Every one in four women complaints of menstrual cramps, lower back pain, mood swings, and bloating on every 28th day of her womanhood. Each month, while being curled up in our beds, we as women are faced with the same question: what do I do about these menstrual cramps (period pain)?
Menstrual cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea or menstrual pain, present as cramp-like, throbbing pain that may be dull or severe usually emanating from the lower abdomen just above the pelvic bone. It may accompany other symptoms like pain in thighs, sweating, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, vomiting, and headaches.
Menstrual cramps usually occur one or two days before or after the start of your period. As you might have heard it from other female friends, menstrual cramps are not severe for everyone. Some people have a mild discomfort while others are curled up in bed with a hot bottle and almost crying. In fact, research shows that menstrual cramps can feel like one is having a heart attack. Yes, the pain could be that severe.
Just because 1/4th of women population suffer from this and it happens every month doesn’t mean that menstrual cramps should be taken lightly. There is a need to discuss this topic as frequently as any other thing related to medicine. Please note that usual menstrual cramps are not a serious medical condition.
Home remedies for menstrual cramps
To provide relief in those tossing and turning moments of menstrual pain, we’ve compiled a list of expert advised home remedies. These remedies can ease the period pain and even prevent it in some cases. While we have compiled the list for you, what works best in your case is on you to find out.
Improve your diet.
What does my diet have to do with the stupid menstrual cramp, you might be wondering? Don’t take my word. Research shows that a low-fat diet combined with vegetables can help reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. A low-fat diet is related to an overall decline in the inflammation levels of your body. Such a diet not only improves general health, but it can produce significant changes in the frequency and intensity of menstrual cramps, too, says Dr. Aldo Palmieri, an obstetrics and gynecology professor at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
Now, how to achieve this healthy diet pattern? Begin with this swap-your-food idea. Swap the fatty food items with low-fat, high-protein foods. If it’s a fatty food, make sure it has healthy fats, i.e., unsaturated fats, such as the ones found in olive oil.
Opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Limit the frequent use of butter and beef; it is high in saturated fat. Fish, nuts, and vegetable oils are ideal sources of good fat. You need to have a balanced plate that contains different portions of fruits, whole grains, healthy proteins, vegetables, and healthy food alongside plenty of water. Overall, try to aim for 25-35 percent caloric intake from healthy fats.
Use herbal tea (No, not caffeine!).
All those coffee and black tea lovers would hate me for saying so, but caffeine doesn’t help ease menstrual cramps. Dietitian nutritionists tell that certain herbal teas can relieve the symptoms of dysmenorrhea. Although research on herbal teas in alleviating menstrual cramps is limited, and as a public health professional, I do consider research a critical aspect of all human-body-related issues, in this case, I personally severe by this advice (only in less severe cases of dysmenorrhea).
You’ll need to direct your attention to the herbal tea section of food stores to find relief. Cramp bark is considered a good option as per research. Boil 1 tablespoon of the bark in 11/5 cup of water, boil for 10-15 minutes and drink it 2-3 times a day. Tea made from peppermint oil is also a helpful remedy.
Researchers at Imperial College London have found that chamomile tea eases the menstrual pain. It is associated with increased urinary levels of glycine, a muscle-spasm-relieving amino acid. The tea probably eases the symptoms by relaxing the uterus. Before buying, compare different brands and their reviews.
Since I have sworn by the herbal tea remedy, it is only fair to share my own herbal tea remedy that has always proved useful in my case. Boil two cups of water, add one teaspoon of fennel seeds, a few peppermint leaves, a small amount of dried cymbopogon, commonly known as lemongrass, and ginger/ginger powder. Let this mixture boil for a minute. Strain the liquid, add one teaspoon lemon juice and sugar as per your taste. Sip this twice a day, and if you are anything like me, you’ll find relief.
Please consult your doctor if you’re taking any medications for a different medical condition, especially in the case of diuretics or blood thinners.
Acupuncture may be helpful.
A few research studies show evidence that acupuncture may reduce period pain. Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine in which the self-healing process is naturally improved by stimulation specific areas of the body commonly known as acupuncture points. It is thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
A review of data reporting on 944 participants for the effects of acupuncture and acupressure on primary dysmenorrhea concluded that these two alternative methods might improve period pain when compared to the control groups. However, experts also mentioned the need for more research.
A licensed acupuncturist will insert needles into specific body points. These are fine needles, and the person would feel minimal discomfort while the needles are being placed. The aim is to bring back the energy balance of the body. For your confidence in the procedure, World Health Organization (WHO) has listed many conditions against which acupuncture has proved effective, such as arthritis, sciatica, painful periods, allergic rhinitis, strains, and peptic ulcer. Whether acupressure is useful in your case or not, you’ll need to try the therapy.
Massage with essential oils may do the magic.
Aroma oil massage can also relieve menstrual cramps. A 2012 study assessed the results of using blended essential oils in menstrual cramps. A total of 48 outpatients with primary dysmenorrhea were included in the study and were divided in essential oil group and a synthetic fragrance group. The essential oil group received a cream containing a mix of essential oils: lavender, clary sage, and marjoram, and 3% concentration of unscented cream. The other group received cream that contained synthetic fragrance. Both groups used these creams for massage. By the end of the study, the essential oil group reported a significant improvement in period pain. This and other studies
If you decide on using essential oil, make sure they are not to be used in concentrated form.
Use a heating pad, or it’s alternative
Applying heat on your abdomen and lower back can be as effective as an over-the-counter analgesic, such as Motrin and Advil. You can purchase one of those heart pads or patches that are reusable, and effective–of course. The suitable temperature for a heat patch is 40o C (104o F).
You can also use a hot water bottle. Just make sure you don’t pour into it boiling water. Keep the temperature in mind. A friend of mine had this hot-water-bottle-incidence because of boiling water. The bottle leaked and it burned her lower back. Be careful!
If you don’t have a hot water bottle, you can use any bottle and place it on your abdomen. Or else, go for a warm bath. You can also try a hot towel or a homemade heating pad.
What’s a home made heating pad, eh? Simple. Take a cotton bag. Fill it with uncooked rice or salt. Microwave it for a few minutes. Do not overheat! Let cool if the temperature is unbearable. Ta-da, you have just made your own heating pad.
Heat application is by far the most common method of menstrual cramps control.
Release some good endorphins.
Endorphin is a contracted form of endogenous morphine and directs to the meaning that these are morphine-like substances released from within the body. Endorphins are opioid neuropeptides and peptide hormones produced by the pituitary gland and the central nervous system.
The principal role of endorphins is–you guessed it right–to inhibit pain. They also produce euphoria. Although endorphins are released in response to pain, we can do certain things to pump that effect. Exercise and laughter have shown to release endorphins. Ironically, exercise and laughter are the last things you’ll think of while in the middle of a menstrual cramp, but still, if it’s an effective remedy then why not? You can try stretching if the idea of proper exercise haunts you or in case you don’t want to leave that cozy bed.
Right diet has a positive effect.
There is a list of food items you can add to your diet, and it’ll help you get to the list of people who have minimal discomfort during their menstrual cycle.
Getting enough dietary magnesium can alleviate your period pain, but how much is enough? The recommended daily dose is 400-420 mg in men and 310-320 mg in women. Pregnant and lactating women have an additional need.
Some rich sources of magnesium are avocado, cashews, Brazil nuts, almonds, legumes, tofu, flax, pumpkin and chia seeds, bananas, and leafy greens. If you are unable to meet the daily requirement from the diet, consider magnesium supplements.
In general, a diet high in fiber, plants, and minimally processed food do well in reducing menstrual cramps. Try these foods and see if they have some alleviating effect:
- Olive oil
- Leafy greens
- Brown rice
Leafy greens, fish, and chicken are rich in iron which is lost during periods, flaxseeds have anti-inflammatory properties, and the other foods mentioned above are rich in vitamin content.
Another mineral that reduces the intensity and duration of menstrual cramps is boron. It also helps in the absorption of calcium which may also reduce period pain. Foods rich in boron are peanut butter, chickpeas, bananas, avocados, and prunes. Again, you can give supplements a try if your diet doesn’t fulfill the demand.
In addition to these foods, make sure you drink plenty of water. It might seem odd advice here, but water helps prevent bloating–a symptom of dysmenorrhea–during menstruation. Avoid drinking cold water; opt for warm or hot. Hot liquids improve the blood flow, and this might have a soothing effect for cramped muscles.
Foods to avoid:
Other than getting the right food, abstaining from the wrong food is also critical. Avoid all those foods that cause water retention and bloating. These include alcohol, fatty food, carbonated beverages, caffeine, salty foods. Sorry to have named all of your favorite food items, but I only convey the truth. You can cut down on these foods at least during the specific days.
Opt for a pharmaceutical agent.
Turning to medicines to soothe menstrual cramps is not the ideal option. It is best if you can alleviate the pain using above home remedies, but some people–like my friend, Jerry (a female, of course)–may have highly stubborn and obstinate form of menstrual cramps that would fail every other home remedy. This is when you look into other options, for example, an over-the-counter pill.
Do not go for a high dose. Popping three pills at a time won’t ease the pain like a flip of a magical wand. A moderate dose of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Aleve (naproxen) or Advil (ibuprofen), can help relieve the misery. NSAIDs decrease the production of prostaglandin–activator of inflammation, pain, and fever–and lessen the pain and inflammation.
You may consult your health care provider to see what dose works best for you.
When to consult a doctor about your menstrual cramps?
If your period pain is a torment that repeats itself every month and leaves you wondering if you have already experienced what it might feel to be in labor, run to the doctor. If your menstrual cramps have suddenly worsened after age 25 or you find your life is disrupted as a result of periods, you must consult a gynecologist.