Cramps suck. There's no way around it and no silver lining for that playbook. However, there are some pretty solid natural remedies for PMS and cramps than can make that time of the month suck less and also won't entail pumping your body with pain killers.
According to The Mayo Clinic, typical menstrual cramps (i.e. not those caused by more serious conditions, like endometriosis or cysts) happen when your uterus contracts to expel its lining during your period. The contractions deprive our uterus of blood and oxygen, and unfortunately for us, cause pain and inflammation. The pain produced by the contractions is likened to that of the pain in the chest during a heart attack. And according to Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP in a piece for the women's health site Women To Women, almost half of women are affected by cramps, with the pain sometimes being so severe that they must miss work, school, and other scheduled plans.
I think most of us know that even when the pain isn't so severe that we have to miss work, it's still pretty freaking uncomfortable to go about our business as if nothing's wrong, and not all of us want to pop pills every 4 to 6 hours to keep the pain under control. For those of you looking for a more holistic approach to your monthly situation, here are nine natural remedies for cramps to ease your pain.
1. Take A Hot Bath
In a piece for Everyday Health, Sherry Thomas, MD, MPH, a Los Angeles-based gynecologist, suggested taking a hot bath and making sure you're submerged up to your belly button, as heat increases blood flow to the constricted areas and alleviates pain. She also said heating pads and hot water bottles work well for this too.
2. Skip The Coffee
In the same article, Bart D. Putterman, MD, recommended limiting your caffeine intake when experiencing cramps, as caffeine constricts blood vessels and makes the lack of oxygen to your uterus all the worse. Try drinking decaf teas or even just warm water for days when you're hurting to help get you through.
3. Take Your Daily Dose Of Vitamin E And Omega-3s
Fish Oil, $14.99, Drugstore.com
A study published by the University of Maryland Medical Center found that women who take Omega-3 and Vitamin E supplements site decreased levels of menstrual pain as compared to women who don't make an effort to include them in their diets. Both substances are known to have anti-inflammatory effects, which could explain their effectiveness, and the study recommends taking a supplement every day — not just during your period. And if you're not great with taking pills, certain nuts and fish are a great natural source.
4. Spice Things Up
According to organic food expert Aimee Marks in a piece on spices for Food Matters, a site devoted to nutrition and wellness, certain spices are excellent for the relief of monthly cramps. She specifically recommended basil, thyme, and cinnamon, and noted that you can include it in recipes or even just boil into water to create a spiced-tea.
Marks also recommended ginger as a go-to ingredient for pain relief. "Once again, tea proves to be the most effective way to consume this spice: fresh or ground, steep in 1 cup boiling water, and drink three times a day – Mint also makes a great addition to this tea – and has soothing properties of its own," Marks wrote.
6. Move It
In a piece on workouts for menstrual cramps for Fitness, Suzanne Trupin, MD, a gynecologist at the Women's Health Practice in Champaign, Illinois, said that exercise "helps relieve the effects of oxygen deprivation to the tissues, one of the main causes of cramps." So even though a brisk walk or jog might seem like the absolute last thing you want to be doing, you'll be super glad you did as soon as you start feeling the positive effects.
7. Keep Chamomile On Hand
Bigelow Herb Tea, $2.42, Jet.com
In an article for Medical Daily, Elaine Holmes, Ph.D., a chemist with the Imperial College of London, discussed a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Chemistry that found that chamomile tea may relieve pain and inflammation. "This is one of a growing number of studies that provide evidence that commonly used natural products really do contain chemicals that may be of medicinal value," she said. So keep chamomile in your cupboard and drink up when cramps are getting the best of you!
8. Eat Cleaner
In a piece for OrganicAuthority.com, Dr. Kecia Gaither, a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, said that she believes diet is key when it comes to reducing the discomfort of cramps. “Fats are precursors to some of the chemicals involved in making the uterus contract,” explained Gaither. “Therefore, theoretically decreasing the fat content of the diet may play a role conversely in decreasing menstrual pains.”
In the same piece, Ramona Fasula, a Certified Holistic Health Coach and CEO of Wellness by Ramona, noted that you don't want to avoid all fats — as certain ones, like those found in nuts and avocados, are good for you — but specifically animal fats, which she said increase inflammation. She also suggested avoiding sugar, as it is known to have inflammatory properties in the body.
9. Drink Lots Of Water
Fasula also recommended drinking lots of water in the few days leading up to and during your period in order to reduce bloating. “Water actually prevents the body from retaining water," she noted, and also said to eat foods with higher water content, like cucumbers and celery.
Menstrual cramps and PMS are never pleasant, but if they're a consistent problem in your life there are definitely natural ways to reduce the pain and discomfort. It often just requires making sure you have a few basic essentials on hand — like certain teas and herbs — and are pro-active about implementing certain routines before the pain even begins.