Herbal Remedies for Menstrual Problems
Disclaimer: I am sharing these through my own undergraduate work, Integrative Health background, and current studies towards Nursing. As always, please consult your primary healthcare provider regarding your new or ongoing concerns. In case of an emergency, please contact 9-1-1 or visit the nearest hospital.
First and foremost, menstruation is normal. Say it with me & Greta Gerwig. For womxn who menstruate, it’s not only a healthy occurrence but also an indictor of overall health. For instance, a womxn’s missing a period for months—amenorrhea—can be indicative of malnutrition or disordered eating; overexercising; iron deficiency; or thyroid issues, just to name a few.
Yet, this normal aspect of our bodies can bring along problems ranging from mild discomfort to acute pain that even land many at the hospital. The wide variety of these symptomatic experiences provide a lens to both the diversity of bodies and the continuing need for more research in understanding hormones. Since they affect everything from heart rate to appetite and are not exclusive to our sex organs, understanding mensuration is very complicated. Hence, it’s critical to communicate with your healthcare provider or a clinician at a nearby clinic or Planned Parenthood if you’re experiencing symptoms related to your menstrual cycle. Planned Parenthood allows womxn to get care that is affordable and accessible in many locations across the United States, without the worry of not having health insurance.
As complementary to Western medicine protocols when and if necessary, the home remedies outlined below are generally cheaper and less invasive than the historically unnecessary, inaccessible, invasive, and inappropriate treatments for menstrual symptoms. Womxn have been sharing menstrual remedies for centuries and across cultures, so the ones here are a few of the most frequently used and reported remedies. Also, because each womxn is unique and has different reactions, start with a small dose and pay attention to how each remedy affects you.
Some of the common premenstrual changes that womxn experience leading up to menstruation for several days include mood swings; depression; bloating; breast tenderness; confusion; headaches; and irritability. These can range from mild to severe, disrupting daily activities. Although research attempting to find a biological basis or pathway of these symptoms have eluded scientists and thus patients, it does not mean in any way that they are not real.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a medical term that is the umbrella for a variety of such symptoms. You most likely have heard of it, but be cautious. Many medical professionals and affiliated drug companies have exploited the erm as an excuse to prescribe more medications to womxn and subliminally to consider their bodies objects to be ashamed of or controlled. Furthermore, many of these treatments—such as the hormone progesterone and the anti-depressant fluoxetine or Prozac—are expensive and can have significant side effects when taken over a long period of time. None of the commonly-used treatments, such as progesterone and even high-doses of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B6 or Evening Primrose Oil have been shown to work better than a placebo in well-controlled and replicated trials. Hormone suppressants have to had enough careful clinical trials and have even been recalled, with birth control pills being re-called regularly.
So, try the least expensive and least invasive protocol first under your provider’s guidance. For the days leading up to menstruation, this often includes listening to your body. Many womxn rect better to a nutritional protocol of increasing complex carbohydrates, such as through whole grains if that’s within the preferred diet or starchy vegetables such as squash or potatoes and yams; soaked and sprouted legumes; warm to hot dishes over cold meals or salads; dried fruits such as figs and dates; nuts and seeds, ideally sprouted or soaked; and reducing intake of refined sugar, alcohol, and limiting caffeine. You might try or listen to a common need to eat small, frequent meals or snacks rather than two or there bigger meals. Fiber also can be key for those who experience constipation around this time and may find that adding a tablespoon or two of ground flax seeds into a meal or soup can alleviate symptoms.
Be gentle to yourself at this time, psychologically and physically. Reduce your level of exercise to something gentle, such a a neighbourhood walk, yin yoga, or tai chi. You can find a few of our free, favorite classes on our YouTube channel.
Mild Premenstrual Depression
We may find ourselves being pulled towards concerns more easily during menstruation. These are problems that most often have been there all along or ones we face regularly, button be amplified at this time. If this is something that you face during your menstruation, keep a list of ideas or problems that bother you that you’d like to tackle so that you can tackle them when you feel up to it.
Another way to approach this time is planning to get ore support for yourself ahead of time, if possible. If you see a therapist, try to schedule your appointment around this time. If not, try to surround yourself with at least one loved family member or friend. Many womxn are too busy to help themselves at this time, especially mothers, but her little bit helps and asking for it is the start.
Severe Premenstrual Depression
Unlike the above-mentioned mild symptoms, some womxn experience severe bouts of depression related to their cycle. This can range from inability to get out of bed to suicidal thoughts. If the latter is the case for you or you know it is for a loved one, please consult a mental health professional immediately or in the case of a crisis, call 9-1-1. This can also be a sensitive topic for those transitioning to men, and if that is the case for you, we have resources that you can explore in our Resources page.
Recently, the aforementioned anti-depressant fluoxetine or Prozac, which blocks the uptake of the neurochemical serotonin, has been found to be effective for treating severe premenstrual depression, more on which can be found here and here. This is critical as it’s the first time and specific case in which any medication as been consistently superior as a treatment to placebos in clinical trials, suggesting that this symptom may be related to a neurochemical imbalance. However, be aware that some health care providers still overprescribe this medication for milder emotional ups-and-downs of premenstruation, causing inappropriate usage, unnecessary expense, dependance, or side effects.
A natural alternative here is St. John’s Wort, which contains a chemical compound that has been used a non drug alternative for mild depression. It is cheaper than Prozac, especially for those without health insurance, and seems to have lesser side effects. it is effective in clinical trials although it has not been tested for this specific problem. One caution for those who are on birth control and are interested in this option regarding drug interaction: it causes birth control to be less effective and therefore must not be taken together.
Dysmenorrhea (Menstrual Cramps)
Cramps are the most common symptoms of menstruation and can come along with a sleuth of other symptoms, such as diarrhea a nausea or even fainting. I remember when I was in high school that I had rotating hot-and-cold flashes and diarrhea and nausea where I didn’t know what hole of my body to focus on in the bathroom and almost fainted on my way in and out the room or rather, my body. On a cleaner note, research suggests that such experiences may be caused by an excess of a certain type of prostaglandin (a substance causing contractions) found in the uterus which might be “leaking” into the intestines. Too much prostaglandin can case the normal, rhythmic contractions of the intestines feel like longer, tighter phases, thereby causing oxygen contraction in the muscles. Severe cramping can also indicate endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease. For a whole-foods approach on the former, I recommend following Jessica Murnane.
A remedy for this symptom is increasing oxygen or blood flow. These include Cayenne Pepper, ginger, hawthorn, yarrow, and garlic. Co-Enzyme Q10 as a supplement can also be useful under your provider’s supervision. The easiest and cheapest option is to regularly drink fresh ginger tea that you can brew all day in a pot on slow simmer a before or during your menstruation. Raspberry leaf tea is also helpful along with peppermint and chamomile ago one tablespoon per cup. Be mindful that herbs, like medications, should be used in moderation.
Supplementally, eating calcium-rich foods or taking a balanced calcium-magnesium supplement of two-to-one ratio several days before mensuration and through the cycle can also alleviate symptoms. Start with 250 milligrams of calcium and 125 milligrams of magnesium.
Apply heat on your lower back and stomach with a heating pad; biofeedback or massage; and having sex or masturbating before or, according to preference, during menstruation can also provide relief through orgasms since it relaxes the muscles of the uterus. Period sex is normal.
Heavy Periods and/or Irregular Bleeding
Heavy or heavier than your normal menstruation can happen due to a lack of ovulation (e.g., if you are in menopause); under increased or chronic stress; at a miscarriage; when using an IUD or birth control; or if you have fibroids or, in rarer cases, a tumor in your uterus. Irregular bleeding or off-schedule bleeding can occur when entering into menopause or various health problems, necessitating checking-in with a healthcare provider.
To alleviate symptoms, try eating foods higher in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, also called vitamin P. Most foods with vitamin C also contain bioflavonoids. These foods include common fruits such as oranges and kiwis but also camu camu, acerola cherry, sea buckthorn, baobab (yes, the tree in The Little Prince), and guava. You can easily incorporate this more esoteric options that often come in powder form into a smoothie or warm plant-based milk to have a few times a week. Taking 4-6 pills per day of cold-pressed Evening Primrose Oil in the week before menstruation can also help. Dong Quai, a Chinese herb used for many menstrual and reproductive ailments, is also a helpful remedy but avoid it if you have or are suspected to have fibroids.
Amenorrhea (Lack of Period)
If you’re familiar with my health story through The Thirlby book or through various articles, such as this one, you know of my half-decade loss of my period. It only came through with tear-struck dedication to my recovery from decade-plus suffering from anorexia, stopping running all together, and the afore-mentioned prescription of Prozac to regain it. It’s still very irregular, but it’s been a feat. Others experience it due certainly to pregnancy and menopause but also breast-feeding; heavy athletic training (this was also he case for me with my sports background and running); chromosomal abnormalities; cysts; hormonal imbalances previous sue of birth control; chronic illness; and increased or chronic stress.
Some remedies, tried and true by myself as well, include rest of all kinds. Reduce or completely cease intense exercise if you do engage in it. As someone who has had he privilege and ability to be in athletics of all kinds since childhood, this was incredibly difficult for me. But with an Osteopenia diagnosis due o lack of mensuration and a direct symptom of compressed lumbar spine (lower back), I went from running 30 miles per week to zero. My lower back pain stopped and my period returned.
Herbal remedies include he above-mentioned Dong-Quai or consulting with a Chinese Medicine Practitioner if you’re able to for a more specific and custom blend to target your specific imbalance. Pennyroyal leaf tea (don’t use the oil as it’s toxic) as well as this tea blend may be helpful. Make sure that your BMI is within a healthy range as a weight los of 10-15% below a healthy minimum can cease menstruation. A return to your minimum, which most likely is more than what you think is your ideal weight due to societal norms, is necessary. More often than not, if a period has ceased for a long time or with continued weight loss, period will not return until weight is restored above the weight at which menstruation had ceased. Food truly is medicine in Hippocratic terms here. Try to increase your intake with nutrient-dense foods and with pleasure.
Breast Tenderness, Water Retention, and/or Abdominal Bloating
Some womxn find that vitamin B6 or pyridoxine to be helpful. You can start with 25 to 50 milligrams per day under supervision and try up to 100 milligrams er day. Watch out for and immediately discontinue if you experience neurological symptoms such as tingling as too much vitamin B or lack thereof can cause temporary and also permanent nerve damage. During times of bloating and water retention, decrease your sodium intake and increase your water intake, especially with herbal teas mentioned above in the dysmenorrhea section to ensure plenty of minerals. Avoid caffeine if and when you can to avoid breast tenderness.
Decrease or fluctuation of energy levels is normal during the menstrual cycle. However, iron levels can be a concern, especially but exclusive to those who experience heavy bleeding. Ask your healthcare provider or a clinician to check both your Iron and Ferritin levels, the latter indicating your iron deposits. Ferritin is a blood cell protein that contains iron and indicates how much iron your body is storing. If a ferritin test reveals that your blood ferritin level is lower than normal, it indicates your body's iron stores are low and you have iron deficiency. If you have been tested and confirmed for iron deficiency, I recommend this iron supplement for optimum absorption.
The Thirlby: A Field Guide to a Vibrant Mind, Body, & Soul is chockfull of similar herbal remedies as well as body-connexion exercises. You can click the banner below to order a copy for yourself or a loved ones for the Holidays
About the Author
Almila Kakinc-Dodd is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief of The Thirlby. She is also the author of the book The Thirlby: A Field Guide to a Vibrant Mind, Body, & Soul. Her background is in Anthropology & Literature, which she has further enriched through her Integrative Health Practitioner training at Duke University. She lives in the Washington, D.C. Metro Area, where she regularly contributes to various publications & studying to pursue Nursing. She is a member of Democratic Socialists of America and urges others to join the movement. She is currently pursuing studies in Nursing.