Updated: Jul 22, 2018
Often painful periods are consider to be NORMAL. But they're not. They are common.
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In Australia, menarche (the onset of menstruation) occurs most often in girls aged from 11 to 14 and can be both a physical and emotional transition into puberty.
Pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS) occurs in approximately 90% of women of reproductive age of which about 10% are diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD - an extreme form of PMS.
It is not uncommon for teenage girls and young women to experience pain, digestive issues, skin breakouts and mood swings in the days leading up to and during, their period. This is often due to the dramatic shift in hormones which can resolve once a period begins.
As a teenager, I was often doubled over in pain, curled up in the foetal position with a hot water bottle on my tummy for the first 2 days of my period every month. The pain was debilitating and, in the days, prior, I could be (reportedly) inexplicably emotional. Before I knew more about why this was happening, I simply took pain relief and rested which was not always practical nor possible. For the most part, I just had to endure it…or go on the Pill.
Like many teenagers today, I was lead to believe period pain was normal. But it’s not. It’s common.
Teenage girls and their parents need to know that painful signs and symptoms can and should be addressed and not ignored. There are other options than simply taking pain killers, bracing themselves for the monthly onslaught or taking the Pill.
In my early 20’s, my pain was so bad that I underwent a laparoscopy to investigate whether I had an inflammatory condition called endometriosis – an inflammatory condition where the lining of the uterus deposits in lesions in other parts of the body. Fortunately, I got the all clear, however, it has been reported that of all the teens who experience chronic pelvic pain, 70% will go on to be diagnosed with this painful condition.
Pain results from the release of prostaglandins. Shortly before a period begins, the endometrial cells that form the lining of the uterus make large amounts of prostaglandins. When these cells break down during menstruation, the prostaglandins are released. They constrict the blood vessels in the uterus and make its muscle layer contract, causing painful cramps. Some of the prostaglandins also enter the bloodstream, causing headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. What a buzz kill to teenage life!
Of course, teenagers (and their parents) turn to NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) such as nurofen because pain interrupts daily lives. Unfortunately, long term frequent use of NSAIDs can lead to gut issues and doesn’t treat the underlying cause.
So, whilst acute pain management is important, addressing the underlying cause of pain and pre-menstrual symptoms is advised.
The oral contraceptive pill is NOT the only ‘solution’ for PMS and disruptive periods. It is however, the key prescription drug by doctors which suppresses a woman’s natural cycle and stops ovulation.
But don’t be too quick to shut it down! Girls need to ovulate because regular ovulation is the only way they can make the steroid hormones needed for healthy development, healthy brain, health bones and healthy metabolism.
As always, the starting point is food.
1. Focus on a whole food diet, that is nutrient dense to reduce inflammation which (if chronic) interferes with hormonal health
2. Include healthy fats and regular serves of protein (this will also stave off sugar cravings)
3. Include a diet rich in fibre to keep the bowels moving daily
4. Remove processed food, sugar and soft drinks
5. Increase water and herbal teas are important in hydrating the body and helping the liver
6. Remove caffeine (if your daughter drinks coffee) and replace with herbal teas such as chamomile and if your teen is already consuming alcohol, it would be wise to abstain during this time as it can exacerbate symptoms.
HERBS (BY PRESCRIPTION)
Herbs have long been used to modulate hormones, reduce pain, normalise bleeding (heavy or light), help with skin issues and digestive issues associated with a woman’s cycle. They are an effective, gentle and supportive in addressing the underlying cause.
Herbs include chaste tree, skullcap, passion flower, muira puama, false unicorn, don quai and withania, peony, valerian, chamomile, lemon balm and cramp bark.
They are part of our wonderful apothecary as naturopaths and should be prescribed ONLY by a qualified practitioner.
Please consult a naturopath or herbalist to prescribe appropriate herbs for your teenager and formulas should be individualised.
A lack of certain vital minerals or vitamins can contribute to your teen suffering from PMS.
These include vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B6, essential fatty acids (for inflammation), magnesium (muscle relaxant and enzyme activity), probiotics (gut health) and zinc (reduces prostaglandins and improves blood circulation to the uterus).
Once again, please seek qualified advice before self-prescribing.
This is also a time for self-care. Heat packs, nurturing, down time and swapping high intensity exercise with more restorative activities such as yin yoga may be beneficial in managing PMS…. as is support and understanding of what your teenage daughter is going through.
So if your teenager experiences period pain and PMS please seek advice from a qualified health care practitioner. This information is neither diagnostic nor to be taken as medical advice.
This is for information purposes and it not intended to be used as medical advice.