Alleviating Menstrual Cramps
Menstrual cramps are a common symptom experienced by women during their years of fertility and menstruation. Many women deal with menstrual cramping to some degree during their cycle. For some women, cramps may be light and hardly bothersome, but for others, the severity of pain is so severe that daily life is barely manageable. This guide will discuss what they are, possible causes and how to alleviate them using a holistic approach.
What are Menstrual Cramps?
The pain that comes along with that ‘time of the month’ can be associated with various processes occurring within the body. During menstruation, the uterus is contracting to help expel the lining. Hormone-like substances involved in pain and inflammation, called prostaglandins, are also being released to trigger contractions (higher amounts of prostaglandins = more inflammation and pain).
Cramping can occur before (usually 1-3 days before but can be up to 2 weeks), during (the first few days or the entirety of menstruation), and even after menstruation (up to 2 weeks).
For many women, cramps usually occur at the same time during each menstrual cycle.
Although menstrual cramps are generally similar for most women, they can be experienced very differently. Cramping is often felt in the lower abdominal area but can radiate to the lower back and even the thighs. The pain can be experienced as bouts of throbbing and cramping, or be a constant and dull ache. Many women can sense that menstruation is near when feelings of pressure, warmth and light cramping begin in the lower abdominal area.
Some women may also experience other symptoms aside from cramping including:
Loose stools and digestive upset
Factors That Contribute Menstrual Cramps and Symptoms
Irregular and heavy bleeding
Smoking and drug use
Onset of puberty
Possible Causes of Menstrual Cramps
Allergies or intolerances
Pelvic inflammatory disease
As menstrual cramps are not a pleasant experience, there are things that can be done with regards to diet, lifestyle, supplementation, and herbs to alleviate or manage the symptoms.
Hydrate - keeping the body hydrated is important for nourishing and soothing the tissues. Be sure to drink plenty of filtered water every day (about 8-10 cups). Sipping on warm water will increase blood flow which can reduce the severity of cramping. Upgrade your water by adding fresh ginger and lemon, or peppermint and cucumber
Include lightly cooked vegetables and warm foods - such as soups and broths that are loaded with nutrients. The warmth will be soothing to the body, can ease cramping and digestion, and can reduce digestive upset
Include dark leafy greens - such as kale, spinach, broccoli, collard greens, etc. They are rich in calcium and magnesium which are involved in muscle contractions
Include foods rich in phytoestrogens - such as flax seeds, nuts, whole grains, apples, fennel, celery, parsley, and alfalfa. These can help balance out hormones and relieve symptoms
Include good quality protein - such as lean turkey, chicken, fish, and eggs that are grass-fed, non-GMO, free-range, etc.
Avoid - alcohol, smoking, sugar, dairy, caffeine, processed foods, fast foods, any food allergies or intolerances ESPECIALLY the week before symptoms are expected
Exercise - mild and moderate exercise can help to relieve pain and boost endorphins
Essential Oils - massage some essential oils mixed with a carrier oil over your abdomen to help relieve cramping. Try lavender, clary sage or chamomile
Hot water bottle - use it on the abdominal area or where cramps are experienced to soothe and warm the area and reduce the severity of cramps
Relax - tension in the mind can intensify tension in the body. Do what you can to calm your mind and body, whether that’s by taking a bath, reading a book or practicing deep breathing (it’s a great way to calm the nervous system)
Rest - when dealing with stress and pain the body needs rest to heal and deal with what is going on. Take a day off, allow yourself to sleep in, go to bed earlier. Do what you can to allow your body to rest
Magnesium Bisglycinate - is well known for its ability to relax and soothe tense muscles and cramping. It can also help with other PMS symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, and anxiety
Dosage: 400-600 mg in the evening before bed or when needed
Vitamin E - has the ability to inhibit the release of arachidonic acid which converts to prostaglandins (that lead to pain and inflammation) which will reduce the severity and duration of cramping
Dosage: 400-800 IU daily
Vitamin B Complex - the B vitamins have various roles throughout the body such as maintaining blood circulation, reducing stress, increasing energy and metabolism.
Dosage: follow instructions on the bottle
GLA - Borage and Evening Primrose oil are great sources of GLA which is converted to good prostaglandins that can reduce pain and inflammation
Dosage: 4000 mg borage or 8000 mg evening primrose oil each day with food
Vitamin D - helps to reduce inflammation in the body
Dosage: 2000-5000 IU daily
Cramp bark - an amazing herb that can be taken in tincture, capsule or tea form and is beneficial for relieving cramps
Dosage: take a full dropper 3x per day
Ginger - very warming and soothing with the ability to reduce the severity of cramps
Dosage: take as a tea, capsule, tincture, or add freshly chopped ginger to warm water
Chamomile - is a very soothing and calming herb and can help to ease pain
Dosage: drink as a tea, steeped for 5 minutes
Fennel - has antispasmodic properties
Dosage: chew on dry pieces or steep as a tea for 20 minutes
Red raspberry leaf - has antispasmodic properties
Dosage: steep as a tea for 5 minutes