Go with the Flow

Painful menstruation cycles? Experts suggest way to cope with the problem

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Ten out of every 100 women experience menstrual pain that’s so intense that they cannot perform normal activities, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. in Bethesda, Md.

But women can take steps to make menstruation easier.

Knowing when it’s going to happen can help women plan ahead and stay prepared with products to deal with flow and cramps. The average cycle is 28 days long; however, it’s perfectly normal for a cycle to be as long as 36 days.

To help anticipate the next period, Clue, Eve, Pink Pad, Flo, Period Tracker and other apps (all on iOS and Android) remind users of when to expect their period, along with other helpful tips.

Raffaella Marcantonio, naturopathic doctor and co-owner of Natural Health Choices in Kenmore, advises women to eat a “Mediterranean” diet, rich in vegetables and low in estrogenic foods, which she said are sourced from animals.

“There’s hormones in it because it comes from an animal, even if it’s organic,” she said. “When you raise estrogen levels in the diet, you have a thicker lining in the uterus and women see more pain and bleeding.”

Marcantonio said that quite a few supplements and herbs may ease symptoms. Magnesium can help take the edge off menstrual cramp pain, for example.
“Magnesium is a terrific mineral,” she said. “One of the signs of low magnesium is cramping, like eye twitches, leg cramps and bad menstrual cramps. It also helps for anxiety and stress. We say to take magnesium, ‘to bowel tolerance’, so it’s better to have 600 to 750 mg. of the supplements throughout the day in small amounts.”

Some recommend omega-6 and omega-3, evening primrose and milk thistle to also help with cramping, along with wild yam and black kohash.

Women commonly take contraceptives to minimize menstruation, but Marcantonio advises against the practice.

“By not shedding the lining, they’re raising the risk of cancer,” she said.

Joseph A. De Nagy, doctor of osteopathy with UBMD Obstetrics-Gynecology and assistant professor in the department of obstetrics-gynecology at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, said that using an oral contraceptive “does a very good job of controlling bleeding. With current formulations, women can skip their periods for several months with no ill effects.”

He said that because the medication minimizes the growth of the uterus lining, there’s less to expel.

An intrauterine device, a T-shaped piece of plastic inserted in the uterus, causes 20 percent of users to not bleed or experience menstrual cramps.

One example, Mirena, is FDA approved for contraception and period control. It lasts up to five years.

“It has fewer side effects than previous contraceptives and it does a wonderful job,” Nagy said. “Many women with it don’t have any noticeable period and no cramping. I prescribe more for bleeding management for women in late 30s and 40s than for birth control.”

A non-hormonal medication that’s new to the US is tranexamic acid. Nagy said that it works by stopping the breakdown of blood clots to slow the bleeding of heavy periods.

For women who want better means of dealing with flow, menstrual cups may provide an easy way to get long-lasting protection. Brands such as Luna Cup or Diva are made of medical-grade silicone. Users fold the cup in half length wise, insert, and let it go so it resumes its previous shape while it forms a seal that prevents leaks and odors.

The cup catches menstrual flow rather than absorbing it like tampons and pads. Many women can wear a cup up to 12 hours, depending upon her flow, without emptying it instead of changing a pad or tampon every few hours.

Cups are reusable and long-lasting, which saves both money and landfill space.

“They’re a beautiful thing,” Nagy said. “They work well for women comfortable with the idea. Like any menstrual product, don’t leave it in too long. You also have to clean it between uses.”

Nagy said that taking over-the-counter pain medication in advance of the period can lower inflammatory response.

Using heating pads or microwavable rice bags may ease pain.

While it may seem a good time to curl up on the sofa hugging a pillow, exercise may improve symptoms, since exercise releases endorphins, the body’s “feel good” hormone.

A little pampering is also appropriate. Websites such as www.mylola.com and www.theperiodstore.com provide mail-order subscriptions for products helpful during menstruation; however, The Period Store includes both utilitarian and luxury items to make this time of month a little easier.