The Best Natural Ways to Relieve Menstrual Cramps (Research Based)
For many women, menstrual cramps are a painful monthly ordeal. Symptoms like bloating and nausea can make you uncomfortable and make period cramps feel worse. But you are not alone. Over half of menstruating women experience some pain for one to two days during their period.1 In this article I will cover a number of natural remedies and lifestyle changes that can help to ease painful menstrual cramps.
What Causes Menstrual Cramps?
Each month, your body builds up the lining of the uterus to nourish a developing fetus. If you don’t get pregnant, your body expels it as a monthly bleeding. And while periods can vary in length and the amount of bleeding, they can also be painful and accompanied with severe cramps (the medical term is dysmenorrhea).
Painful menstrual cramps, usually among teens and younger women, are affected by fatty substances called prostaglandins that act like hormones that cause your uterus to contract. These are the same chemicals that induce labor. The more prostaglandins your body produces, the worse are your period cramps. This is called primary dysmenorrhea.2
Older women who suffer from underlying conditions like uterine fibroids, endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) are also more likely to experience period pain and painful cramps. These period cramps are called secondary dysmenorrhea. Fortunately, there are home remedies to relieve and even prevent painful menstrual cramps.
Symptoms of Painful Periods
Symptoms of painful periods can include any of the following signs:
- Abdominal cramps with lower back pain
- Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting
- Heavy menstrual flow
Home Remedies to Relieve Painful Menstrual Cramps
Several home remedies exist for relieving pain from menstrual cramps and other symptoms. They range from lifestyle changes to other methods that focus on relieving period pain, such as natural supplements and natural painkillers. Let’s have a look at some of the natural treatments to ease severe period pain.
Magnesium is an essential mineral which plays a role in over 300 reactions in the body and it may also help relieve menstrual cramps.4 A study found that magnesium was more effective than placebos for period pain.5 Another important finding from this study was that taking magnesium reduced the need for additional pain medication. You can find magnesium rich food in my article about the top signs that you have magnesium deficiency.
You should also include protein-rich foods such as lean meats and beans. Avoiding processed and refined foods like white bread and pasta may offer additional period cramp relief. A healthy diet may also help to alleviate other symptoms like nausea which often accompany painful cramps.
Vitamin D can be an effective remedy to reduce painful uterine cramping. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at the effects of a vitamin D3 supplement given to women with a prior history of painful periods before the beginning of their menstrual cycle.8 Women receiving vitamin D3 experienced a significant reduction in painful period cramps. The researchers added that supplementing with vitamin D also allowed the women to reduce their use of NSAIDs.
Fish Oil and Vitamin B1
There are other nutrients that may also alleviate painful menstrual cramps. Supplements such as fish oil and vitamin B1 can help soothe your painful period cramps without medications.
A study published in the Global Journal of Health Science studied the effects of a daily vitamin B1 supplement, fish oil capsule, and the two combined.9 Researchers found that all three groups experienced less intense menstrual pain while taking either supplement or combination of the two. An added bonus was a reduction in the duration of period pain which was most evident with vitamin B1.
Other Herbal Supplements for Period pain relief
Several other herbal supplements such as black cohosh, chaste berry, cramp bark and evening primrose oil may also offer pain relief for your menstrual cramps and other symptoms associated with your period. However, it’s wise to exercise caution before taking some of these supplements.
Black cohosh, for example, poses a risk of liver toxicity and can interact with some medications.3, 10 Other herbs like evening primrose oil can have serious interactions with other drugs such as blood thinners. 3, 11
Some other supplements that showed positive effects on period pain lies with their estrogen-like properties.3 However, this same characteristic carries a risk for serious interactions for women with hormone-related cancers or on hormone replacement therapy.
While it may not be something you’d think to consider, exercise may provide relief from menstrual pain. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, creating the so-called “runner’s high.” Dr. Smitha Bhandari on WebMD explains that endorphins act like analgesics such as aspirin.12 The reason is that endorphins affect the brain in a similar way.
Endorphins can also help with the other symptoms associated with menstruation such as depression and low self-esteem. It may also relieve stress which can worsen during your period. The journal of Family & Reproductive Health reports that both aerobic exercise and stretching can help with painful periods.13 Exercise can also provide the distraction you need to keep from dwelling on your discomfort.
Mindfulness and Relaxation
Mindfulness practices can be an effective natural way to help ease the pain of cramps. Like magnesium, a study by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that mindfulness practices can help to relieve pain.14
Using brain scans, Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D explained that the brain responds differently with mindfulness meditation. When you meditate, it activates brain regions associated with self-control over pain. The researchers found that meditation reduced pain intensity and its perceived unpleasantness.
In another study by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, researchers found that mindfulness meditation reduced participants’ perception of pain by 24 percent. The effects acted like an opioid-free pain medication.15
To soothe your menstrual cramps, you can try these 7 simple and effective meditation techniques which you can do at the comfort of your home.
Certain essential oils can act like mindfulness techniques to help you relax and relieve pain associated with menstrual cramping.
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at the effects of a mixture of lavender, clary sage, and rose essential oils on period pain.16 The researchers used a 2:1:1 ratio diluted in almond oil. Participants receiving an abdominal massage with the mixture of essential oils reported a significant reduction in the severity of menstrual cramps.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, lavender can relieve stress and anxiety which you may experience when you have painful periods.17 It may also help with pain control. A study published in Pain Practice found that patients using lavender essential oil after breast biopsy surgery experienced greater satisfaction with pain control.
To get rid of your menstrual cramps pain, you can use other essential oils to relieve stress and anxiety, or these top 16 essential oils to relieve pain and inflammation.
Another way to manage your painful cramps is to apply topical heat to your abdomen. Hot showers or baths as well as heating pad or warm compress can provide soothing relief from your period pain. You might even want to consider warm beverages like hot tea to warm you from the inside.
A review published in BMJ Clinical Evidence found that topical heat was effective as ibuprofen in managing pain.18 A study published in Evidence-Based Nursing found that using a heating pad while taking ibuprofen was as effective as the heating pad alone for soothing menstrual cramps.19
Ibuprofen is one of several over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that is suggested for period pain relief. The advantage with ibuprofen is that it can reduce the production of prostaglandins that increase the intensity of your painful cramps. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that ibuprofen reduced prostaglandin release and offered relief from menstrual pain.6
While it is effective, ibuprofen carries a risk of side effects. Some of these effects mimic the symptoms of period cramps such as abdominal pain and cramps, according to Mayo Clinic.7 However, you can choose natural painkillers to soothe your period pain. Some of these natural painkillers such as ginger and turmeric may already be in your kitchen cupboard. You can find a long list of other natural painkillers in my article about the best natural and effective alternatives to ibuprofen.
Acupuncture and Acupressure
Acupuncture can help you get rid of menstrual cramps naturally. A review published on 2011 examined the currently available evidence supporting the use of acupuncture and acupressure to treat period cramps. It was found that both acupuncture and acupressure could reduce period pain, however further trials were needed to be done.20
Menstrual Cramps – When to See Your Doctor
If you are experiencing no relief of painful period symptoms or you have a long history of pain, you should consult your doctor. Secondary dysmenorrhea may be the root cause of your painful periods. Also before taking any new supplements, talk to your doctor especially if you have an existing condition or take other medications.1
Fortunately you have many options for relieving your period pain. Menstrual cramps don’t have to ruin your day, and lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise offer additional health benefits.
Read my other related articles:
- Cramps but No Period: Causes and Treatments
- 9 Reasons Not to Ignore Spotting Before Period
- Ovary Pain and Lower Pelvic Pain – 13 Possible Causes
- 12 Helpful Natural Treatments for PMS