Are you one of the millions of women who is struggling with chronic pain? Well, it may just surprise you to hear that your pain may be keeping you from getting pregnant. Headaches, gut pain, menstrual cramps, joint pain, backaches and old injuries have many women reaching for bottles of Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Midol, and NSAIDs to get symptom relief.
And who can blame them?
Chronic pain keeps us from enjoying our life. It impacts our sleep, our work, our exercise, our mood, and our relationships. It’s absolutely miserable.
So what’s wrong with reaching for a bottle of pain meds?
Pharmaceuticals do have a time and place when it comes to symptom relief. If you break your leg, pain medication will help make you comfortable while your body heals.
But the way most pain relievers are used these days lends itself to some bigger issues. Taken regularly, these meds can cause an array of symptoms and conditions, including stomach ulcers, gastritis, Leaky Gut Syndrome, and can even mess with your fertility!
Yes, you read that correctly — NSAIDs can suppress ovulation.
In a case report published in 2000, it was observed that women using NSAIDs for joint pain were also infertile.
“During the last 2 years, four out of five women with severe arthritis and difficulty conceiving were counseled to stop NSAIDs, and they successfully conceived shortly after the withdrawal of NSAIDs.”
In one small 2015 study they found that after 10 days of use, 75% of women did not ovulate. The good news was that lack of ovulation was found to be reversible after discontinuing NSAIDs (which isn’t as easily said for your gut, as mentioned above).
Let’s talk about those 10 days for a moment.
When mapping the menstrual cycle we refer to day 1 as the first day of menses. General, if a woman is going to experience menstrual cramps, it will be a day or two before her period and maybe the first 1-3 days of her period. If this is the case, she may begin taking NSAIDs on day 27 of her cycle (let’s assume a 28 day cycle for simplicity sake) and continue them until day 3 of her period.
That’s 5 days! And happens to be the magic number for damage to the gut.
But what if she has headaches with her period? What if she takes them prophylactically (preventatively) before her period comes, on her doctor’s suggestion? What if she has trouble sleeping before her period and figures this might be a 2-for-1 with regards pain and sleep?
It’s easy to see how this could become a 10 day ritual.
But what follows menstruation? Ovulation!
Which means many, many women are seeking relief and unknowingly compromising their fertility — which also wreaks havoc on your hormones!
They can make headaches worse!
When NSAIDs are taken regularly for headache relief, women can experience headaches that are more frequent and more painful.
For other women, discontinuing the meds can cause a severe headache to arise, something called rebound headaches. This can happen just by taking them more than a couple days per week! This can throw women into a vicious cycle where the NSAIDs make the headaches worse, cause escalation of pain when discontinued, and often result in women taking way more than they actually need.
Pain meds can kill…and they do.
According to the CDC data, between 1999 and 2014 there was a 400 percent increase in the number of women who overdosed on narcotics. Some of this is due to the combination of painkillers with anti-anxiety meds — which are 2 of the most common drugs prescribed to women. They overdosed on drugs that are nothing more than a bandaid approach and never intended for long term use.
As a physician, I believe that pain takes a considerable toll on the lives of many women and symptom relief is important. But it can NOT be where we stop!
We must provide symptom relief while also addressing the root cause.
Common root causes of pain.
Pain generally stems from inflammation. So naturally, this is where I begin to look when a patient comes to me complaining of pain.
Listening to your story and correlating your journey with your labs (the data), helps me understand where the imbalance in the system may be.
Common root causes of pain that typically see in my clinic include:
- Autoimmune disease
- Hormone Imbalance (estrogen dominance, luteal phase defects, etc.)
- Adrenal dysfunction (AKA adrenal fatigue)
- Gluten sensitivity and other food intolerances
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Vitamin deficiency (e.g. vitamin D)
- Chronic infections (EBV, Lyme Disease, etc.)
- Past injuries, poor ergonomics, or poor posture
- Chronic stress
- Sleep disturbances or too little sleep
The first steps to healing… Treat the Root Cause!
When a woman comes to my office with concern of chronic pain we begin to dig to into her history and order the appropriate labs, which may include things like a thyroid panel, sex hormone levels, inflammatory markers (like CRP), salivary cortisol, and gut tests. We search for the root while also addressing the symptoms of pain.
Heal the Gut
If you’ve been taking NSAIDs or other pain medications for 5 days or more in arow — your gut has definitely suf- fered, which means you are going to need to heal it.
I often recommend my patients focus on gut healing for a minimum of 30 days, but depending on the frequency of use and if we are working to taper the pain medication we may need to work on gut repair for as long as 12 weeks.
Healing the gut is an absolutely necessary step to be free of painkillers!
As part of the healing protocol we utilize an elimination diet (including support with a nutritionist, meal plans, and recipes) and leverage supplements and herbs like L-glutamine, zinc, marshmallow, and slippery elm to speed the healing process.
Discontinue or Taper the Meds
Maybe you can stop taking them altogether or maybe you need to slowly lower your dose. This is where working with a doctor can be incredibly helpful!
Keeping the pain at a manageable level is incredibly important for most people to be successful with this process. Choosing natural, non-gut damaging, alternatives can make discontinuing these harmful meds that much easier.
6 Natural Alternatives to Ibuprofen and Other Pain Relief Medications
- Turmeric – This beautiful golden root works on some of the major inflammatory pathways in the body to bring down pain and inflammation. It is excellent as a beverage (see recipe below) and can be taken in capsule form at a dose of 1,000- 2,500 mg
- Ginger – This little root is a rival to NSAIDs! It’s been shown to be as effective as NSAIDs at reducing pain. In general, a dose of 1,000 mg twice daily works well for most. Ginger is also lovely as a tea and can be combined with turmeric for double the herbal anti-inflammatory power!
- Boswellia – This herb offers relief to many people struggling with chronic pain. It reduces gut inflammation in cases of inflammatory bowel disease (crohn’s and ulcerative colitis) and is effective in lowering joint pain.
- Bromelain – This is derived from the core of a pineapple and is a natural way to break down the inflammation-causing molecules in your body. When taken with food it acts as a digestive enzyme. But taking about 200-300 mg twice daily between meals can help lower your pain and inflammation.
- Topical Cayenne – Capsaicin is the chemical found in cayenne and other hot peppers that gives them their heat. Applying a topical capsaicin oil or rub 2-3 times daily is an effective way to reduce and even eliminate joint pain. Yes, it definitely burns (and burns out the pain driving molecule known as substance P) so you need to be careful around your eyes, nose and other sensitive areas.
- Cramp Bark – This is one every woman should keep in her medicine cabinet. If you have menstrual cramps taking Cramp Bark two days prior to your period and during may be just the herb you need to break up with those NSAIDs. Women gen- erally report relief with 1-2 droppers full (30-60 drops) three to five times daily.
Changing the way we approach pain in women’s health
Many more doctors are recognizing that conventional pain management is not only ineffective at addressing the root cause — it’s also dangerous!
And it is easy to see how offering up a pain medication for a hormone imbalance does little to address the underlying cause. While they certainly get relief, these pain meds can make symptoms worse in the long run and cause even more hormone imbalances.
If you suspect your pain is because of a hormone imbalance, are struggling to become pregnant, or just want to experience easy periods, an abundance of energy, and a better mood download your free Hormone Kit.
Ladies, it’s time we shift the conver- sation away from the “pill for every ill” model and toward one that ad- dresses the individual in their entire- ty with pharmaceuticals being re- served for when they are absolutely necessary.
Your pain is your body trying to communicate. Will you listen?