I’ve been plagued with an especially severe bout of cramps this month. Why, I’m not quite sure. But what I am sure of is that I want them gone as soon as possible. I don’t like to rely on over-the-counter pain medication and instead opt for natural remedies. Over the years I have found quite a few at-home pain relievers that work pretty well.
The trick is to give yourself time to rest so you can give the natural remedies time to work.
Now, I understand in our busy day-to-day lives we can’t always drop everything we’re doing to go lie in a dark room for 30 minutes so I get the need to use pain relievers but when you have a little time on your hands I would highly recommend giving your body a break, especially when it comes to managing menstrual cramps.
First thing’s first, what causes menstrual cramping? Well, as many of you know, throughout your menstrual cycle the uterine wall begins to thicken with healthy, vibrant, nurturing blood that can become the welcoming home to a fertilized egg. If pregnancy does not occur in a given month your progesterone levels will drop and trigger menstruation (aka, shed the uterine wall). When shedding begins, the level of prostaglandins increases and the uterus (an extremely powerful muscle) will begin to contract to help move the blood along.
There are many times we don’t even notice these contractions and other times they have us bent over in pain. The level of pain we experience coincides with how much oxygen and blood flow can reach the uterus: less equals more pain. Therefore, increasing blood and oxygen flow to the uterus can decrease pain associated with menstrual cramping.
With that being said here are my favorite all-natural remedies to help alleviate those monthly uterine pains!
Take a bath.
Fill your tub with warm water; add a cup of Epsom salt and about 15 drops of lavender essential oil. You can also put on some soothing music and light a few candles to help create an environment of relaxation!
Why this works: Epsom salt is not actually a salt but a compound of magnesium and sulfate. Epsom salt, when dissolved in water, is extremely absorbable and the skin will drink it in. There are many benefits to Epsom salt but it is particularly helpful for cramps because it reduces muscle tension, is an anti-inflammatory and a natural relaxant. Lavender oil is also an anti-inflammatory (among other things) and is filled with esters. Esters are molecules released in the aroma that are natural antispasmodics. (Uterine contractions, or spasms, are what cause cramping during menstruation!)
Turmeric, possibly one of the most beneficial spices known to man, has been shown in recent studies to be as effective on pain as over-the-counter medications (without the health risks). The tonic I like to use for pain relief also includes ginger, cinnamon and honey (for sweetness).
Mix 1 tsp. powdered turmeric, 1 tsp. powdered ginger and ½ tsp. powdered cinnamon into 4 oz. of warm water. Add honey to taste (I add about half a tablespoon). Mix thoroughly and shoot it down! Drink this tonic for pain every hour as needed.
Why this works: All of these spices are natural anti-inflammatories but turmeric in particular also helps improve blood flow and reduce blood clots (thick menstrual blood can lead to severe cramps as your uterus works hard to expel it).
Have a cup of tea.
Red Raspberry Leaf tea is particularly effective for uterine health. Used for centuries by midwifes and herbalists this plant has been known to ease labor pains, alleviate heavy flow and most of all, reduce cramps associated with menstruation. You can buy this tea in any health food store (always opt for organic) or you can make it yourself if you have access to organic raspberry plants.
To make a fresh tea just mince three leaves, place in a tea ball or strainer and steep in boiling water for about 10 minutes (just make sure the leaves have not been treated with any chemicals, are damaged or have been grown on the roadside).
Why this works: Red raspberry leaves are filled with antioxidants, help relax blood vessels to improve blood flow, and relax muscle contractions, aka cramps.
When my cramping is especially severe I like to cozy up with a heating pad/pillow or hot water bottle. Lay your apparatus of choice on top of your pelvic area and press down lightly (I just rest my hand across my lap). Make sure you have at least a thin layer of fabric between you and your heating device to prevent burns or skin irritations.
Why this works: Heat will relax muscles (remember, your uterus is a muscle) and improve blood flow, all of which help reduce pain.
Wear loose clothing.
This should go without saying, but stretchy clothes like yoga pants or sweatpants are really helpful when you are experiencing cramping. If you have to go out in public or go to work I would suggest wearing an empire waist, wrap or maxi dress for maximum comfort.
Why this works: Tight waistbands will add extra pressure to your uterus and emphasize the sensation of cramping.
Have an orgasm.
Enjoying an orgasm or two during menstruation can alleviate menstrual cramps. If the idea of having sex during your period seems unappealing to you I would suggest using a menstrual cup, I prefer Softcup because of their low-profile. They fit like a diaphragm and catch your menstrual blood as it is released from the cervix. If you don’t have a steady partner or one who is comfortable with the idea of having sex while you are on your period you can always fly solo!
Why this works: Having an orgasm has been shown to raise a person’s threshold for pain because they release oxytocin, which is a natural pain reliever. Also, during the “resolution” phase of an orgasm the uterine muscles relax.
[Ed note: Softcup is a disposable menstrual cup that can be worn during sex(!) but take note, it is not a contraceptive.]
I know this seems like an awful idea, especially if you are in pain, but engaging in light to moderate exercise can actually be helpful for cramping. Take a walk, go for a run, take a swim or practice yoga.
Why this works: Exercise releases endorphins and increases blood flow, both of which help with pain.
As you can see, there are quite a few natural alternatives to alleviate menstrual cramping. Mind you, I am not a medical professional and if you experience cramping so severe it is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness or fever I would highly recommend you seek medical attention. However, if your cramping is mild, moderate or just an inconvenience these at-home remedies can be wildly effective.
Try one, combine a few or go for all seven! Wishing you a healthy, pain-free period!