Coping with Cramps

Tamara, age 20, dreaded her periods each month. Her abdomen blew up
like a balloon and ached terribly. The pain was so intense that she would
become doubled over and couldn’t even stand up. She felt like she would fall over because she hurt so much. She was incapacitated with her period every month since the onset of her menses six years before. She became hot all over, as if she had a fever, then cold and clammy. Her head and palms were covered with perspiration. She developed diarrhea, trembled, and “cried at the drop of
a pin”. She was totally incapacitated and lost all desire to eat and drink. To
make matters worse, her periods came every 24 days. This was compounded by
premenstrual anger and moodiness, in contrast to her usual loving nature.
Tamara was lucky to have two good weeks each month. If offered a hysterectomy,
even though she was only 20, Tamara might have seriously entertained the

Menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea) is the most common gynecological complaint of women and the main cause of women missing work, school, and other activities. Statistics indicate that over 140 million working hours are lost annual as a result of dysmenorrhea. There is no way to begin to count all of those women who suffer through their workday with cramps while wishing they were home in bed.

Cramps have been associated with a number of conditions including
endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and stress, however the precise cause of the
imbalance is highly individual. The most common symptoms are mild to severe
uterine or ovarian pain, sometimes along with leg or low back pain. The pain is
often sharp, stabbing, and cramping. It generally begins with the onset of the
menstrual flow and reaches its peak within 24 hours. There may also be nausea,
and sometimes vomiting, bowel changes, and fatigue. Many women resort to
anti-inflammatories, anti-prostaglandins (ibuprofen or naproxen), pain
killers, or birth control pills. However, many effective natural therapies are

Ayurvedic Dietary Recommendations: I make dietary
recommendations according to the woman’s ayurvedic constitution, or body type.
Women who experience cramps along with constipation, chilliness, gas, bloating,
and anxiety are likely to have a Vata , or air, imbalance. They are
likely to feel better from eliminating members of the Brassica (cabbage)
family, such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, especially raw. For this
group of women, it is best to minimize salads, dried fruits, sweets, and
caffeine and to concentrate on whole grains, fruits, and cooked vegetables.
These women need to drink lots of water and herb tea, either warm, hot, or room
temperature. Oiling their bodies with warm sesame oil is also helpful.

Women who have an excess of fire, Pitta, will likely feel hot and
have diarrhea with their menstrual pain. They may get flushed, feel a sensation
of heat or congestion in the pelvis from the concentration of blood to the
area, and may find themselves unusually irritable and impatient along with
their menstrual pain. I advise these women to cut out garlic, ginger, onions,
and cayenne as well as citrus and other acidic or sour foods. They should avoid
hot tubs, very hot showers or baths, and getting overheated around their

Women of the third body type, Kapha (earth and water), tends
towards sluggishness and lethargy with their menstrual cramps. They may
experience quite a bit of water retention and bloating and will generally want
to do nothing but stay in bed. These women do best to eat very lightly, or even
to fast, and, if they feel up to it, to take a walk. Hot, spicy food may help
their cramps to pass more quickly as well as avoiding heavy foods such as fats,
red meat, salt, and dairy. For all body types, I recommend eliminating or
reducing caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.

Exercise: Many women find that engaging in regular aerobic
exercise, running, swimming, jazzercise, or another form, help them to move
through periods more comfortably.

Homeopathy: The correct constitutional homeopathic remedy can bring
great relief to sufferers of dysmenorrhea. Some of the more common remedies are
Belladonna , Chamomilla ,

Kali carbonicum , Pulsatilla , Sepia , however the
prescription is highly individual and only the one correct remedy will be
effective. The appropriate homeopathic remedy will only need to be taken once
or several times a year, rather than monthly regimens such as those which

You may still be wondering if Tamara got the help she needed. She did.
Homeopathic Veratrum album , white hellebore, brought her great relief.
She was free of cramps. Her gas was at least 70% better and she had no
diarrhea. Her stools were much firmer. She was no longer as hot during her
period. She felt less angry and depressed before her period. She was glad to be
a woman again! She was spared up to thirty years of menstrual misery.

Herbs: One of the most useful herbs for painful periods is
Viburnum opulus (cramp bark).

Also helpful are Caulophyllum (blue cohosh), Dong quai (Angelica
, and herbal sedatives such as Valeriana officianalis .
Castor oil packs, applied to the abdomen, are Edgar Cayce’s answer to abdominal
and pelvic pain such as that experienced in dysmenorrhea.

Nutritional Supplements: Calcium and magnesium, taken in a three to
one ratio, are good muscle relaxants and provide pain relief in some cases.
Some women take B-6 during the menses, in a dosage of no more than 100 mg. per
day, for relief of menstrual cramping.

Yoga and Deep Breathing: Pranayama, or yogic breathing, can be
extremely beneficial in helping a woman relax. A simple technique to begin with
is alternate nostril breathing. Breath- ing in and out through the left nostril
only is also known to be calming and soothing in general.

Emotional exploration: Menstrual cramps may have a psychological
origin. The source may be sexual abuse, dysfunctional sexual relationships, or
messages from one’s mother that periods and childbirth are painful and a
problem. I find hypnosis very useful in such cases.

You do not need to be sentenced to a life of dreading your periods.Tamara
found a natural way to eliminate her incapacitating menstrual pain, hopefully
once and for all. So can you!

Drs. Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman is a naturopathic and homeopathic physician
and cofounder of the Northwest Center for Homeopathic Medicine in Edmonds, WA.
She is coauthor of
The Patient’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicine and
Beyond Ritalin: Homeopathic Treatment of ADD and Other Behavioral and
Learning Problems. She can be reached at (206) 774-5599.

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Written by Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman ND MSW

Explore Wellness in 2021