Five Ways to Calm Your Menstrual Cramps

One of the wonderful things about being a lady is dealing with that time of the month or when Auntie Flow from Red Hills comes for a visit, as they say in my neck of the woods. When I was in my teens and twenties, I absolutely hated that visit. Bloating and lots and lots of cramping. #bigsweatshirtweek. Now, the cramps and bloating are almost non-existent, thank goodness. Unfortunately, for some people managing your menses can be a freaking nightmare that includes severe cramps that may affect your ability to function. This common condition is known as dysmenorrhea and it is underdiagnosed and undertreated. What causes all these cramps are hormonelike substances called prostaglandins, which are usually kept in check by progesterone during much of the monthly cycle. But before menstruation begins, progesterone levels drop and prostaglandin levels increase. The prostaglandins in the menstrual blood trigger the uterus to contract and cramp and that means a cycle of pain. Women with gut-wrenching cramps have more prostaglandins than women who aren’t as affected by them.

Dysmenorrhea is divided into two categories: 1) primary dysmenorrhea, which is menstrual pain without organic disease; and 2) secondary dysmenorrhea where the pain is related to an identifiable disease. So don’t be a hero—if your pain is so severe that you need a medical professional, please, please, do something about it.

There are certain things that I like to do when my auntie likes to come by like applying warm castor oil to my abdomen. Some research indicates that applying a heat wrap for an extended time can relieve pain. Another thing I like to do is to eat more high-calcium and high-magnesium foods right before my period. It has been reported that increasing calcium reduces pain, mood symptoms, and water retention during the menstrual cycle. And magnesium has been effective with reducing dysmenorrhea symptoms. So I pile on my broccoli, lentils, and chickpeas during that time of the month.

Here are some other foods I eat that provide relief from those moody menses:

Carob

Way before I became a vegan, I thought carob was only something that patchouli-smelling hippies ate. This was also before I realized that, deep down inside, I was a patchouli-smelling hippie. I was never really a chocolate aficionado. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some chocolate when the mood strikes but I never really went crazy to get it. So when I passed carob powder one day at the supermarket, I thought why the hell not? Carob is a natural sweetener that looks similar to chocolate but what makes carob so special is that it doesn’t contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Also, carob is high in calcium. What’s more, carob is a good source of vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folic acid, niacin, iron, and potassium. I like to mix carob powder into protein balls, frothy smoothie-like drinks, and baked goods like this chocolate cake.

 

Nettle

I started drinking nettle tea last year for a relentless case of allergies. As some of you may know, nettle is a potent antioxidant and antimicrobial. Some research suggests that nettle may be effective as a treatment for conditions such as gastrointestinal diseases and rheumatism pains. In addition, nettle contains vitamin A, vitamin B1, potassium, and calcium. I like to kick back with a nice cup of nettle tea when I need to build a defense against those uncomfortable menses moments.

Oats

I have always, always been an oatmeal lover. Back in the day, it would be nothing for me to sit in front of the TV with a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies or enjoy a bowl of instant oatmeal. There is a small controversy over whether or not it is appropriate to eat steel cut oats, rolled oats, or quick-cooking oats. That all boils down to the fact that steel cut oats have a higher cooking time but are lower on the glycemic index than rolled oats and quick-cooking oats. Choose whatever floats your boat. Oats are a gluten-free food but, depending on where it is processed, there may be a possibility of wheat contamination, so always practice caution in terms of the brand you choose if needed. Oats contain magnesium, vitamin B1, fiber, and iron. And some studies have shown that the consumption of oats can significantly lower cholesterol levels. I like to put oats in my chia pudding, muffins, and cookies.

Dill

Dill used to remind me of summers as a kid: barbecues that featured potato salad slathered with mayonnaise and chopped fresh dill with relish. Even back then I had more fondness for the side dishes than all those meat-laden stuff. But dill is more than just a flavoring for your cousin’s salad. This herb is a powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial. Dill is loaded with calcium, manganese, and iron. Some research indicates that dill may be effective as a treatment for gingivitis, indigestion, and menstrual disorders. In fact, a 2014 study showed that dill reduced the pain severity of women who suffered from primary dysmenorrhea. This herb also contains minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Even though I’m a vegan now, I do tend to follow tradition and mix a teaspoon of dill in some vegan mayo to top my veggie sausages or falafels.

 

Blackstrap molasses

My husband always talks about my weird taste in food. For example, years ago before I became a vegan or even a vegetarian, I went through this phase where I was growing tired of chicken (I never really liked red meat except for the occasional fast food burger—my, how the tide done turn!). Anyway, I didn’t know what to do to make my meals more interesting so I got the bright idea to use dark molasses as a topping for my grilled chicken. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good idea then. Maybe I didn’t choose the right one because it wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. But later, after much research, I finally figured out the right way to use blackstrap molasses. Molasses is the concentrated and clarified extract of sugar cane that is made by boiling cane juice until most of the water is evaporated. There are three grades of molasses: mild, dark, and blackstrap. The grades can be sulphured or unsulphured. Sulphured molasses are made from young sugar cane that is treated with sulphur dioxide during the extraction process. Not good. We want unsulphured molasses that are made from mature sugar cane with no sulphur added. Blackstrap molasses is the most concentrated form of the sugar cane extract. This sweetener is a great source of B-complex vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. And please note that this is still sugar, so use it sparingly. I like this brand a lot. I like to drizzle about a teaspoon of molasses on sweet potatoes or combine it with about two and half tablespoons of unsweetened coconut shreds for coconut bacon.

 

These are some of the ways I alleviate monthly cramps. What are some of the ways that help you?

Four Tips to Tame Muscle Tension

For the last few weeks, I’ve had some lower back pain. I’m not the most physically active person, in fact, if you looked up the word “sedentary” in the dictionary, there would probably be a pic of me with a big cheesy grin on my face. So one of the first things I like to do is to move my behind out of that chair! Take a walk, do a few stretches, but something to provide oxygen and energy to my body. Chronic stress can be linked to tension and pain in certain muscles groups within the body. Another suggestion is to create a center of calm. This might mean upping my minutes for my morning meditation or canceling an hour of social media/TV during the week. The point is to nurture and mentally heal so that you can physically heal. When I’m dealing with muscle pain, I like to use anti-inflammatories. Why? The reason is that once the inflammatory pathway is stimulated by injury, arachidonic acid is released then transformed into hormones that can induce pain, fever, and inflammation. Anti-inflammatories work to stall enzymes that change arachidonic acid into those pro-inflammatory hormones. And we are all about stopping the pain! Let me share some of the ways I do that:

Turmeric

What makes turmeric so special is its primary constituent curcumin. Numerous studies have noted curcumin as a potent antioxidant and an antimicrobial. But curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that have resulted in various clinical trials to study its effects on conditions such as ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, ocular disease, and cancer. And a 1999 study has linked curcumin with possible muscle regeneration after injury. I like to put turmeric on tofu and bean dishes but sometimes I like to put some in my morning chia pudding if I feel very achy. Please, please don’t judge me!!

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Avocado

If you are a real plant-based eater, then avocado is your darn best friend—for real! Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), dietary fiber, lutein, and contains antioxidant vitamins A, C. and E. In addition, this fruit stabilizes blood sugar, raises good high-density lipoprotein (blood cholesterol) levels, and provides glutathione to cleanse the liver. Most importantly, it is rich in magnesium that enhances muscle strength and endurance. I eat a lot of frigging avocados because I love them that much! The creamy texture of this fruit is guaranteed to enrich dishes like chocolate cake, pesto sauces, tacos, and risottos.

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Tempeh

I spoke previously about my love of fermented foods here. And tempeh is probably at the top of the list. Soy is considered a high-quality plant-based protein because it contains all essential amino acids. Amino acids are needed to maintain and build muscle. Tempeh is fermented soy, which means that it is free from enzyme inhibitors and those gassy phytates that prevent protein digestion. When it comes to tempeh, I like this brand and this one too. I like to make tempeh reuben sandwiches on Saturday mornings or have tempeh with salad, rice, pasta, or quinoa during the week.

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Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are another great source of plant-based protein with all essential amino acids that aid in muscle recovery. What’s more, the seeds are enriched with polyunsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid (omega 6) and alpha linolenic acid (omega 3) that provide a 3:1 ratio of those fatty acids that is optimal for human health.  That makes the seeds a potent antioxidant. One important omega 6 fatty acid is gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which has been used to treat PMS symptoms, atopic dermatitis, eczema, and diabetic neuropathy. One more thing about fatty acids: foods that are high in essential fatty acids like hemp are important because the body does not manufacture these acids independently. EFA foods boost the body’s immunity and brain function, and can be converted into easily digestible energy. Hemp seeds also contain zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium. I like to sprinkle hemp seed on my morning avocado toast or a lunch salad for an early boost of energy.

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These are some of the ways that I recover from muscle tension. What are your favorite tips?