Menstrual cramps can range from mild discomfort to debilitating pain, affecting women of all ages. If you're looking for natural ways to alleviate menstrual pain, incorporating nutritional supplements into your routine may provide relief.
Understanding Menstrual Cramps
Before getting into the supplements, it's essential to understand the different types of menstrual cramps. Primary dysmenorrhea refers to menstrual pain without an underlying medical condition, while secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by an underlying condition, such as endometriosis or fibroids. Treating the right type of pain is crucial for effective management.
Signs and Symptoms of Menstrual Cramps
Symptoms of menstrual cramps can vary from woman to woman, but they typically include the following:
- Abdominal cramping or dull ache that moves to the lower back and legs
- Heavy menstrual flow
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Frequent urination
- Vomiting (not common)
- Low back pain
Causes of Menstrual Cramps
Menstrual cramps can be classified into two types: primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is caused by strong contractions of the uterus triggered by prostaglandins, chemicals in the body involved in inflammation and pain. Generally, the higher the levels of prostaglandins, the more severe the menstrual pain.
Secondary dysmenorrhea can be caused by various underlying conditions, including:
- Endometriosis, inflammation of the uterine lining
- Blood and tissue being passed through a narrow cervix
- Uterine fibroid or ovarian cyst
- Uterine infections
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
Seeking Medical Evaluation
If you experience severe or worsening menstrual pain, it is important to seek medical evaluation. Your healthcare provider may perform a pelvic examination, including an internal examination, laparoscopy, and ultrasound. They may also request a Pap test and blood and urine samples to rule out any underlying conditions that may be causing your menstrual cramps.
The Best Supplements For Period Pain
So, now onto the main point of the article. We do have a list of the most effective natural remedies for specifically targeting period pain, there is a particular manufacturer that we generally recommend as they combine all of these into one supplement (kittie.life) along with a few other ingredients designed to help with pms symptoms. They're the only option on the market that actually doses the ingredients in line with the clinical trials right now so we don't tend to recommend anything else.
Magnesium: A Mighty Mineral
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in various bodily functions, including muscle and nerve health. It helps reduce menstrual cramps by relaxing the muscles of the uterus and improving blood flow. Studies have shown that taking a magnesium supplement starting a week before your period can help reduce the severity of cramps. Aim for a daily intake of 320-450mg from food or magnesium supplements.
Foods rich in magnesium include:
- Soy products like organic tofu, tempeh, and edamame
- Leafy green vegetables, especially cooked spinach and Swiss chard
- Cereals and grains like quinoa and wheat germ
- Pumpkin seeds, almonds, and black-eyed peas
B Vitamins: The Cramp-Calming Complex
B vitamins, particularly thiamine (B1) and niacin (B3), have been shown to be helpful in reducing menstrual cramps. Thiamine helps regulate the nervous system and relieve pain, while niacin aids in reducing inflammation. Consider taking a multi-B vitamin supplement or include B vitamin-rich foods in your diet:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Cereals, oatmeals, and grains
- Nutritional yeast or vegemite
- Tuna and salmon
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Taming Inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil or flaxseed oil, can help reduce inflammation and alleviate the cramping pain associated with primary dysmenorrhea. These fatty acids inhibit the production of inflammatory prostaglandins, which contribute to menstrual pain. Opt for an omega-3 supplement with a higher ratio of EPA to DHA or increase your intake of fish, preferably wild-caught, or use flax oil in your meals. High Omega 3 Fatty Acids Foods Include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Soy beans
Vitamin D: Sunshine for Your Cramps
Vitamin D is not only essential for bone health but also plays a role in reducing menstrual cramps. Many people in Canada have suboptimal levels of vitamin D, which can exacerbate menstrual pain. If you're deficient in vitamin D, correcting the deficiency through supplementation can help alleviate cramps. Aim for a daily intake of 600-800IU or get your vitamin D levels tested by a healthcare provider. Vitamin D is also good for other symptoms of premenstrual syndrome including treating menstrual cramps.
Vitamin E: Antioxidant Powerhouse
Vitamin E is a group of compounds that act as antioxidants and help protect cells from oxidative damage. It also increases the production of enzymes that suppress arachidonic acid metabolism, leading to increased blood vessel dilation and improved blood flow to the uterus. Supplementing with vitamin E can be part of a comprehensive plan to reduce cramps. Food sources of vitamin E include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ oil
- Sunflower oil
Flavonoids: Nature's Colorful Allies
Flavonoids are plant compounds found in colorful fruits and vegetables that possess various health benefits. Studies have shown that supplementing with flavonoids can significantly decrease cramps and in particular dysmenorrhea. Increase your dietary intake of flavonoids by incorporating more colorful fruits and vegetables into your diet:
- Greens: kale, spinach, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, broccoli
- Reds: tomatoes, red peppers, apples
- Oranges: yams, pumpkin, squash, carrots, peppers, citrus fruits
- Yellows: peppers, squash, citrus fruits
- Purples: dark berries, eggplant
Probiotics: Specific Strains
Lactobacillus paragasseri OLL2809 is a probiotic shown to have immunomodulatory effects, and previous clinical trials conducted on patients with endometriosis demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing menstrual pain. You can get it from diet from:
- Fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, and some types of cheese
- Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles (if they are fermented using Lactobacillus paragasseri)
- Fermented soy products such as miso and tempeh (if they are fermented using Lactobacillus paragasseri)
- Some types of sourdough bread may also contain Lactobacillus paragasseri, depending on the fermentation process
Cocoa: Dark Chocolate Specifically
Cocoa, particularly in its dark chocolate form, contains compounds such as flavonoids and magnesium that may help alleviate menstrual cramps. These flavonoids have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce pain and discomfort associated with menstruation. Additionally, magnesium has muscle-relaxing properties, potentially easing muscle cramps as we mentioned earlier. There are also a few studies that show dark chocolate specifically worked to reduce menstrual cramps.
Iron: Replacing It Is Important
Iron can potentially help alleviate menstrual cramps. Iron plays a crucial role in the production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. During menstruation women experience blood loss, leading to a decrease in iron levels. This depletion can exacerbate all menstrual symptoms, including cramping. Therefore, ensuring adequate iron intake through diet or supplements may help alleviate cramps by supporting overall health and replenishing lost nutrients. Some example of iron rich foods include:
- Red meat such as beef, lamb, and pork
- Poultry such as chicken and turkey
- Fish and shellfish such as tuna, salmon, clams, and oysters
- Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans (kidney beans, black beans, etc.)
- Tofu and tempeh
- Seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and hemp seeds
- Nuts such as almonds, cashews, and pine nuts
- Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard
- Iron-fortified cereals and grains
- Dried fruits such as apricots, raisins, and prunes
Other Period Pain Supplements That "May" Work
There are also a lot of things that have some evidence, but more to suggest they work with mood swings and other pms symptoms than period pain specifically.
Evening Primrose Oil - While some studies suggest that EPO might help with menstrual cramps, the evidence is mixed, and more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness definitively. Some women report experiencing relief from cramps after taking EPO supplements, while others may not notice any significant improvement
Chasteberry - While some women report experiencing relief from menstrual cramps after taking chasteberry supplements, scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness for this specific purpose is limited and mixed. Some studies suggest a potential benefit, while others do not show a significant improvement compared to a placebo.
Drug Therapies for Menstrual Cramps
Initial treatment for menstrual cramps is often focused on relieving pain. There are several drug therapies that can help alleviate menstrual pain:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Aleve), help relieve pain. They can be purchased over-the-counter or prescribed by a doctor. It is important to take them with food to avoid stomach upset. Long-term use of NSAIDs can increase the risk of stomach bleeding so it's not a great idea for period cramps in the long term.
- Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors: These medications also help relieve pain and have fewer gastrointestinal side effects compared to NSAIDs.
- Birth control pills and patches: Hormonal birth control methods, such as birth control pills and patches, can help regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce the severity of menstrual pain. They may be prescribed for problems such as endometriosis.
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs): Certain types of IUDs, such as hormonal IUDs, can help reduce menstrual bleeding and dysmenorrhea.
- Antibiotics: If menstrual pain is caused by pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the underlying infection.
Additional Tips for Menstrual Cramp Relief
In addition to these supplements, there are a few other natural remedies you can try to alleviate menstrual cramps:
1. Heat therapy: Applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to your lower abdomen can help relax the muscles and reduce pain.
2. Exercise: Engaging in light physical activity, such as walking or gentle yoga, can help increase blood flow and relieve cramps.
3. Stress reduction: Stress can exacerbate menstrual cramps. Incorporate stress-reducing practices into your daily routine, such as mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises.
4. Dietary changes: Avoiding inflammatory foods like processed foods, refined sugars, and caffeine can help reduce inflammation and alleviate cramps. Instead, focus on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Remember, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplements or making significant changes to your diet. They can help determine the right dosage and ensure there are no interactions with any medications or existing medical conditions.
In conclusion, menstrual cramps can be effectively managed with the help of natural supplements. Incorporating magnesium, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin E, and flavonoids into your routine can provide relief from painful periods. Combine these supplements with other natural remedies and lifestyle changes for optimal menstrual cramp relief. If you're looking for an all in one supplement for reducing period pain, we generally recommend Kittie, which you can read about here.