Menstrual cramps. They’re awful. They can be severe enough to double us over in pain during the day, or to wake us in agony during the night. Over-the-counter painkillers help, but what if you can’t take painkillers (or simply don’t want to?) Here are some natural ways to prevent and ease period pains:
Period pains are caused by contractions of the uterine muscles. Just like leg-cramps, these are more painful when the muscle is less lubricated. Drinking plenty of water will keep the muscles moving freely. As a bonus, it can also help to beat the bloat which often accompanies periods.
Anti-inflammatory foods like bell peppers, tomatoes, squash, oily fish, and dark green veg will help to keep cramping pains at bay. Try to eat these in the week or so leading up to your period, so that your body is rich in anti-inflammatory compounds when your period starts.
Cook with fennel
In a placebo-controlled experiment, researchers found that women who ate 30mg of fennel four times a day for three days before the onset of their period reported significantly lower levels of period pain than those on the placebo.
Warm your womb
The old remedies are often the best. Cuddling a hot water bottle or rubbing deep heat into your belly can soothe period pains and relax clenched muscles.
Uterine contractions are triggered by the release of hormones called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are inhibited by Vitamin D. And you get Vitamin D from sunlight. If you needed an excuse to go to the beach, this is it!
Get some minerals
Calcium, magnesium and zinc are all great for combating muscle cramps. Get them in a supplement, or via bananas, sardines, leafy green veg, or nuts and seeds.
I know, I know, you’re lethargic enough during your period without slashing the caffeine as well. Honestly, though, it’s worth doing. Caffeine is inflammatory and known to tighten muscles, thus making menstrual cramps a whole lot worse.
The last thing you want to do when you’re curled over a cramping belly is to lace up your trainers and go for a run. But studies show that exercise really can help with period pains. This may be because it releases endorphins - natural painkillers - or it may be because exercise gets healing oxygen to painful areas. Or it may be a combination of both. Whatever the reason, it works!
Massaging your abdomen will increase blood flow to the painful area. The better the circulation around your uterus, the less painful your periods will be. Massage is one of the quickest and simplest ways to get that vital, nutrient-carrying blood to where it needs to be.
Avoid processed foods
Ignore those cravings for pizza and ice cream. They’re lying to you. Salty, fatty, carb-rich and processed foods can all increase inflammation (and therefore make your period pains worse).
Get your sleep sorted
Insomnia is a chronic modern problem, and it’s often worse around the time of your period. However, getting your sleep-patterns sorted has myriad health benefits, not least of which is improving period pains. If you’re struggling to sleep well, check out our natural sleep-health guide here.
Take a bath
Baths are warm, soothing, relaxing, and stress-relieving. You can also get some of that anti-cramp mineral goodness into your bath by adding magnesium bath salts. Some of us prefer to shower during a period, but if you’re OK with the idea of a bath during this time then you’re in luck. A nice, warm bath is one of the best ways to calm a cranky uterus.