There's nothing quite like waking up in the middle of the night feeling like your uterus is attempting to escape, or having it batter your abdomen in the middle of a particularly brutal workday. And though Advil and Midol are usually good methods of relief, there are also some drinks to help with your period cramps and serve as a balm to your screaming ovaries when the hormones declare war.
"Right before your period, the cells forming the lining of your uterus begin making prostaglandins," which are hormone-ish chemicals that have to do with your body's inflammatory response, Joyce Faraj, PhD, RDN, CDN, a nutritionist at Mountainside, a substance use rehabilitation center, tells Bustle. "During your period, the prostaglandins are released as cells break down in the lining. The prostaglandins are also involved in constricting the blood vessels in the uterus and triggering uterine muscle contractions. The more prostaglandins you have, the more severe your menstrual cramps are likely to be."
First, though, let's take a minute to reflect on what NOT to drink when cramps hit. Dairy, it turns out, is not much of a salve, thanks to its high levels of arachidonic acid, which can actually trigger cramps (no, thanks). Skip milk, or substitute for a non-dairy alternative instead. Carbonated drinks and too much caffeine can also screw with your system, so limit your soda and coffee intake or stay away entirely if you can. And, sadly, alcohol is also not recommended during your time of the month, not just because it prolongs cramps (which it does, since it lowers magnesium levels) but also because it can increase your estrogen and testosterone levels and make you irregular, which in the long run, can also make your cramps worse. So #blessed to have a uterus.
So that's the bad news. The good news is, teas and other warm liquids help soothe the pain, as do green drinks, smoothies, and most importantly, water. Here's what to turn to when the aches kick in, and note that if you're looking for a cramp-busting snack to pair with your drink, we've got you covered.
Some women think drinking water on their period will contribute to bloating, but actually, H2O is basically a panacea for all menstrual problems. In fact, not only will imbibing an adequate amount of water both reduce bloating and alleviate cramps, but it can also shorten your period, which, I mean, heck yes.
2. Peppermint Tea
When I was first gifted with the joy of uterine line shedding, my mother made me peppermint tea to calm down my newly-screaming insides. "It's an old trick," she said, and while I assumed this was some sort of Adult Woman witchery, science says this is very true. A handful of studies have found that the menthol in peppermint relaxes uterine muscles, mitigating the spasms that cause cramps. As a bonus, peppermint tea is very tasty, and since it's herbal, there's no caffeine to screw with your system.
3. Green Tea
If you're doubled up in pain but still need a shot of caffeine to keep going, green tea is a consolatory alternative to espresso. The hot tea is soothing, and green tea's chock full of antioxidants, which will help keep your system functioning even while your uterus is freaking out.
4. Ginger & Turmeric
Faraj recommends doubling down with the anti-inflammatories by mixing soothing herbs in with your green juice. "I recommend anti-inflammatory beverages — anything with turmeric, ginger, and antioxidants. As we know, ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory that can help reduce pain and muscle soreness. A lemon and turmeric combo would help decrease the body’s inflammatory response and could provide relief from cramps. Ginger, lemon, and turmeric also can help with digestive issues."
5. Pineapple Juice
This one was a surprise: it turns out pineapples help ease muscle tension, thanks to the enzyme bromelain. This means they come in handy when your uterine muscles are so clenched you feel like your womb will implode, and also when you crick your back from spending too many hours curled up in the fetal position on the couch marathoning New Girl. Not that I've ever done that, of course.
Smoothies are great because you can throw a bunch of necessary cramp-fighting components into one drink, plus they taste pretty spectacular, provided you lay off the spirulina (you will never convince me that it is good.) "Parsley and ginger green juice is good because parsley’s active ingredient, carnosol, helps reduce inflammation," Faraj says. Incorporate foods high in Vitamin B, like apples and bananas, which help fight PMS and menstrual cramps; use soy milk or greek yogurt for an added dash of calcium, and sprinkle in some cashews, whose magnesium levels will also cut down on cramping.
Other helpful ingredients include spinach and kale, whose calcium levels help with cramps; flaxseed, blueberries, and dark chocolate, which serves both as a mood elevator and an antioxidant-rich treat that eases period pain.
7. Bone Broth
Here's one for the non-vegans in the room: if you're looking for something rich and hearty, Faraj says that bone broth can help sooth period-related discomfort. "Grandma’s chicken soup can help emotionally. But if you want to reduce pain from cramps, bone broth may be a better choice. It’s a good source of anti-inflammatory amino acids."
Periods aren't ever going to be fun, but there are lots of ways to make them just a little more manageable. Plus, you have to drink something those four-plus days Aunt Flo is in town. Might as well make it count.
This post was originally published on December 21, 2017. It was updated on June 20, 2019.