Menstruation: How to Cope Naturally
Why All the Drugs?
One of the major reasons many women resort to drugs when dealing with period-induced pains is to mask the symptoms of an out-of-balance system. Taking drugs is like using a band-aid to fix a cut; we all know that band-aids don't actually fix cuts, they just cover them and if left on too long, they slow healing. Lifestyle factors such as diet and hydration heavily influence the outcome of a menstrual cycle. Anyone following a high fat (Standard American, Paleo) diet combined with inadequate fluid intake is going to experience hell during their menstrual cycle. Fat of any kind thickens the blood. Thick blood moves very slowly, making the removal of the uterine tissue much more difficult and painful, resulting in horrible cramps and a heavy flow. Add dehydration into the mix, and you're likely to experience headaches, fatigue, backache, and muscle cramps.
Menstruation is a Sign of Health!
One of the main reasons to not use drugs or supplements to cope with menstrual woes is that the monthly phenomenon is an indicator of health (or illness) in the body. Having a 28-30 day cycle with 2-4 days of moderate to light flow is a sign of good health. Heavy bleeding, excruciatingly painful cramps, an irregular cycle, or a completely absent cycle are all signs that something is not balanced in the body. Using drugs to "mask" the signs of poor health will only lead to greater problems in the future. Hormonal balance (or good health) is created when proper dietary and lifestyle factors are consistently followed for an extended period of time.
Natural Birth Control
While the subject of birth control is very controversial, in my experience, the cons have outweighed the pros. Weight gain, skin break-outs, irrational behavior, a future desire to to conceive children, and an increased risk of cancer are some of the reasons why most women opt for natural birth control methods over chemically manufactured ones. The downside to hormone-altering birth control is that it can result in hormonal imbalances after the birth control is discontinued (say when trying to conceive), causing a woman up to 1 year to re-regulate her hormones and menstrual cycle in order to conceive.
So what can you do to naturally prevent un-planned pregnancies?
1. Track your cycle! Pregnancy can only occur 3 days after a woman has ovulated. Ovulation usually takes place two weeks after the first day of the last menstrual cycle. If you are tracking your cycle, you will have a good idea of when that time will be and can plan accordingly.
2. Utilize condoms or use the "pull out" method.
3. Invest in a Lady-Comp Fertility Monitor. This little gadget tracks your cycle (for you) by taking your basal body temperature every morning. The only downside is they are pricey!
1. Eat More Calories and Drink More Water.
Typically, the body will start giving warning signs that your getting close to your cycle in the form of fatigue and digestive upset. Menstruation requires a great deal of energy and fluid, so an increase in calories and water is recommended. Aim to increase your daily caloric intake by at least 500 calories/day (to your normal intake) a few days prior and during menstruation. Roughly 1 liter of water should be added to daily intake as well.
Do you know what your daily intake should be?
The recommended daily minimum caloric intake for adult women is 2000, as well as 2-3 liters of water/day. Active women can require upwards of 2400 calories or more per day. Check out this video for more information about calories.
2. Choose High Carbohydrate, Low Fat Foods for Sweet Cravings
Chocolate may sound tantilizing for combating period-induced cravings, but beware, it could leave you bloated, crampy, and dehydrated. Instead, opt for what your body is truly craving: carbohydrates! Fruits and starches provide adequate carbohydrate calories to satiate sweet cravings and meet increased energy needs. Fruits, especially will be easier on the digestive system, coming packed with fiber, water, sugar, and nutrients with a low fat content. Go for high calorie, high carbohydrate foods like dates, bananas, potatoes, and rice to keep your tummy happy and cravings away.
3. Avoid Foods High in Fat
Fats, whether of plant or animal origin, can wreak havoc on an already compromised digestion system. Foods high in fat require more energy and water to be properly digested, and also take longer to digest than low fat foods. They also thicken the blood, which encourages a heavier menstrual flow and can promote acne. Foods high in fat include nuts, seeds, oils, and animal products (meat, fish, dairy, eggs). Healthy plant fats, like avocado can be eaten in moderation (keep to less than 1/2 every other day).
*Typically, if you are craving fats, you need to eat more carbohydrates to meet energy demands!
3. Be kind to your belly!
Digestive function becomes compromised during menstruation. Part of the reason for this occurrence is that a large majority of blood flow is required by the reproductive organs to assist with menstruation. This means less blood or energy is going to be available to assist with complex digestive processes. Menstruation also results in fluid loss, which will hinder digestive ability as well.
Practicing proper food combining can save on digestive energy and prevent excess gas, bloating, constipation/diarrhea, and other digestive complications. Staying hydrated and avoiding foods like garlic, onions, raw vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale), spices, coffee, chocolate, nuts, seeds, beans, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, meat, diary, eggs, and alcohol can aid in avoiding digestive trouble as well.
3. Add a variety of iron-rich plant-foods to your diet
Iron is naturally lost during menstruation as it is the mineral that gives blood its red color. It's important to start replenishing iron stores before, during, and after menstruation in the form of vitamin C rich plant-foods. Vitamin C naturally aids the absorption of iron into the cells to be properly utilized. Foods that are high in both iron and vitamin C include raspberries, strawberries, cherries, pomegranates, blueberries, dates, blackberries, oranges, apricots, watermelon, bananas, potatoes, raisins, figs, and spinach.
4. Eat more electrolytes!
Magnesium and potassium are two electrolyte minerals that aid fluid balance and can ease muscle cramping. Opt for easy to digest foods like bananas, oranges, dates, and potatoes to supply your electrolyte needs.
5. Get some rest!
During your cycle is not the time to do be doing anything physically or mentally demanding. Schedule a rest day for yourself, take the day off work, and do whatever you can to make life easier on yourself. No matter what your schedule is like, your body is still going to be reverting a decent amount of your physical and mental energy towards menstruation. If you cycle falls on a week you know will be stressful, plan ahead by consuming more carbohydrate calories! Also, aim for 8-12 hours of sleep every night.
6. Heat it up!
Sometimes no matter how hydrated or fueled up we are, we can still get cramps! The best way to naturally deal with them is to apply heat and rest. Take a hot bath, grab a heating pad, or cuddle with your cat/dog/bunny. The heat will naturally promote muscle relaxation, blood circulation, and ease your pain.
7. Get light to moderate exercise.
Exercise is a key element in maintaining health, but during your cycle its best not too push it too much. Light to moderate exercise is recommended, including activities such as yoga, cycling, swimming, jogging or brisk walking. Exercise can promote blood circulation which can benefit menstrual flow and ease cramping. The key is not to over-do it and take a rest day it needed. When experiencing severe cramping, opt for restorative yoga postures, like this sequence here. Normal exercise routines can be resumed once the cycle is over.
Tampons and pads can not only be messy/toxic/drying/irritating, but both become economically and environmentally taxing as well. Menstrual cups are a reusable option that can hold 3X the amount of menstrual fluid without absorbing natural moisture, and are toxin free. Click here for more information!
Well there you have it; the solutions for naturally coping with menstruation!
Hope this information helps- I know it works for me!
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