How To Get Rid Of Period Cramps (Naturally)

How to get rid of period cramps

Have you ever had to skip work because of bad period cramps? Do you keep Advil in your purse at all times during that week? Do you feel like you waste at least an entire day every month simply because you can no nothing other than curl up in a ball at home?

I’ve been there, especially during my university years and early 20s. I have passed out from pain, vomited, or simply been in so much pain that I could do nothing but lie in agony for hours and wish I had been born a man. Fortunately, I no longer have that kind of pain anymore. I still have some pain (working on it!) but not to the point where I feel debilitated. The severity and frequency has drastically reduced, and sometimes I can manage without using a painkiller at all.

What Causes Period Cramps

Once you understand why period cramps happen, it becomes a whole lot easier to manage them. Here’s the deal: each month when you decide not to give birth to a human miracle, your uterus decides to shed its lining. The uterus can’t just magically wish it away, it has to literally “shake it off” by contracting its muscles to create movement.

The hormone-like substances that are responsible for pain and inflammation, and that cause these contractions are called prostaglandins. The more prostaglandins involved, the more severe the cramps. And the more severe the cramps, the more blood flow is being blocked off to the uterus, causing even more pain.

Notice how I bolded that line above? Because that is the key to overcoming period cramps! Once you know what triggers inflammatory prostaglandins, you simply avoid those triggers.

Prostaglandins 101

*Bear with me for 1 minute of science, this will deepen your understanding*

There are 3 types of prostaglandins, PG1, Pg2 and Pg3, and they each have different important roles in the body. PG1 and Pg3 are more anti-inflammatory, and Pg2 is pro-inflammatory; this means it increases inflammation, constricts blood vessels and encourages blood clotting. PG2 comes in handy when there is a wound or injury, but in excess it can be harmful.

The type of food you eat directly influences your levels of PG2. This is because all prostaglandins are made from FATS, specifically omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 cannot convert into Pg2, whereas omega 6 can. This doesn’t mean Omega 6 is bad, it’s just that eating too much of it you increases the odds of this fat getting converted into PG2.

Here’s an oversimplified visual of what that looks like:

Eat Omega 3 —–> (lots of nutrients and conversions along the way) —-> Turns into PG3
Eat Omega 6 —–> (lots of nutrients and conversions along the way) —-> Turns into PG1 or PG2

Bottom line: too much Omega 6 increases PG2, which increases period cramps. Being deficient in certain nutrients increases these odds as well.

Avoid These Period Cramp Triggers

Foods that are high in omega 6 include:

  • Vegetable cooking oils: corn, soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower
    • Aside from the high omega 6 content, these oils are extremely refined and harmful to your health.
    • The solution: throw out these oils and swap them for ghee, coconut oil or olive oil.
  • Processed food
    • Read the back of any granola bar, cracker box or potato chips bag and you’re guaranteed to find one of the vegetable oils listed above, in particular soybean or corn oil.
    • The solution: minimize processed food, or at least get healthier options from a health food store, making sure to check the labels at the back
  • Grain-fed chicken, red meat and fish
    • When you eat an animal, you’re also eating what they ate. Animals raised in the wild mostly eat things like insects and grass, but factory-farmed animals are given a man-made feed that contains canola, corn, soybean and more.
    • Avoiding factory-farmed foods will reduce your omega 6 levels, it will also minimize your exposure to pesticides, antibiotics and hormones.
    • The solution: switch to grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, organic chicken
  • Dairy
    • Milk, cheese and ice-cream all contain high levels of arachidonic acid, a type of Omega 6 that is a direct precursor to pro-inflammatory PG2

Here are some other culprits that trigger inflammation:

  • Coffee
    • Coffee constricts blood vessels and blood flow, which leads to more painful cramps
  • Trans fat
    • Minimize your intake of all deep-fried foods like french fries, spring rolls and chicken nuggets, as well as most commercially baked goods like donuts, pastries etc.
  • Sugar and simple carbs
    • Desserts and baked goods like white bread, bagels, cookies, pasta and pizza make cramps so much worse. I can attest to this! During university pizza was my lifeline, and that was the worst pain I had ever had in my life.

And lastly, eat more omega 3 fats to help balance out the excess omega 6 intake:

  • Sources: wild-caught fish, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and spinach
  • Eat wild-caught fish 2-3 times per week, add in 1 Tbsp of seeds to a smoothie or salad and eat lots and lots of greens!
  • Tip: if you struggle to get these into your diet, supplement with 1-3 tsp of fish oil per day

Making the changes above doesn’t happen overnight, but the sooner you do the sooner you’ll start to see results. I personally have the biggest reaction to sugar and dairy products – I have tested this out, and trust me the resulting period cramps just aren’t worth it!

How To Get Rid of Period Cramps

I’m going to be real with you – the tips mentioned above are crucial, but sometimes it can take a few cycles for the impact to really kick in. I also realize most people can’t make those many changes to their diet at once. The process requires patience and realistically, you’ll probably want to pop an Advil or another painkiller when things get intense.

There is nothing wrong with taking the occasional painkiller, but taking multiple pills every day during your cycle is causing a lot of harm in the long-run. It’s well-known that frequent use damages the gut lining, leading to ulcers and other digestive issues. And if that’s not enough, you can read all the side effects here including an higher risk of heart disease.

Below are some natural remedies for period cramps I have personally used:

  • Liquid Magnesium citrate
    • Magnesium is known as the ‘relaxing’ mineral so it helps relieve muscle spasms and cramps. This is the personally the closest to Advil I have ever experienced!
    • Here what I use: 1-2 Tbsp Magnesium citrate liquid (Naka) or 1 sachet Natural Calm
    • How to use it: take daily, or at the first hint of menstrual pain
  • Exercise
    • No, I’m not recommending to exercise when you’re in excruciating pain, but exercising regularly (especially cardio) helps improve blood circulation, which reduces cramps.
    • Here’s what I do: cardio 3 times per week e.g. swimming, treadmill, dance class, HIIT
  • GLA
    • This is a fatty acid that is a precursor to anti-inflammatory PG1. Most of us are deficient in this, so taking this helps omega 6 convert to PG1 instead of PG2
    • You can get this in the form of borage oil or evening primrose oil
    • Here’s what I used: GLA by Lorna 
    • How to use it: 1 tsp daily, allow yourself to do a loading phase of 1 full cycle at least
  • Hot water bottle or heating pad
    • Nothing revolutionary, but using a hot water bottle has saved me from taking painkillers too many times to count!
  • Plenty of water
    • This seems simple, but most people don’t drink enough water. Chug back up to 2 litres per day to make sure you avoid cramping up, and help promote circulation.

Here are some natural remedies I haven’t used, but are worth trying:

  • Cramp bark
    • This is a herb that is well-known for preventing and relieving cramps (1). You can start taking it a few days prior to your cycle.
    • I would recommend taking it in liquid form instead of capsules for better and faster absorption
  • Chamomile tea
    • This herb is anti-spasmodic (relieves cramps) and recent research confirms its place in traditional medicine (2). I typically use it when I’m travelling and getting a case of “Delhi belly” and the impact is immediate in soothing my stomach and reducing cramps. I haven’t tried this consistently for period cramps, but if you would like to try it aim for 3 cups per day.
    • Note: this would probably work better for milder cramps
  • Vitamin E
    • In one study, 100 young women took either 500 IU of vitamin E or placebo for 5 days (2 days before and 3 days after their periods started). Those who took vitamin E reported less pain than those who took placebo. (3)

Sources:

(1)“Menstrual Pain”. University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., 2017. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.
(2) American Chemical Society. “Chamomile Tea: New Evidence Supports Health Benefits.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 January 2005.
(3) Nicholson JA, Darby TD, Jarboe CH. Viopudial, a hypotensive and smooth muscle antispasmodic from Viburnum opulus. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1972;140:457-61. 

About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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