Menstrual cramps, also referred to as dysmenorrhea are throbbing pains experienced in the lower abdomen. Women experience menstrual cramps immediately before and during their periods. While for some women dysmenorrhea can be merely aggravating, for others however, the pains are severe, enough to paralyze their daily activities for days.
The common causes of menstrual cramps include heavy flow, uterine fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical stenosis and passing clots among others. Besides the chilling pains in the lower abdomen, some women also experience nausea, loose stools, headache, and dizziness.
The key to reducing menstrual cramps lies in treating its probable causes. Fortunately, menstrual cramps don’t result in other medical complications. Normally, the severity of menstrual cramps that are not caused by underlying medical conditions fade with age or after birth. However, until either of the aforementioned natural causes of relief takes place, here are 14 effective home remedies for menstrual cramps;
1. Applying heat to your lower abdomen
A recent study carried out on women between the ages of 18 and 30 years with regular menstrual cycles established that a heat patch at 40°C was equally effective as ibuprofen- an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat menstrual cramps, fever, and inflammation.
This is not surprising considering heat therapy is a popular form of treatment for pain and inflammation. Applying heat to an inflamed area helps dilate the blood vessels, promote effective blood flow, and helps relax sore and tightened muscles. In fact, heat therapy has been found to be more effective in remedying chronic muscle pain and sore joints compared to cold (icing).
The procedure is quite straightforward- apply a heating pad or a hot water bottle with the prescribed temperature (40°C) to your abdomen and feel the magic of the classical heat therapy. These items can be bought at a local drugstore or online. You can as well improvise by taking a hot shower or use a warm towel instead.
2. Drinking more water (Hydrate)
Dehydration is a major cause of menstrual cramps. And while drinking more water won’t directly treat cramps, it, however, helps with bloating which is known to worsen cramps. Remember that the goal here is to treat the causes of cramps and in effect lessen its severity.
It is understandable that you may not always have the “appetite” to drink several glasses of water each day, which is why spicing it with a pitcher of cucumber, some mint or a drop of lemon helps. Experts recommend taking warm or hot water since it helps promote blood flow and relaxes cramped muscles while keeping the body hydrated.
Develop a habit of drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day, especially during your periods. It is also important to avoid excess salt and alcohol if you want the body to retain the water you just took. Proper hydration is not only important in combating menstrual cramps but is also vital in general body health.
3. Gentle exercise
The idea of exercising before, during, and after your periods might not tickle your fancy, but believe me, it serves a great deal in relieving menstrual cramps. During exercise, your body releases endorphins whose interaction with the brain’s receptors helps reduce your perception of general pain including cramps. Exercising during cramping doesn’t necessarily have to involve weight lifting and other classes of heavy workout. Low-impact aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, tai chi, yoga or swimming can do the trick.
Besides inciting the release of endorphins, exercising also helps increase blood circulation. Exercises focusing on your pelvis, for instance, pelvic tilts and yoga have proven to be more effective in relieving menstrual cramps. A 2011 study established that the three yoga poses of Cobra, Cat, and Fish help reduce the “intensity and duration” of menstrual cramps significantly among young women between the ages of 18 and 22 years old.
4. Vaginal Orgasm
You read that right! Orgasm can actually help alleviate the pain of menstrual cramps. Experts in the field of female orgasm term vaginal orgasm as being internal, and involving the whole body. They argue that the nerves carrying the pleasurable sexual sensations from the clitoris differ from the vaginal nerves. Orgasm typically involves several nerves leading to the brains through the spinal cord and other channels that traverse the entire body.
Like exercise, orgasm triggers the brain to release neurotransmitters like endorphins and oxytocin- pain-relieving hormones that help a person feel good especially during menstrual cramping. Dr. Beth Whipple, in his 1985 study found that female masturbation (vaginal self-stimulation) improved women’s tolerance to menstrual pain. Well, that is the good thing about orgasm- you can literally give it to yourself in case you don’t want the emotional baggage that comes with committing to a sexual partner.
5. Massage with essential oils
Getting a massage over the lower abdomen can help relax tense pelvic muscles thus alleviating menstrual cramps. While others may use typical massage oils including body lotion, a 2013 study highly recommends essential oils over other types of oils in bringing menstrual pain relief. The researchers established that the group of women that used essential oils experienced more relief from cramps than the other group that used carrier oil. What is even more effective, is adding a few drops of essential oils to carrier oils for a relaxing abdominal massage.
Experts recommend about 20 minutes of gentle massage therapy with essential oils as backed by a 2010 study on 23 women with endometriosis-triggered menstrual cramps. The massage involves rubbing specific points around the abdomen, side, and back. A good massage helps promote healthy blood flow thus relieving menstrual cramps. Essential oils have additional health benefits to the body.
6. A sip of herbal tea
Herbal tea is known to have a variety of medical benefits including anti-inflammatory capabilities, anti-aging properties, stress, and anxiety relief and lower blood pressure among several others. In our context, the tea contains plenty of anti-inflammatory compounds that prevent prostaglandins made in the endometrium during menstruation. The release of prostaglandin triggers muscle contractions in the uterus which is associated with pain and cramps. It is because of the presence of prostaglandins in the bloodstream that some women experience nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and headache during their periods.
Herbal tea like chamomile, dandelion, red raspberry and fennel tea are known to inhibit the release of prostaglandins thus enhancing a smooth menstrual flow. Besides, warm or hot herbal tea provides a soothing effect much like what a warm beverage would do to a woman having her periods. Make yourself a cup of herbal next time you are experiencing cramping and feel the difference.
7. Watch your diet!
As you might have noticed thus far, some foods intensify the pain of menstrual cramps while others seem to have a soothing effect. The key is to watch your diet and only take in food that helps with the pain while avoiding those that increase its severity. It becomes tricky when you begin craving excessively salty, sugary, or fatty foods when you are on your periods. Salty food, for instance, dehydrates the body hence bloating; therefore, avoid salted potato chips, doughnuts, and the likes.
It is important to increase your intake of anti-inflammatory food like squash tomatoes, cherries, blueberries, and bell peppers among others. Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids are also ideal in dealing with menstrual cramps. Also increase your intake of calcium-rich food like beans, dark leafy greens, and almonds. While at it, avoid alcohol, carbonated beverages, caffeine, and as earlier mentioned- salty and fatty foods.
8. Take more Magnesium
Several studies have linked magnesium deficiency to severe menstrual cramping. Magnesium is a crucial mineral in the body known to power nearly 300 enzyme systems. It is essential in building muscles and healthy bones. The body needs magnesium to enable the proper functioning of all muscles and nerves. It also helps regulate blood pressure and sugar levels.
Magnesium helps prevent menstrual cramping by relaxing the muscles of the uterus. The mineral inhibits the release of excess prostaglandins known to cause period pains. It is effective in treating menstrual cramps, particularly when taken with vitamin B6 in the combination of 250mg of magnesium and 40mg of vitamin B6.
It is, however, important to observe your magnesium intake that it may not interfere with activities of other medications such as antibiotics, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, and bisphosphonates. Magnesium-rich food includes whole wheat, spinach, avocado, black beans, almonds, cashews, and peanuts among others.
Everyone needs to have optimum levels of calcium in their bodies. Besides promoting the development of healthy bones, calcium also helps in the proper functioning of the heart, muscles, and an individual’s nervous system. Researchers have also found that adequate calcium among women helps alleviate menstrual cramps.
A recent study revealed that women that take supplements containing 100mg of calcium each day starting on the 15th day of their menstrual cycle until the end of their periods experienced reduced menstrual pains during the subsequent cycle.
Foods rich in calcium include dairy products like cheese and milk, greens such as broccoli, okra, spinach, kale, soya beans, tofu, nuts, bread (confectionaries made with fortified flour), and fish among others. As aforementioned, optimum levels of calcium in the body comes with dozens of other health benefits which makes it even more important. A meal rich in calcium and magnesium is about the perfect combination to combat menstrual cramps and promote general body health.
10. Chinese Herbs
China is arguably the world’s oldest medical system with herbal remedies dating back to the 3rd century. The effectiveness of the Chinese herbs has made them popular, explaining its widespread adoption by patients in both formal and informal settings. Reportedly, nearly 20-25% of women experiencing severe menstrual cramps do not get conventional treatment, and among other home remedies.
Chinese herbal medicine has proven to be helpful to this group of individuals. The medication effectively relieves pain and reduces the overall symptoms of period pains. The major components of Chinese herbs and are known to dilate the blood vessels and relax the muscles of the uterus thus relieving the gruesome pains of menstrual cramps.
Among the most common Chinese herbs used to deal with menstrual cramps include Dong Gui- an herb used to regulate the menstrual cycle and ease menstrual cramps among other medicinal uses. Other people may find the Chuan Xiong- a medicinal herb used to treat pain- effective in dealing with cramps. There is also Bai Shao, Yi Mu Cao, and the Yan Hu Suo among dozens of other popular Chinese herbs.