Winter can be a tricky season to get through, what with the freezing temperatures, constant sickness bugs and nobody wanting to leave the house between New Year and the end of March. But, if you’re also suffering from painful and/or heavy periods during this time, it can feel SO. MUCH. WORSE.
We’re somewhat convinced that the recent cold snap is making our periods heavier and our cramps sorer, but is there any scientific evidence? We spoke to Katymay Malone, Visiting Instructor in Public Health Education at Mississippi University for Women, to find out – and it turns out maybe winter isn’t to blame at all…
“There is no research to support the idea of your period changing with the seasons,” begins Katymay. “However, it is possible that your activity levels and health behaviours change across seasons, which ultimately impacts your menstrual experience.”
OK, that sounds about right: winter = much sleep, many snacks, little exercise compared to the warmer months.
Katymay suggests keeping a menstrual diary to track how your period is (heavy/light, any extreme cramps) in relation to whether you’ve been eating right that day, working out or not, and sleeping well or poorly. “Perhaps this will help you identify any changes in activity level and health behaviours between seasons,” she says.
But, of course, what we really want to know is how best to regulate our periods so we know what we’re dealing with each month.
“Heavy menstrual flow and painful periods can certainly occur together, however, they may also occur independently of one another,” says Katymay. “The medical term for heavy menstruation is menorrhagia. Assuming menorrhagia is not a symptom of another health condition, it can likely be better controlled by hormonal birth control methods, as they are able to regulate hormones and menstrual flow. Of course, you will need to make an appointment with your doctor or visit a health clinic to ensure that menorrhagia is not due to another pre-existing condition and to receive a prescription for a hormonal birth control method.”
So the pill or other hormonal contraception – like an implant or injections – could be worth exploring with your doctor to tackle those heavy periods. As for cramps? “Painful periods (aka cramps or dysmenorrhea) are experienced by up to 85% of menstruating women. You are not alone! Painful periods that result directly from menstruation fall under the category of primary dysmenorrhea and often include a variety of unpleasant and annoying symptoms. Research points to prostaglandins as the primary cause of painful periods,” says Katymay.
“Prostaglandins are released just prior to and during menstruation. They cause the uterus to contract, which allows the build-up of menstrual fluid to be released. Menstruators are born with varying levels of prostaglandins – you may have more or less than your best friend. Treatment suggestions for painful periods include a hormonal birth control method and/or taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) over-the-counter medication, such as Ibuprofen, beginning approximately two days before the onset of menstruation through day two of menstruation. By starting an NSAID before the onset of menstruation you will limit the number of prostaglandins that are released and, therefore, the degree of menstrual pain that is typically experienced.”
If you’d rather not medicate yourself and aren’t considering going on the pill, there are some more natural remedies Katymay suggests for helping with period pain, which may be helpful if it isn’t an every month issue for you. These include:
- Drinking plenty of water
- Choosing healthy foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables and proteins
- Limiting your salt intake
- Engaging in consistent aerobic and stretching exercise
- Getting plenty of sleep (8-9 hours per night)
- Using a heat pad on your abdomen or taking a hot bath
- Trying a menstrual cup instead of tampons or pads
Now go forth and banish those cramps, queens, because winter is no longer your enemy.
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Image: Katie Edmunds