<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1835157903235293&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">
How do you stop period cramps naturally?

How do you stop period cramps naturally?

Kindara | December 9, 2020 | Women's Health
Share this post:

If your period shows up every month hand in hand with menstrual cramps, you're not alone. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), half of all people who menstruate experience primary dysmenorrhea, or pain associated with their period, namely, cramps (1). Of course, just because cramps are common doesn't mean you want to deal with them, especially if they're interfering with your daily life. There are ways to get menstrual pain under control without popping open that bottle of Advil®. In this piece, we'll talk about cramps, how to relieve them naturally, and when to talk to your doctor. 

What causes menstrual cramps? 

During your menstrual cycle, estrogen causes your uterine lining to thicken in preparation for an egg getting released during ovulation and potentially meeting up with a sperm for fertilization. If fertilization happens, the embryo will attach to the thickened uterine lining and start developing into a fetus. If you ovulate and the egg that's released doesn't get fertilized, your uterus contracts to shed its lining (2). The reason for the pain? Prostaglandins, substances that resemble hormones and control processes like inflammation and blood clotting, trigger uterine contractions. The higher the levels of prostaglandins, the more severe the cramps (3). 


Unlimited custom data fields created by you, for you

Discover the power of Kindara PremiumGo Premium


How you can alleviate period pain naturally 

If you don't have pain medications available, you're allergic to NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), or you just don't want to take pain relievers, there are lots of other routes to menstrual pain relief. 


A heating pad, a hot water bottle, or a warm bath may turn out to be your best friends during your period. According to the Mayo Clinic, heat therapy may be as effective for menstrual cramps as conventional pain relievers (4). Applying heat to your abdomen or lower back (don't forget to keep a layer of clothing or a towel between your skin and the heating pad/bottle) can reduce and relax muscle tension, as well as increase the flow of blood to the pelvis, thereby decreasing swelling (5). Rachel Eisenberg, a Family Nurse Practitioner at Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, has some specific suggestions: "You can use a heating pad on your lower back and abdominal region, take a warm shower while massaging your uterus - hold your hand flat and use the entire length of it to press downwards on your abdomen, starting just below your navel. As you press down, rub your hand in a gentle, circular motion."  


Moving your body from the couch might be the last thing you want to do when you have cramps, but regular, low impact exercise (think walking and certain yoga poses)  is actually a great way to quell the pain. As far back as 1943, doctors advised menstruating people that stretching would relieve symptoms (6). Why? When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, hormones which actually blocks pain receptors in your brain. Endorphins halt the pain signals heading to your uterus, opening up blocked circulation and blood vessels (7). Exercise can also boost your mood and help with anxiety, stress, and depression, which might increase during your period. 


Some people feel that menstruation is a no-sexuality zone, but for others, menstruation hormones can make them feel more aroused. Levels of sexual arousal change during your menstrual cycle and vary person to person. If you feel extra aroused during certain points of your cycle, that could be because increased levels of estradiol (8). Estradiol, along with testosterone, is suspected to play a major role in libido, so if you feel aroused, that could explain the increased desire (9).  

Chloe Skye Weiser, a Denmark-based freelance writer who's had heavy periods for more than 17 years says that having an orgasm not only temporarily relieves her period pain, "it's a great way to stay connected both with yourself and your partner during your period."

When you orgasm, your body releases endorphins, as well as oxytocin and dopamine, which are associated with not only pain relief, but also stress relief. Oxytocin also plays a role in contracting the uterus during childbirth and labor, and its presence is connected with an increased pain tolerance (10). So if you're up for it, getting intimate during your period can have some satisfying results, on more than one level. 

Dietary changes 

For some, nothing says "period" like cravings for sweets, but making some adjustments to your diet during your cycle can prove successful when it comes to reducing cramps. 

"Drinking water reduces bloating and helps in relaxing your muscles, thus lessening the cramps," says Dr. Lina Velikova, MD, Ph.D. And while you might be tempted to reach for the caffeine to combat the sluggishness that comes with menstruation, caffeine can actually make your cramps worse, so Dr. Velikova suggests cutting down or switching to decaf. "Caffeine narrows down our blood vessels, constricting the uterus, and making cramps more painful." You might want to swap out that morning coffee for tea, ginger in particular. One study suggests that ginger is super safe and effective for treating menstrual pain, especially when it's used at the onset of your period or 3 days before (11). 

Trista Best, Registered Dietitian, Environmental Health Specialist, and Adjunct Nutrition Professor recommends eating foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory — that is, they don't activate your immune system into thinking it's constantly being invaded by foreign bodies. Conversely, if you eat inflammatory foods, you may enter a state of chronic inflammation, and that could lead to all sorts of health issues (12). “Consuming foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory can significantly reduce period cramps and bloating," says Best. "Foods like fruit, legumes, nuts, and vegetables provide plant compounds, phytonutrients, that work to reduce inflammation in the body which removes stress from the uterus and surrounding muscles." 

While the jury is still out there on whether to avoid animal products or not, you may try avoiding or reducing animal products such as red meat and dairy to see if it helps ease your cramps.  Best explains that foods that boost the estrogen levels in your body, like animal products, may cause more pain since estrogen thickens the uterine lining and can lead to higher pain levels during menstruation (13). 

In addition, there's evidence that people with dysmenorrhea who consume higher amounts of zinc (found in oysters, legumes, nuts and beans), beta-carotene (found in colorful foods like carrots), and vitamin E (in leafy greens, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds) have less pain than those who don't (14). Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to be better than ibuprofen when it comes to reducing the pain of cramps (15). You can get Omega-3 from fish, plant oils (think flaxseed oil), as well as nuts and seeds. 


While getting nutrients from your food is generally considered the way to go by doctors, since that's their most potent source, supplements can ensure that you're getting the vitamins you need (16). When it comes to period pain, there are certain supplements that can make a significant difference in how you feel. Dr. Anna Cabea, OB-GYN is a particular fan of magnesium, which can be beneficial for water retention, relax your muscles, and support healthy nerve function. She recommends getting your magnesium from nuts, dark chocolate (yay!), and leafy greens, and supplementing it with 250 mgs before bed to maximize your sleep. A 2010 study indicated that a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 is effective in treating the depression, anxiety, and cravings that can come with PMS (17). 

Dr. Cabea also advises the use of supplements with probiotics. "Probiotics are friendly bacteria in supplement form that empower a healthy gastrointestinal tract," she says. "An imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut can increase levels of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase, which in turn triggers reabsorption of estrogen back into circulation. This leads to estrogen dominance, a condition in which you have insufficient progesterone to balance the effects of estrogen in your body. There are numerous symptoms as a result, including bloating, gas, and cramping." A pilot study in 2019 suggested that bacteria from the lactobacillus group (in a pill called LactoFem®) could be effective in treating patients with endometriosis, since those treated with LactoFem reported a decrease in dysmenorrhea and other symptoms associated with endometriosis (18). 

When to ask for help

Periods can come with a certain amount of discomfort, and many of us have felt like the best way to truck through that time of the month is to open that Advil and crawl under the blankets. But what happens when you've tried various remedies — over the counter and natural — and you're still beyond miserable? "It may be time to see your doctor if you are experiencing menstrual cramps that interfere with your daily living, if you are experiencing chronic cramps, if over the counter remedies and non-medication remedies like those mentioned above don’t help, if you notice a change in the severity and length of the pain and a change in the times during your cycle the pain appears," says Planned Parenthood's Rachel Eisenberg. While period pain is common, it shouldn't be dominant in your life, and it can be a sign of medical conditions like premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), endometriosis, or uterine fibroid, so trust your gut, and check in with your healthcare provider if you suspect that something's up.


Ready to listen to what your body trying to tell you?

Start tracking with Kindara

Download for FREE App Store  Download for FREE Google Play  


About the author

Chanel Dubofsky's writing on gender, reproductive health, popular culture, and religion, can be found in New York Magazine, Lilith, Rewire, Modern Fertility, Cosmopolitan, and others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Instagram at cdubofsky.

References +

Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods. (2015, January). Retrieved  November 28, 2020 from https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/dysmenorrhea-painful-periods


How Pregnancy (Conception) Occurs. (2019, May 29). Retrieved  November 28, 2020, from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tw9234#:~:text=If%20one%20of%20the%20sperm,of%20the%20uterus%20(endometrium).


Menstrual cramps - Symptoms and causes. (n.d.) Retrieved  November 28, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/symptoms-causes/syc-20374938


Home Remedies: Menstrual cramps – Mayo Clinic News Network. (2017, September 1). Retrieved  November 28, 2020, from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/home-remedies-menstrual-cramps/


Heat therapy for primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis of its effects on pain relief and quality of life. (2018, November 2). Retrieved  November 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6214933/


The role of exercise in the treatment of menstrual disorders: the evidence. (2009, April 1). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662100/


Menstrual cycle phase predicts women's hormonal responses to sexual stimuli. (2018, July). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29864418/


Low Serum Oxytocin Concentrations Are Associated with Painful Menstruation. (2020, February 27). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7044072/#:~:text=Oxytocin%20is%20also%20capable%20of,pain%20in%20women%20with%20dysmenorrhea


Effect of Zingiber officinale R. rhizomes (ginger) on pain relief in primary dysmenorrhea: a placebo randomized trial. (2012). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518208/


Foods that fight inflammation - Harvard Health. (2020, August 29). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation


Using foods against menstrual pain. (n.d.). Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. retrieved December 7, 2020  from https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/using-foods-against-menstrual-pain


Comparison of the effect of vitamin E, vitamin D and ginger on the severity of primary dysmenorrhea: a single-blind clinical trial. (2019, November).  Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6856484/


Comparison of the effect of fish oil and ibuprofen on treatment of severe pain in primary dysmenorrhea. (2011, Summer). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3770499/


Should you get your nutrients from food or from supplements? (2015, May). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-get-your-nutrients-from-food-or-from-supplements


Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. (2010. December).  Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3208934/


Endometriosis Pain May Be Reduced With Probiotics, Study Suggests. (2015, September 29). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://endometriosisnews.com/2019/09/05/probiotics-may-help-endometriosis-pain-small-pilot-study/

How Not to Waste Another Month When Trying to Conceive
Download Your Free eBook