable. The inflammation is magnified.
Therefore, reducing inflammation by eliminating toxic, inflammatory foods like grains, seed oils, and sugar and replacing them with nourishing foods from grass fed and wild caught animal products goes a long way toward soothing menstrual cramps.
Paleo and menstrual cramps: hormone balance
The final and arguably most important piece of the puzzle is hormone balance. When hormones get out of balance, which is really easy for women today, many things can go wrong.
The way in which hormone balance affects cramps is through the role of hormones in building the uterine lining that eventually gets shed during menstruation.
Early on in the menstrual cycle, estrogen stimulates the uterine lining to thicking. With a larger lining, more tissue exists to produce prostaglandins (the molecules responsible for inflammation). This effect is further magnifieid because it means that more tissue needs to be shed: more material needs to be squeezed through a smaller space (women with narrow cervixes are more prone to menstrual cramping).
A thicker uterine lining also means, as I stated above, that the exorcised material will be heavier, and the period will last longer.
Estrogen is the hormone responsible for the thickening uterus. Therefore, estrogen dominance (read my post on estrogen dominance and how to overcome it here) is the primary problem that most women with menstrual cramps suffer from.
Estrogen causes reproductive organs to go into productive hyper-drive, and abdominal muscles suffer the results. If estrogen can be brought back down, a woman’s menstrual problems often cease.
Paleo and Menstrual Cramps: Exercise
One final way to restore hormonal balance and alleviate menstrual pain is with exercise. Exercise boosts serotonin levels, and serotonin helps moderate pain levels. This is just one of many of the excellent benefits of exercise. Some other health benefits from exercise include improved mood and mental clarity, improved glucose sensitivity, improved insulin sensitivity, stronger memory structures in the brain, more dense bones, weight loss, and more.
If you want to get all my thoughts on the best ways to exercise for heath and weight loss, my book Sexy by Nature (at Amazon here) is probably the best way to do it (there’s a kindle version, too!).
And that’s it for paleo and menstrual cramps! What do you think? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t? I’d loved to learn from your experiences!!!