You might think you’ve already tried all the period cramp remedies out there for those painful cramps and body aches during that time of the month. However, there are likely some unique period cramp remedies in this article that you haven’t tried yet, which could actually work for you.
It fills many women with dread each month when the first feelings of menstrual-related discomfort begin to manifest, and they know days of feeling unwell and in pain are ahead.
Period cramps can feel like anything from mild discomfort to completely debilitating pain that is almost intolerable. Some people get period cramps so bad, they’re unable to work, study, focus, or socialize. It’s even worse when you have deadlines to meet or lose income with every missed day of work. While some wish to “normalize” period pain and establish menstrual leave, it doesn’t solve how disabling period cramps can be for some people.
How can we ease period pain and get back to living our best lives? These pains associated with that time of the month are not all about hormones, as I explain in my book, Infla-Menses. Inflammation can play a key role in menstrual problems such as pain and clotting. Sometimes, you may only need to work on this to resolve the issue. For example, the downstream products of arachidonic acid, a fatty acid associated with inflammation, are found in higher levels among women with period pain.
While the oral contraceptive pill (birth control pill) can help to reduce period pain and the levels of these inflammatory chemicals in the menstrual fluid, the pill’s side effects make natural alternatives more appealing.
Let’s look at 5 period cramp remedies, including some I use myself.
Period Cramp Remedies Many Have Not Tried: Bioavailable Curcumin
A bioavailable curcumin formula is the number one remedy I personally use to keep period cramps at bay. It’s not for everyone, but if I take it every day, I will likely have no pain and minimal clotting. For context, I did not win the genetic lottery, as I have a family history of severe menstrual pain (to the point of vomiting and fainting) and PCOS.
Curcumin, the most-studied phytochemical in turmeric, reduces levels of inflammatory prostaglandins responsible for period pain, in particular PGE2. A study of over 120 young women who regularly suffered from period cramps compared curcumin supplements, both alone and with conventional painkillers, to painkillers alone. In the curcumin-only group, average pain levels fell from 7.14/10 to 5.67/10, a difference of 1.47 points. This is a drop in severity by 20%, or the difference between difficulty with basic tasks and difficulty concentrating. Painkillers and curcumin together had the strongest effect.
Unlike me, the women took curcumin for five days, including two before their periods were meant to start. It may be best to take it long-term in at least some cases, as lab research shows that curcumin can slow the growth of stray uterine cells seen in endometriosis. Besides reducing inflammation, curcumin partially blocks the activity of estrogen. A heavier menstrual period means the uterus must contract more to expel the old lining, meaning more pain.
Another anti-inflammatory remedy that may help relieve period cramps is ginger, a spice in the same family as turmeric. It is also in the curcumin formula I take. Ginger acts on multiple inflammatory pathways: cyclo-oxygenase (COX), which includes PGE2 production; lipo-oxygenase (LOX), which affects tissue overgrowth; and nuclear factor kappa-B. This is the “master switch” for several pathways.
A review of seven clinical studies all demonstrated ginger to be effective in relieving period pain. The study reported that the average pain severity among women taking ginger was 4.81/10, compared to 7.11/10 in the placebo group. They included treatment with ginger alone, and alongside conventional painkillers or exercise. All doses were in the range of 750-2,000mg per day. Even a cup or two of ginger tea can be quite soothing and one of the more common period cramp remedies.
We think of rosemary as a traditional remedy for memory and a flavorful herb in Mediterranean cooking. However, it may relieve period cramps too. Another clinical study on female college students compared rosemary to the painkiller mefenamic acid. These were both taken during the first three days of their periods. The women taking rosemary extract reported a drop in their pain scores from 4/10 to 2.35/10, and a drop in their menstrual bleeding score from 55.21 to 46.30. The painkiller group had roughly the same benefits.
Rosemary, like turmeric and ginger, inhibits the COX-2 inflammatory pathway and reduces PGE2 as a result. Turning down activity of this pathway also means slowing down the growth of the uterine lining each month.
Anti-Inflammatory Fatty Acids
Besides herbal remedies, diet and supplementation can help out too. Fatty acid balance plays an important role in inflammation, and period cramps are unlikely to be an exception. Omega-3 fatty acids, among others, are converted into anti-inflammatory signalling chemicals, while fats such as arachidonic acid are made into pro-inflammatory chemicals. Because of this, a study comparing fish oil supplementation to a placebo found that the omega-3 rich fish oils reduced the need for painkillers. In one group, the average rescue medication intake was 4.3 ibuprofen tablets with fish oil and 5.3 when they moved to the placebo. In the other, they needed an average of six tablets on the placebo, and 3.2 once they got fish oil.
Anti-inflammatory fatty acids come from oily fish and plant sources. Red meat (at least conventionally-grown meat) is found to have pro-inflammatory fats and processed foods. For myself, I notice that eating a pescatarian diet results in reduced or no period pain, with far fewer clots and lighter flow. Sneaking in too much red meat, however, can send me right back to where I used to be. I’d rather not return to relying on painkillers to function for the first two days of my period.
Heat can be very soothing for body pains in general, especially for period cramps and the back and body pains associated with your period.
Try putting a warm hot water bottle on your stomach where you’re feeling cramps or soreness. Heat is one of the very effective period cramp remedies.
You can also soak your body in a warm bath for 20 minutes. Try breathing deeply while you bathe in the warm, soothing water.
Finally, if you don’t like taking medicine of any sort (or the idea of adding another supplement to what you already take), yoga may be a helpful remedy for period cramps. A review of four studies found that three could demonstrate significant benefits of yoga for period pain. The one that didn’t show much effect had a short duration of only four weeks. The others ran for 12 weeks, or three cycles.
Yoga is thought to work by increasing endorphins, which are like a natural painkiller, and reducing stress hormone levels. As some poses work on the abdominal muscles, strengthening them and improving circulation in this area may play a role in pain relief too. We can see this possibility in the stronger effects among longer trials.
What does this mean? Endorphins are a “pleasure” chemical released during exercise, so you may benefit from any physical activity you enjoy.
This means that exercise, in general, can reduce period pains. I myself have never been very interested in yoga, but am a semi-professional belly dancer and have been attending classes since I was 13. This also works on the abdominal muscles, so for me, belly dance can chase away mild, residual cramping. Before I started taking curcumin and changed my diet, the more intensive practice would result in less period pain.
Period Cramp Remedies: It’s All About Experimentation
Experimenting with various period cramp remedies will help you figure out what works for you. You can even try belly massages (you can do this yourself with guided YouTube tutorials) or try taking Midol.
There are many period cramp remedies out there, including some that work by relieving inflammation. However, what is effective for some women may not work for others. If your cramps are excruciating, seek personalized support from a holistic or integrative professional.
To help uncover some of your other health problems that might be genetic, consider genetic testing through CircleDNA.