Menstrual cramps, one painful side effect of nature’s
“monthly gift” to women, can range from non-existent to mild to absolutely
debilitating for some. Cramps are a perfectly normal part of menstruation, but
they can make managing day-to-day activities difficult, especially if you are
someone who experiences cramps on the more extreme side.
Menstrual cramps are cause by your uterus contracting to
assist in shedding the uterine lining. Prostaglandins released by the body
trigger these contractions and cause the pain you feel below your belly.
The cramps you feel will typically center around your lower
abdomen, but they may also travel to your lower back. While many women take
pain medicine to ease their discomfort, there are plenty of home remedies
available for those who want to take a more natural route. If menstrual cramps
are getting in the way of your day, try one of these seven home remedies.
1. Heat therapy: Many women use heating pads (or homemade heat packs) to alleviate menstrual cramps and/or lower back pain during their periods. Heat helps to relax the muscles that are busy contracting in your uterus, so applying an electric heating pad to your lower abdomen might provide some relief. If you don’t own a store-bought heating pad, you can make one at home by filling a plastic water bottle with hot water or filling a sock with rice and microwaving it until it’s warm. Just be wary of applying these directly to the skin to avoid burns and always take breaks between heat applications.
2. Magnesium: Magnesium, a common nutrient found in many foods, has been known to relieve pain—especially nerve and muscle pain. To utilize the pain-relieving effects of magnesium, you can increase your intake of magnesium-rich foods like spinach, kale, nuts and seeds, avocado or tuna, or take a daily magnesium supplement.
3. Exercise: While getting up and exercising while you’re slogging through your period might not sound like a fun time, studies show that exercise is a great way to release endorphins (AKA “feel-good” chemicals), which combat prostaglandins and reduce pain. And, you don’t have to do a ton—whether you go for a brisk walk or jog around your neighborhood or decide to stretch and sweat it out in yoga, exercise can make you feel happier and reduce your pain.
4. Fish oil and vitamin B1: Both fish oil and vitamin B1 supplements may help alleviate menstrual cramp pain. Studies have shown that women who took these nutrient supplements while on their period had reduced pain compared to those who did not. Consider adding one (or both!) to your daily routine, especially if your diet is low on omega-3s and B vitamins.
5. Herbal remedies: Using herbal remedies may also help alleviate muscle pain associated with menstruation. There are a number of herbs available that offer anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties. Ginger is one of the top contenders. The substance may help reduce prostaglandins for reduced cramps. Ginger capsules are available, or you can brew yourself a few cups of warm, soothing ginger tea each day. Chamomile is another popular herb for menstrual cramp relief and can also be brewed into tea for an enjoyable beverage. Chamomile tea contains glycine, which has properties that helps relax the nerves and relieve muscle spasms.
6. Healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet is essential to everyday health, but can also make a huge difference in the effects of your periods. Caffeine and alcohol, as well as other unhealthy foods with tons of fats, can make menstrual cramps worse by causing bloating. Aim to avoid these substances while you’re on your period and make sure you’re eating balanced, nutritious meals each day. Healthy foods, instead of processed or fatty ones, can help reduce your menstrual cramps by reducing inflammation within the body.
7. Soothing bath: Taking a soothing bath can feel like heaven when you’re suffering from painful cramps. Fill the tub with ultra-warm water and toss in some bath additives like a bath bomb, Epsom salt or rose petals. If you want to take it to the next level, consider adding some pain- and stress-relieving essential oils like lavender or marjoram. Sinking into the warm bath should soothe your aching muscles and help you relax and relieve stress (which is also known to make cramps worse!).
While menstrual cramps are a normal part of life, it’s also
important to remember that severe, excruciating pain from cramps is not. If
you’re concerned about your menstrual cramping or are experiencing other side
effects such as dizziness or vomiting, speak to a doctor, as you may have a
more serious underlying condition that can be treated.