Next time you have menstrual cramps, give one of these natural remedies a try.
When it’s that time of the month, most women can bet on bloating, sore breasts, headaches, irritability, and mood swings galore. But for many of us, migraines and menstrual cramps can accompany our periods as well, especially in those first few days. Not only are these symptoms uncomfortable, but they can occasionally be severe enough to completely confine some women to bed.
As unpleasant as menstrual cramps are, they play a vital role during your period. The uterus is comprised mostly of muscle cells whose main mode of activity—like any muscle—is to contract, Joshua U. Klein, MD, chief medical officer and reproductive endocrinologist at Extend Fertility, tells Health. He adds that when blood and tissue shed during menses, an inflammatory reaction that provokes contraction of the uterine muscle occurs, which causes menstrual cramps. "In order to limit the amount of menstrual bleeding, uterine contractions 'clamp down' on blood vessels called spiral arteries that feed the uterine lining," Dr. Klein explains.
Birth control, hormonal treatments, and over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help alleviate period aches and pains, but natural remedies can help, too. Here are five to consider next time you're experiencing cramps.
Remember when you had menstrual cramps in high school and your mom whipped out a heating pad? Well, mom was right: Applying heat to the lower abdomen or lower back increases blood flow to the area, which helps to flush out pain-producing substances like prostaglandins, says Orlando-based ob-gyn Christine Greves, MD, a fellow of the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (Need a new one? We like the PureRelief XL Heating Pad, $50 on amazon.com.)
Dr. Greves notes that there were two randomized controlled trials completed in 2010 and 2012 to test the performance of heat- and steam-generating (HSG) sheets for relief of menstrual cramps and compare them to ibuprofen for treating period cramp pain. The trials found that topical heat therapy can be equally, if not more, effective for menstrual cramps than over-the-counter pain medication.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to help fight inflammation and pain in general, and period cramps could be no different. The source could be important, though, Dr. Greves says. In a small 2003 trial, researchers observed 70 participants who were diagnosed with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and treated for three months with either Neptune krill oil or fish oil. They found that the women who were given krill oil ended up needing to take fewer pain medications during their menstrual cycle compared to those who took fish oil. The participants taking krill oil experienced significantly reduce dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation) and the emotional symptoms of PMS.
This power plant boasts anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe painful menstrual cramps. Two of ginger’s components, gingerols and gingerdiones, work to inhibit leukotriene and prostaglandin synthesis, decreasing period cramping pain, Dr. Greves tells us. Stash ginger chews or ginger tea in your office desk in case cramps catch you off guard at work.
Although more studies on CBD oil for menstrual pain are needed, Daniel Clauw, MD, professor of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan, tells us that it wouldn’t surprise him if CBD oil helped ease period cramps, since "it does act as a weak anti-inflammatory, not unlike nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are the most commonly used treatments for this type of pain."
Studies specifically on the connection between diet, exercise, and menstrual pain are limited, but other studies have found that women who partake in regular physical activity experience less pelvic pain overall. So, next time it’s your time of the month, throw on your sneakers and go for a run, hit your favorite yoga studio, or sign up for spin class.