Menstruation - the pain of being a woman

By Sue Wilby - Naturopath and Nutritionist

Painful menstruation or ‘dysmenorrhoea’ is one of the most common menstrual complaints that has the greatest potential to hinder women’s lives. It is so common that many women believe that it is just a normal symptom of menstruation and something they just have to put up with. However, painful menstruation can often be significantly relieved via dietary, lifestyle and supplemental intervention.


Dysmenorrhoea is divided into two categories:

1. Spasmodic or primary dysmenorrhoea is felt as cramping in the lower abdomen and is uterine in origin. The pain most often begins during the day before menstruation and gradually eases after the start of the period. The incidence of primary dysmenorrhoea is highest in young women. It is reported that in primary dysmenorrhoea there is abnormal and increased secretion of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes as a response to a drop in progesterone levels.

2. Secondary dysmenorrhoea is where the pain relates to an underlying disease or condition such as endometriosis, post-surgical adhesions and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The pain may occur during other times of the menstrual cycle and may be relieved or often made worse by menstruation. Often this pain is described as a dull and aching pain and may occur up to seven days before the start of the period and occur in the uterus or other organs. Pelvic examinations, pathology testing, pelvic ultrasound and laparoscopic investigations may be required to confirm a diagnosis.

Risk factors for painful menstruation:

Early menarche (under 13 years)

Smoking or exposure to tobacco products

Family history

Low body mass and in some with a BMI over 30

What can you do about it?

Conventional treatment usually involves pain management with products such as Ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatories and/or the oral contraceptive pill (OCP).

However, there is a lot that women can do from a dietary, lifestyle and supplement approach, which can significantly reduce painful periods.

1. Dietary factors:

Increase intake of oily fish and fish in general to reduce inflammation

Increase fibre, plant-based protein, vegetables and fruit to support hormone balance

Reduce consumption of cold/iced food and drinks during your painful period

Reduce intake of highly processed foods, high saturated-fat foods and high sugar-content foods which exacerbate inflammation (pain)

Reduce organ meat, egg yolk and prawns – these foods influence those prostaglandins linked with inflammation and pain

2. Useful supplements:



Vit. E

Vit. B6

Fish Oil

Speak with your healthcare professional about the relevance and dosing for these nutrients.

3. Lifestyle interventions:

Regular exercise – women who exercise regularly have been shown to have a lower risk of painful periods. However, during painful menstruation opt for gentle exercise such as stretching and restorative yoga

Hot water bottle on the lower abdomen during painful menstruation.

Massage to help relive the pain. Seek out a massage therapist that is specialized in helping to relive dysmenorrhea


Aromatherapy (Lavender, Clary Sage, Rose, Chamomile) in the bath or as a massage oil

4. Herbal medicine:

Historically, prior to the invention of pain killers, our early sisters relied on herbal medicine to relieve/assist their menstrual issues. Those herbs often used were commonly known as: Beth Root, Cramp Bark, Ladies Mantle, Motherwort and Squaw Vine. These herbs are still frequently used today to help relive painful menstruation.

Other herbs that can be useful for painful periods:

  • Ginger – show to reduces pain and is especially useful if pain-induced nausea. For mild pain, a ginger tea (made with fresh ginger) can offer relief, or concentrated liquid ginger can be added to a personalized herbal mixture for you by your naturopath

  • Curcumin – has prostaglandin-inhibiting effects and is anti-inflammatory

  • Vitex agnus-castus – often recommended for primary dysmenorrhea and can be useful for other PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness

If you suffer from painful periods or other PMS symptoms including bloating, painful breasts, irritability or other mood changes, come in store to speak with our naturopath and pharmacists. We have a range of products which can help address your symptoms and a herbal dispensary where we can make you up a personalised herbal mixture.

About the Author

Sue is an experienced health care practitioner specialising in Nutrition and Western Herbal Medicine. She has spent the past 15 years providing consultations to clients to improve their health and lifestyle, with a proven record in the assistance of weight loss, stress reduction and general well-being treatment plans. Sue is known for her passion about nutrition, its impacts on health, and the benefits of herbal remedies and is a member of Australian Traditional Medicine Society

Disclaimer - The information provided here is general only. For specific health advice and before beginning any new supplements, diet or lifestyle changes, always consult your health practitioner or book in a health consultation with our university-qualified naturopaths and nutritionists.