Period Cramps: What Helps and What to Avoid

The average woman has 12 periods per year for 35 years, give or take. That means that during your fertile years you spend approximately ¼ of your month menstruating. Your period is an important part of your menstrual cycle and having a regular period is essential for uterine health. It’s also important that your period is not affecting your quality of life.


There are some symptoms that commonly occur with your period including bloating, fatigue, irritability, and cramping. While none of these symptoms are fun, cramps can really affect the way you live your life. Painful cramps with your period is referred to as dysmenorrhea.


Over 50% of women have some pain and cramping with their period each month according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, ACOG.


If your cramps are severe and are affecting your quality of life every month, talk to your doctor about what you can do. But in the meantime, keep reading to see some things that can help decrease the severity of your cramps.


What are period cramps?

In order to understand period cramps, let’s go back to what is occurring in your body during your period. If you want a refresher, this article breaks down the phases of the menstrual cycle and what is going on in your body during each phase.


When you’re on your period, your body is shedding its thickened endometrial lining to prepare the uterus for a new month and a new possibility of housing a baby. This uterine lining is what we see as period blood. In order to shed that lining, your uterus must contract, similar to what occurs during labor. Your body releases hormone like chemical compounds called prostaglandins which help stimulate the uterus to contract. Prostaglandins are associated with pain and inflammation and according to the American College of Obsgtetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), the levels of prostaglandins are the highest on the first day of your period. That’s what cramps tend to be the most uncomfortable at the start of your period and then they taper off leaving you with less or no pain.


The higher the levels of prostaglandins, the worse the pain associated with cramps will be. So what can you do to help decrease prostaglandin levels in your body and alleviate the pain that comes with period cramps?


Keep reading to find out some tips for managing period cramps.


FOODS TO EAT FOR PERIOD CRAMPS

Salmon and other Omega-3 rich foods

Omega-3’s help reduce inflammation in your body and can inhibit the release of prostaglandins. Eating fatty fish like salmon can help increase your levels of omega-3s and reduce inflammation. Not a salmon lover? No problem. Omega-3s are also found in foods like chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, coconut oil, and walnuts. Make yourself a nutritious smoothie to get some relief from those prostaglandins, or look into a good quality omega-3 supplement. Check out this article for more information on the benefits of omega-3s.


Dark leafy greens

Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are rich in magnesium and calcium. Both of these nutrients can help reduce cramping by relaxing the smooth muscle of the uterus. Try sautéing your greens, throwing them in a smoothie, or adding a few handfuls to simmer in a sauce or a soup.


Bananas

Bananas are rich in fiber, potassium, and magnesium. Potassium and magnesium can help promote smooth muscle relaxation to reduce cramping, and the added fiber will help with regular bowel movements. Throw a banana in your spinach smoothie or chop it up and add to a bowl of oats for your breakfast to get those extra nutrients in.


Broccoli

Broccoli is another food rich in fiber. This makes it, along with other brassica veggies like cauliflower and brussels sprouts, great food options for when you are on your period to help fight cramps.


Oats

Oatmeal is a great source of magnesium, which we know helps reduce cramping in the smooth muscles. Oatmeal is also an easy food that you can add other nutrient rich foods too. Make yourself a bowl of oatmeal with some chia seeds, walnuts, and chopped banana to get a nutrient dense breakfast that will help reduce cramping.


OTHER TIPS FOR MANAGING PERIOD CRAMPS.

Water

Dehydration can cause or worsen cramping. A general rule of thumb is a minimum of half your body weight in ounces of water per day. When you’re on your period, increasing your water intake can help relax your muscles and also promote healthy bowel movements.


Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea is both anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic, meaning it can help reduce the spasms in your uterine muscles while decreasing the inflammation.


Chamomile tea is easily accessible and can be found in most major grocery stores. Drinking a few cups a day at the beginning of your period may help reduce the pain and severity of your menstrual cramps.


Ginger tea

Ginger is a well known herb for reducing both nausea and inflammation. It can inhibit prostaglandin production and reduce muscle spasms, making it effective at helping reduce pain associated with menstrual cramps.


This tea can be drank on it’s own, or you can consider combining it with chamomile tea to make a yummy blend.


Crampbark

Crampbark, or Virburnum Opulus, is an herbal remedy derived from a plant that has pain relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. It works to block smooth muscle spasms and can help treat severe cramping accompanied by nausea and vomiting.


Check with your doctor before using any herbal medicines to ensure that there are no interactions with any other medication you may be taking.


Check with your doctor before using any herbal medicines if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.


Epsom salt baths

Epsom salt is a form of magnesium and sulfate that can be dissolved in your bath. It’s helpful for relaxing smooth muscle and reducing inflammation. Next time you’re dealing with cramps, try a relaxing Epsom salt soak to help reduce the pain.


Regular exercise

Regular exercise helps promote blood flow through the body, including the pelvis while increasing levels of endorphins. This helps reduce prostaglandins and can reduce pain. Aerobic exercise and yoga are two forms of exercise particularly beneficial for reducing cramping.


When you are on your period, or right before your period begins, consider doing lighter exercises. Go for a walk outside or unroll your yoga mat for twenty minutes of stretching. Leave the higher intensity workouts for the rest of the month.


Having an Orgasm

I know what you’re thinking. An orgasm… when I’m cramping… that’s the last thing I’m interested in. But here me out.


Orgasms cause your body to release oxytocin and dopamine, both of which are anti-inflammatory and are also instant mood boosts. An orgasm also causes blood to rush to your pelvis, and we’ve discussed how that can relieve cramping. So if you can boost your mood and decrease pain all while doing something exceptionally fun… well, I’d say it’s worth a try.


Things to Avoid for Period Cramps

The best thing you can do for yourself is to avoid things that promote inflammation. We know that inflammation increases pain and increases the release of prostaglandins, so by focusing on reducing inflammation your period cramps should be less severe.


We’ve talked about some things that you can do to improve periods cramps, but here are some things that you should avoid in the days or even the week before your period.


Alcohol

Fast food

Caffeine

Processed foods


All of these things promote inflammation and can worsen period cramps.


Smoothie recipe for fighting period cramps

1 tablespoon of chia seeds

1 cup of kale or spinach

1 frozen banana

½ cup of strawberries or berries of choice

½ cup of frozen pineapple

Sliver of ginger

1 Cup of full fat coconut milk


Blend all of the ingredients up and enjoy a delicious and nutritious treat.


When to talk to your doctor about period cramps?

If your cramping is affecting your quality of life, it’s time to talk with your doctor. You should be able to continue functioning daily and go about working, socializing, and enjoying your favorite hobbies without period cramps getting in the way.


Resources

https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/dysmenorrhea-painful-periods


Garrison, S. Allan, G. Sekhon, R. Musini, V. Khan, K. Magnesium for skeletal muscle cramps. Cochrane Database System. 2012.


Shobeiri, F. Araste, F. Ebrahimi, R. Jenabi, E. Nazari, M. Effect of calcium on premenstrual syndrome: A double blind randomized clinical trial. Obstet Gynecol Sci. 2017.


Maroon, J. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surg Neurol. 2006.


Dehnavi, Z. Jafarnejad, F. Kamali, Z. The effect of aerobic exercise on primary dysmenorrhea, a clinical trial study. J Educ Health Promot. 2018.


Yarnell, E. Herbal Medicine for Dysmenorrhea. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2015.


Khalesi, Z. Beiranvand, S. Bokaie, M. Efficacy of Chamomile in the Treatment of Premenstrual Syndrome: A Systemic Review. J Pharmacopuncture, 2019.


Jenabi E. The effect of ginger for relieving of primary dysmenorrhoea. J Pak Med Assoc. 2013