Period cramps are truly the worst. When you have your period, you’re not only likely feeling tired and maybe a little bit cranky from PMS, but you’re also in serious pain. Since paid period leave isn’t really a thing yet, we have to find other ways to cope. While most women immediately reach for an over the counter (OTC) pain reliever, there are lots of natural ways to relieve cramps too.
So why should you consider these alternative methods? Well, according to Margo Gladding, MS, CNS, LDN (that’s Master of Science, Clinical Nurse Specialist and Licensed Dietician/Nutritionist, phew!) and Customer Education Manager at Village Green Apothecary, the long-term side effects of habitual OTC pain reliever use just aren’t worth it. “I have had a lot of success recommending natural remedies for addressing menstrual pain,” she says. “These remedies are highly effective and safe, whereas conventional treatments such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (AKA NSAIDs, like ibuprofen) can have serious side effects, may require increased doses to maintain efficacy and do little to address underlying causes of pain.” While popping an Advil every now and then won’t hurt you, prolonged, habitual NSAID use has been linked to heart, stomach and kidney problems — yikes! — so these natural methods are definitely worth taking a look at.
1. Magnesium: “Magnesium is an important mineral that many people are deficient in,” explains Gladding. “It has been shown to help with back pain and lower abdominal pain during the menstrual cycle, and it also plays a role in relaxing skeletal and smooth muscles.” Since this is a supplement, you’ll have to take it consistently in order to notice a difference, but for many people, it’s worth it. “I’d recommend taking about 400 mg of magnesium glycinate daily,” she says.
2. Antispasmodic and Warming Herbal Formula: Antispasmodic solutions literally relieve spasms, which is what cramps essentially are. “Herbs such as cramp bark, black haw, wild yam, cinnamon and cardamom can provide immediate relief for cramps, lower abdominal muscle tension, diarrhea and an upset stomach,” says Gladding. “Taking about one-half to one teaspoon of an herbal tincture, such as Herbs Etc. Cramp ReLeaf, every three to four hours can provide much-needed support.”
3. Anti-Inflammatory Diet: This solution requires commitment, but it can be well worth it if you discover that it works for you. An anti-inflammatory diet is basically eating healthy whole foods, not unlike the paleo diet, since it “includes a lot of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, as well as healthy fats and high-quality proteins. I also recommend limiting dairy products, animal fats, sugar, caffeine, processed foods and simple carbohydrates.” Eating healthy can make you feel better overall, so it makes sense that it could carry over during your period too.
4. Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids: Omega-3s, also known as one of the “healthy fats,” are good for lots of things, like giving you energy and keeping your hair and skin looking awesome, but they’re also super anti-inflammatory. “Eating cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut) one to two times per week and taking a high-quality fish oil supplement daily, such as Pathway Super Omega-3, is recommended to help reduce the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals in the body,” says Gladding. “Taking two to four soft gels per day (providing 1,000-2,000 mg) of EPA/DHA is what I suggest.” Again, since this is a daily supplement, you’ll need to take it regularly in order to see results.
5. Exercise: “This may seem counter-intuitive when all you want to do is curl up on the couch,” says Dr. Kendra Clifford, a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, “but even going for a walk can increase endorphins, helping to limit the pain.” Gladding agrees that light exercise, like yoga, can have a very positive effect. If you’re wondering which yoga poses are best for relieving menstrual pain, we’ve got you covered.
6. Heat: There’s a reason people always recommend heating pads when you’re having period pain: It works. “Apply a hot water bottle to your pelvis,” recommends Dr. Clifford, because it “can act as an antispasmodic.” Heat actually works for all kinds of pain, so this is definitely something to keep in your arsenal whenever you’re feeling under the weather.
7. Ginger and Chamomile Herbal Tea: Tea lovers rejoice! These two types can actually soothe your pain, and they’re pretty delicious. “Steep one to two tea bags of Traditional Medicinals Ginger With Chamomile Tea in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes and drink two to three cups daily during your period,” suggests Gladding. “Ginger and chamomile are warming and soothing herbs and can relieve pain, relax cramping and enhance pelvic circulation.” Sounds like a plan to us.
If these remedies sound like something you might want to try, Clifford recommends actually meeting with a naturopathic doctor to get the full scope of how natural medicine can alleviate cramps. “They can help you determine the root cause of your pain and therefore target a treatment to get you some relief,” she says. She also cautions that “if you are on medication, have any underlying health conditions or any allergies, please see your physician before trying any new supplement.” Better safe than sorry, right?
Have you tried any natural remedies for cramps? What worked and what didn’t? Tell us about it @BritandCo!