Updated: Jul 6, 2020
How bad are your period cramps on a scale of 1-10?
For a few years, mine were probably a 7. Compared to childbirth, not so bad. But certainly, they were bothersome. The pain made me irritable and anxious. I felt bloated and crampy and just kind of...gross. Anyone with me?
The uterus is a very powerful muscle. When it contracts, you feel muscle cramps. Sometimes these are quite intense muscle cramps. Think of a leg cramp. The same mechanism of action is going on in your uterus!
As the uterus works to expel the blood that has built up during the last stage of your cycle, it contracts powerfully. We experience this as pain. No bueno.
Prostaglandins (discovered in semen in 1935! Hence the name- "from the prostate gland". But prostaglandins are made everywhere in the body) are little fatty proteins that are created by the body in response to inflammation. There is a prevailing theory among functional health practitioners that inflammation is at the root of all disease. Prostaglandins work to increase blood vessel dilation and permeability. This allows white blood cells to get from the bloodstream into the negatively affected tissue. Inflammation is usually a good thing if there is an actual problem, like a cut or a pathogen. Then white blood cells do their job of killing the offender. If the problem is autoimmune or chronic (Hashimoto's, lupus, psoriasis, Lyme disease), then inflammation does not abate and the problem gets worse. So you want some prostaglandins. All inflammation is not necessarily bad.
Some prostaglandins ( like thromboxane) work on smooth muscle tissue, and they can also cause muscles to contract. Specifically, uterine muscle. An abundance of prostaglandins can create an environment of overstimulation of the uterine muscle, which causes more intense cramping.
So it would make sense to lower prostaglandins by lowering inflammation, right? And vice versa? How do we do that?
In simple and practical terms, eat more fish and consume less vegetable oils. Oh, please, please, please- consume less vegetable oils.
In order for prostaglandins to be made, the body must have sufficient essential fatty acids to work with. But the fats must be high quality fats.
Vegetable oils are not high quality fats. They are unstable, cheap, and likely rancid.
It's worth it to invest in good quality fats. Toxins are stored in fat tissue, so eating poor quality oils means you are exposing yourself to more toxins, specifically xenoestrogens. These will mess with your actual estrogen receptors and cause problems. Like PMS.
While there are many essential fatty acids, we are mostly concerned with Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Omega 6 Fatty Acids. Omega 3's are soothing and anti-inflammatory. Most people are deficient in Omega 3s. They are found mainly in fish and fish oils. People don't eat a lot of fish or fish liver anymore. So our bodies slowly begin to become deficient. This can manifest as skin problems, low libido, and increased uterine cramping during your period.
At the same time we are becoming deficient in Omega 3s, we are inundating our bodies with Omega 6s. Found mostly in vegetable oils, Omega 6s are also heavily present in nonpastured poultry (this is why I tell my clients to take a break from chicken for awhile). Think about this: if the animal you are eating ate a bunch of vegetable oils because vegetable oils are a cheap way to get calories and therefore weight, aren't you ingesting the same low quality feed that your food ingested? Yipes.
Throw some store-bought salad dressing on top of your boneless, skinless chicken salad and you have an Omega 6 bomb. Omega 6s increase the production of prostaglandins. Instead of soothing your body, nourishing it and making it feel safe, that chicken and Italian vinaigrette are causing systemwide inflammation.
Guess where that shows up for most women? You got it! Period cramps.
Inflammatory substances = prostaglandin increase = more uterine contractions = heavier cramping.
Of course, there are many factors that lead to heavy cramping and heavy periods. Those are beyond the scope of this blog post. But a take home point for today is:
Ditch your storebought salad dressing.
Be the weirdo who brings your dressing from home. Do you ever get a headache or get itchy from eating healthy food outside of the house? It could be those inflammatory oils. It is, of course, impossible to eat perfectly. Nutritionists trade lean, well-muscled arm jabs over what constitutes a "perfect diet." There is no perfect this side of heaven and we are all going to die anyway. Sorry to be the one to tell you.
But until then, you can mitigate some of your monthly red hell by reducing your vegetable oils and increasing your intake of fish and fish oil.
Take a supplement.
If fish makes you gag, take a fish oil supplement. I like Green Pastures. I also like Carlson's. You can get Carlson's at a health store.
Make your own dressing. Or buy smarter.
Although vegetable oils lurk everywhere, they are most prevalent in our lives, ladies, in our salad dressings. Use my recipe or go with this brand. It is also carried at Sprouts in Bakersfield.
If implement these tricks, you should see a reduction in cramping after 2-3 months. Then when you see me, we can give each other the ol' "I'm kicking prostaglandin's butt" high 5.