But assuming that everything is normal, there are a few remarkably effective home remedies you might want to try…
Around 50–80% of women of childbearing age experience menstrual cramps, and for 10–15% of them, the pain is debilitating. If you’re among those unlucky contestants, you know your quality of life can really suffer: you miss work or school, you have trouble getting things done, experience pain… And if it happens cycle after cycle, well, that’s a lot of ruined days!
Menstrual cramps – Risk factors
Menstrual cramps typically start two days before bleeding begins and last three to four days. They usually occur in the lower abdomen or back and often affect women who:
- had their first period before 11 years of age
- have never been pregnant
- smoke and/or drink alcohol
- are overweight or obese
- have heavy periods
- are nearing the age of menopause
Some medical conditions like endometriosis or uterine fibromas, or having an intrauterine device (IUD), can cause pain and cramping. If you start having intense pain that you never had before, it’s best to ask your doctor for help finding the cause.
If that’s not the case, cramps might be caused by uterine contractions used to eliminate the endometrium (the mucosal lining of the uterus) and blood. In some women, the endometrium produces a surplus of prostaglandins—they’re the same hormones that cause contractions during childbirth—which can make cramps more intense. Some inflammatory markers like leukotrienes can also be involved.
Of course, when you’re having cramps, nothing seems more appealing than a warm blanket and your favourite pillow. But there might be times where you’d like to do something else…
Feeling like giving some of those home remedies we mentioned a try?
- Place a hot water bottle or heating pad on your tummy: simple yet comforting.
- Sleep in the fetal position to reduce pressure on your abdomen.
- Drink water to help prevent constipation and reduce bloating, both of which can put pressure on the uterus.
- Exercising. Though it’s probably the last thing you want to do, exercising helps your body secrete endorphins, the body’s “happy pill.” And when you’re in a good mood, cramps become less of a pain. If you can’t muster the courage to exercise, at least do some stretching to release the pressure around your abdomen.
- Drink two to three cups of chamomile tea every day. This little flower has relaxing properties proven to relieve menstrual cramps.
- Eat foods rich in magnesium to relax your muscles: green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, legumes, avocado, yogurt and—no, you’re not dreaming—dark chocolate. Yum!
- Avoid coffee, sugar, cold cuts and prepared foods.
- Get enough omega-3 for its anti-inflammatory effects. You can find it as a supplement in capsule form or naturally in fatty fishes (salmon, sardines) and walnuts.
- Vitamin B6 also helps relieve cramps—look for it in tuna, chick peas, sunflower seeds and pistachios.
- Also known as chasteberry or in Latin Agnus castus, vitex extract relieves PMS symptoms including cramps. However, you need to take it throughout your cycle to see results.
- Devil’s claw extract is a powerful anti-inflammatory that you can take instead of ibuprofen, which can sometimes be hard to digest. Although it’s best known for relieving arthritis pain, it’s also effective against menstrual cramps. And it’s remarkably fast-acting!
Fortunately, these home remedies are fairly easy to adopt and should help you function better. However, the combination of chamomile and a hot water bottle isn’t recommended for use at work, unless your employer encourages napping!
Sharifi, F., Simbar, M, Mojab, F., Alavi, M.H (2014). Comparison of the effects of Matricaria chamomile (chamomile) extract and mefenamic acid on the intensity of premenstrual syndrome. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 20(1), 81-8.