My 5 Top Natural Treatments For Menstrual Cramps
This is one subject that gets me fired up! Why, you might ask? I cannot tell you the number of times I begin seeing a new client for fertility or hormone help and one of her side complaints is painful periods. I usually ask if she’s ever tried treating her painful cycles with any diet changes or herbs or supplements. The usual answer is that her primary doctor said is that period pain is normal and there’s nothing she can do about it except go on the pill or deal with the pain. This is what makes me so fired up and want to go knock on every physician’s door who has told her this and yell, ‘That is not true!! Period pain is not normal nor should women just have to deal with it!’
Menstrual cramps plague up to 90% of women at some point in their lives, and many women have dealt with it throughout their whole 30+ years of cycling. It is just not acceptable for a doctor to tell a woman with debilitating pain that she should just deal with it for the majority of her life and that it’s normal. In my opinion, that is a lazy response. If you peruse the research, there are actually many different treatments for menstrual cramps that work and even more powerful treatments handed down by integrative medicine practitioners over hundreds and even thousands of years of use in holistic medicine clinics.
Our menstrual cycles are a reflection of our internal health. When you are able to make key changes to and address any menstrual cycle imbalances, whether you are trying to conceive or not, your whole body’s health will naturally also begin to become healthier as well.
To address this very common complaint, this week’s blog is all about giving you some practical, research-driven steps to help you have smoother periods.
What Causes Dysmenorrhea?
From a physiological standpoint, painful cramps result from the release of uterine prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are a group of compounds which can have hormone like effects in your body. They are found in almost every cell in your body. As your menstrual cycle begins, endometrial cells release these prostaglandins, which in turn stimulates those painful endometrial contractions called menstrual cramps, or dysmenorrhea. Studies have shown the more prostaglandins you produce, the worse your menstrual cramps are. And really, prostaglandin production isn’t all bad, it’s just when your body produces too much that it can cause a problem.
So, what kind of natural herbs and supplements have been proven to help reduce or eliminate menstrual cramps? See below for my top 5.
Ginger has been well studied and found as an effective treatment for menstrual cramps. In a 2013 randomized placebo-controlled study, women were either given ¼ tsp (500mg) of ginger or a placebo powder. Women in the ginger group found a decrease in pain from a level 7 to a 5. In a subsequent study, researchers used just ⅛ of a tsp of ginger (or 250mg). What they found was that in the ginger group, menstrual pain was reduced from a level 8 to 5 in the first month. But even more importantly, in the SECOND month of use, pain levels reduced even more notably down to a 3! Additionally, the amount of hours a woman experienced cramping was reduced by about 25%. Many women I see also come in using ibuprofen for pain relief, which has its own set of negative side effects. Another study found that 250mg of ginger three times a day worked just as effective as 400mg of ibuprofen. Ginger also has the additional benefit of reducing heavy bleeding as well so if you are someone with heavy periods, this herb would be preferred over fennel seeds.
Dosage: 250 three times daily for four days, beginning one day before your menses begins.
Fennel seed is also another wonderful natural remedy effective for relieving menstrual cramps. In one study, women taking fennel seed were able to reduce their pain level from a 6 to a 4 within an hour (with 10 being the most severe pain). And, after 5 hours, the pain intensity was further reduced to just a level 1. The group taking fennel took 30mg of fennel extract four times a day for three days beginning with the onset of their menses. Another study took a look at how effective fennel seed was against Mefenamic (a prescription NSAID). The results in this study found that women taking fennel for severe menstrual cramps worked just as well (and even a little better) than those taking the NSAID medication, and additionally the fennel group did not experience the side effects of the NSAID medication group - such as diarrhea, rashes, kidney and central nervous system toxicity. In addition, those women taking the fennel extract also experienced less weakness and nausea. Additionally, taking fennel the week before your period begins has also been shown to help reduce anxiety, depression, and PMS. One side effect of taking fennel to relieve cramping is that you may bleed slightly more than usual since it works by relaxing smooth muscle tissue.
Dosage: 30mg of fennel seed four times daily for four days, beginning one day before your menses begins.
An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Anti-inflammatory diet. In one study, women were placed on a vegan diet for two months and experienced a significant reduction in menstrual pain duration, pain intensity, and PMS symptoms. In fact, the women in this study were supposed to eat vegan for two months and then go back to their normal diet for two months as part of the research parameters. But interestingly, some flat out refused to finish that last two months of the study because they felt so good on the vegan diet. Clinically, I’ve found that reducing both dairy and gluten in the diet has a beneficial effect on reducing the severity of pain as they both tend to be pro-inflammatory foods.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Vitamin B1 has also been found to significantly reduce menstrual cramps when taken throughout the month. One study found a significant reduction in pain intensity and duration with B1 supplementation. Additionally, the authors noted that at the end of two months of supplementation, an even greater reduction in pain was experienced by the women in the study. So, women who took Vitamin B1 for two months had an even greater reduction in pain. The study ended follow up at two months, so it might be possible that even greater relief can be seen with taking Vitamin B1 for over two months.
Magnesium. Magnesium has also been used as an extremely helpful therapy for menstrual cramps. Women with severe menstrual cramps have higher concentrations of prostaglandins. In one older double-blind study, magnesium was found to reduce concentrations in women by over half & significantly reducing pain levels. Most likely, magnesium’s mechanism of action stem from its ability to relax muscles and dilate blood vessels. Magnesium is also incredibly helpful for sleep and stress relief. Magnesium bysglycinate or glycinate are the best forms to take and tend to cause loose stools the least.
Dosage: 300-450mg, 30-60 minutes before bed. Some women find taking the higher dose the week before their period starts to be even more helpful.
On a last interesting note, a vitamin D deficiency has been linked to menstrual cramps, depression, irritability, mood swings, fatigue, headache and breast tenderness. This is thought to be a result of the relationship of Vitamin D and its effect on calcium, including calcium’s effect on muscle contraction and relaxation. Additionally, Vitamin D plays a role in sex steroid hormones and neurotransmitter functioning. In a 2018 study in the Taiwanese Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, low Vitamin D levels were found to correlate with increased dysmenorrhea. In this study, their criteria for a Vitamin D deficiency was <12 ng/ml. I do think that’s quite a low barometer and would recommend aiming for Vitamin D levels between 50-75 ng/ml. Additionally, another 2018 study found that high dose Vitamin D (50,000 IUs/week over 9 weeks) reduced pain intensity although had more of an effect on reducing PMS symptoms. So, although Vitamin D would not be my first line treatment for menstrual cramps, I think it’s helpful to get your levels in an optimal range.
If you are a woman with painful menstrual cycles, there is absolutely help and relief on the way with these natural and effective treatments.
Are you a woman trying to naturally balance your hormones or boost your fertility and looking for help? Book a FREE Hormone Balance or Fertility Breakthrough call with me here. I’d love to help you get started!