Put down the Midol! We’ve got something better.
If you’re reading this article, we suspect you’re already familiar with the painful sensation of cramps. Though it’s easy to reach for over-the-counter painkillers in times of monthly female agony, they may only mask the issue instead of addressing the underlying physiological imbalances that cause cramps to begin with. For smarter, natural cramp relief, let’s have a refresher on the basics.
Why Do We Get Cramps?
There are a few factors and theories. During menstruation, the body produces a chemical (called prostaglandins) that tells the muscles of the uterus to contract and shed its lining. Prostaglandins may also be responsible for causing cramps. Another theory suggests a lack of magnesium is to blame, while other experts say it simply depends on your personal hormonal balance.
Cramps generally begin one or two days before your period begins and last for two to four days. However, every woman’s experience with premenstrual symptoms will vary based on genetic and lifestyle factors. For instance, alcohol can intensify PMS symptoms and further aggravate cramps. Similarly, a study in Australia reports that women who smoke are at a higher risk for cramps.
Natural Relief for Period Cramps
Optimize Your Diet
As with most things, we recommend prioritizing your diet to address the root of the issue. Avoid processed foods and sugar that can negatively impact your hormonal balance. Then, eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods like dark leafy greens, high-quality dark chocolate (80% cacao or higher), pumpkin seeds, almonds, and avocado. If your cramps are consistently awful, you might even consider switching to a plant-based diet. One study shows that a plant-based diet can help reduce premenstrual symptoms and cramping.
Hot water-bottle compresses may sound old school, but they’re still around for a reason. A study found that applying 104 degrees of heat was just as effective at relieving menstrual cramps as taking ibuprofen. For a more luxurious heat application, we suggest taking a relaxing and warming bath. (Even better? A long bath at 104 degrees has been shown to burn as many calories as a 30-minute walk!)
Use Essential Oils
In another study, women with cramps were given one of two creams. One contained synthetic fragrances while the other used lavender, sage, and marjoram essential oils. The women who used the cream with essential oils felt relief in the intensity and duration of their cramps compared to the other group.
Take Hormone-Balancing Herbs + Vitamins
Dong quai and chasteberry are two excellent natural herbs. They support female hormone health and alleviate PMS symptoms including cramps. Dong quai is sometimes referred to by herbalists as a “uterine tonic.” It balances estrogen levels and replenishes blood flow to help relax uterine tissue, resulting in prime natural relief for period cramps. Chasteberry has a similarly notorious nickname: “the women’s herb.” It’s been used for centuries to treat PMS and other hormone-related gynecologic conditions. You can find dong quai and chasteberry in HUM’s Moody Bird.
Finally, one option you might not expect: vitamin D! Why? Research shows that vitamin D reduces the production of prostaglandins. In one study, women suffering from painful cramps felt significant relief following eight weeks of taking D3 supplements.
Perform Light Exercise
Though it may be the last thing you want to do, moving your body can help circulate blood flow while releasing beta-endorphins for pain relief, in effect burning the prostaglandins much faster. We suggest walking, light swimming, or these yoga poses for natural relief from period cramps.