A spoonful of fennel resting on wooden table.
Fennel has the potential to stop uterine contractions.

Home Remedies for Menstrual Cramps

It’s that time of the month. You know when to expect it, but you never know quite how painful it will be until it happens. Inevitably, you end up keeled over in pain, sweaty and nauseous. You may even end up missing work or school due to the inconvenience. Why does this happen and how can you treat your menstrual cramps to rid yourself of the pain? You can try home remedies for menstrual cramps.

In this article, we explain the menstrual cycle, why cramps happen and what home remedies you can use to reduce them.

The Menstrual Cycle Explained

The purpose of the menstrual cycle is to prepare your body for pregnancy each month and to rid your body of these preparations when pregnancy does not occur. Typically, the average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, with the first day being the first day of your period and the last day being the day before your next period begins.

During your cycle, your hormones rise and fall. After your period, your hormones cause the lining of your uterus to thicken, which is your body preparing for a potential pregnancy. Your hormones also stimulate the release of an egg from your ovaries. This part of the cycle is called ovulation.

During this phase, the body can become pregnant. If you do not become pregnant, your period begins about two weeks after ovulation. This involves the lining of the uterus falling away causing blood flow through the vagina. Periods range from heavy to light, and from painful to zero symptoms. Periods may also last from a couple of days to seven days. It varies from woman to woman.

Why Do Cramps Happen?

Menstrual cramps are thought to be caused by excess prostaglandins that are released from the lining of the uterus. These compounds cause the uterus to contract. This promotes the flow of the uterine lining out of the body.

Surprisingly, about three out of four women experience period cramps. You may feel pain in your abdomen or back. Cramps may also happen right before your period begins or during it. They may come on strong, ease off or linger. All in all, menstrual cramps range across a wide spectrum, where some may feel it as a slight discomfort and others may feel it as severe pain.

Diet Recommendations While on Your Period

Consider these recommendations while on your period:

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help reduce bloating and maintain proper hydration. Herbal teas can also be soothing and hydrating.
  • Incorporate Iron-Rich Foods: Many women experience a drop in iron levels during their periods, which can lead to fatigue and anemia. Include iron-rich foods like lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, spinach and fortified cereals.
  • Choose Whole Grains: Opt for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread and oatmeal. They provide sustained energy and help stabilize blood sugar levels.
  • Increase Fiber Intake: High-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes can help alleviate constipation, a common issue during menstruation.
  • Include Healthy Fats: Incorporate sources of healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty fish (like salmon) to support hormone production and reduce inflammation.
  • Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce period-related pain. Fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are good sources.
  • Limit Processed Foods and Salt: Processed foods and excess salt can contribute to bloating and discomfort. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods and be mindful of sodium intake.

Foods to Avoid on Your Period

Here are some foods you'll want to stay away from while on your period:

  1. Excessively salty foods.
  2. High caffeine products.
  3. Processed and sugary foods.
  4. Fried foods.
  5. Fatty meats.
  6. Dairy products (for some individuals).
  7. Alcohol.
  8. Carbonated drinks.
  9. Highly acidic foods.
  10. Spicy foods (for some individuals).

Home Remedies to Help Reduce Menstrual Cramps

No matter the severity of your cramps, they are not fun. So, what are some home remedies to help you cope?

1. Exercise

Moving may be the last thing you want to do when you do not feel great, yet it can help reduce the pain associated with menstrual cramps. For instance, gentle stretches through yoga can significantly help reduce your pain and cramps. Further, regular exercise can help keep your body regulated, reducing the chances of you experiencing cramps in the first place.

2. Heat Therapy

Heat in the form of a hot water bottle, heat pads or even a hot bath can help ease menstrual pain. Interestingly, heat therapy may help just as much as over-the-counter pain medication.

Aim to apply the heat for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Avoid applying a hot pad or hot water bottle directly to the skin. Instead, place a towel or cloth in between your skin and the hot therapy device.

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3. Drink Warm Tea

This works similarly to heat therapy, but it also rehydrates you at the same time. By ensuring you are properly hydrated, you may reduce bloating that comes with that time of the month. In turn, this can decrease cramps.

Furthermore, try chamomile tea. This type of tea may inhibit prostaglandins, decreasing inflammation and pain.

4. Ensure You’re Eating a Healthy and Balanced Diet

This is not exactly a quick fix but maintaining a healthy and balanced diet can make sure you are getting the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals that your body needs. This can help regulate certain hormones and compounds. This can then prevent cramps and pain during your period. For instance, consider ditching heavily processed and pre-packaged foods. Chances are, they are not doing you any favors.

5. Try Fennel Extract

Fennel may stop uterine contractions, which may make your period less painful. One study suggested taking 30 milligrams, four times per day. You should start three days before your period.

6. Take Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Sometimes, it may be your best option - especially when other options just are not working. Try ibuprofen or other pain-relieving medication. However, it is best to avoid taking these for longer than 10 to 14 days, as they may have some adverse health effects.

7. Self-Massage

Applying pressure at certain points may help reduce your cramps. Using essential oils during this process may also help reduce pain. You may also choose to book an appointment with a registered massage therapist who can perform your massage for you.

The Side Effects of Periods

Below are some side effects you may experience while on your period:

  • Depression and Mood Swings: Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can contribute to mood changes, including depression, irritability and mood swings.
  • Weight Fluctuations: Some individuals might experience temporary weight gain or bloating due to water retention and hormonal changes.
  • Cramps and Pain: Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are common and can range from mild to severe, causing discomfort and pain.
  • Headaches: Hormonal changes can trigger headaches or migraines in some individuals.
  • Nausea: Some people might experience nausea or gastrointestinal discomfort during their periods.
  • Fatigue: Hormonal shifts and blood loss can lead to temporary fatigue and decreased energy levels.
  • Birth Control Pills: Birth control pills are often used to regulate periods, manage symptoms and prevent pregnancy. They can also have side effects like mood changes, nausea or weight fluctuations.

What Works for You?

What works for one woman may not work for the next. Try a variety of methods to reduce your menstrual cramps until you find one that works for you. Pain once a month does not have to be your normal - nor should it be!