Medics disagree on whether time off work is the best way to deal with period pain, writes Arlene Harris
Every woman has experienced period pain at some point in her life. We have all become used to feeling under the weather for a few days a month.
Some women have it easier than others and some are better at coping, but a group of employees in the UK may soon be able to request ‘period leave’ whenever they have had enough of dealing with their cycle.
Bristol-based Coexist, which runs a community arts centre, introduced a policy under which female workers — who make up two-thirds of staff — will be allowed to call in sick when they are menstruating.
Company director Bex Baxter wants to change the stigma around ‘women’s issues’ that mean staff often come to work unnecessarily when they are in pain.
“I have managed many female members of staff over the years and I have seen women at work who are bent over double because of the pain caused by their periods,” she says.
“Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell. And this is unfair. At Coexist we are very understanding. If someone is in pain — no matter what kind — they are encouraged to go home.”
But while many believe this is a great idea, Bernadette Carr, medical director of VHI, doesn’t agree.
“I don’t believe it is necessary to take time off work before or during your period,” says Dr Carr. “For most women, the worst of the symptoms only last a day or two and some will work around it by deliberately trying not to schedule work meetings on those days or not making major decisions around that time.”
Dr Carr says that while many symptoms are attributed to the menstrual cycle, these can vary — but, if severe, medical assistance should be sought.
“Symptoms can vary in duration and severity — even from cycle to cycle,” she says. “The most frequent mood-related symptoms include feelings of anger, irritability, anxiety, tension, and depression.
“From a physical perspective the most common symptoms include fatigue, bloating, weight gain, breast tenderness, acne, sleep disturbances and appetite changes such as over-eating or food cravings.
“Physical symptoms such as heavy, prolonged or irregular periods should be discussed with your doctor and for severe or prolonged mood affecting symptoms, it is wise to seek help rather than to try and deal with it alone.While there is no one single approach to treating the symptoms, there are a number of areas to look at which in combination may bring about an improvement.”
Nutritionist Fiona Montague says it is refreshing to see periods in the spotlight.
“For too long, the severity of what women have to endure every month has been ignored so I’m delighted to see that it is finally being acknowledged and the days of ‘just get on with it’ are hopefully coming to an end,” she says.
“While it is estimated that 50%-70% of women suffer with dysmenorrhea [painful periods], personality changes can also be quite severe.
“And while the majority of women recognise their moods are swinging most feel they have absolutely no control over it. For some bursting into tears every month becomes the norm, while some feel the only way through the days leading up to and during our monthly visitor, is to dose up with painkillers.”
Ms Montague, the owner of www.healthandnutrition.ie, says there are natural ways to deal with the discomfort of periods.
“There are changes we can make to our diet that can ease the pain and discomfort during the menstrual cycle and 150 symptoms of PMS,” she says. “If you suffer with cravings, mood swings, energy dips, dizziness, or weight gain, there’s a good chance your blood sugars are off-balance. This can be rectified very simply by eating every three hours, avoiding foods that a cause sudden and rapid increase in your mood or energy and choosing good quality carbohydrates, protein, and fats over processed refined foods.
“Studies show insufficient Omega 3 in your diet can worsen period pains. These essential fatty acids are necessary for optimal functioning of the body and must be consumed because our bodies are unable to produce them. Increase linseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and oily fish into your diet throughout the month.”
Ms Montague says water and exercise can also be beneficial.
“If you suffer with water retention, increase your water consumption while reducing your intake of caffeinated drinks, as these not only dehydrate you but interfere with your blood sugar balance,” she says. “Limit your salt intake too — not just the salt you add yourself, but salt already added to foods.
“Although exercise is often the last thing you feel like doing as you are bent over in pain, surprisingly, it can be just want you need to feel full of energy again. Exercise increases happy hormones — endorphins — and increases circulation to our pelvic area.”
There are a number of foods and supplements shown to be beneficial for menstrual pain and PMS.
Vitamin B Complex significantly reduces the intensity and duration of period pain. Good food sources include eggs, beans, nuts and seeds, yeast, red meat, dairy products, soybeans, chicken, fish, lentils, brown rice, wholegrains, green vegetables, and avocados. There is also the option to supplement.
Magnesium is excellent for pain relief and coping with stress. Food sources include dark leafy veg such as kale and spinach, nuts and seeds, fish, avocado, and dark chocolate. If choosing a supplement, choose a spray or magnesium ascorbate.
Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, found in all kinds of berries, can help with cramping, relaxing the muscles and reducing inflammation.
Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, helps relax the muscles to relieve discomfort as well as being a natural anti-inflammatory.
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