Periods can come with period pain, often in the form of menstrual cramps and pelvic pain. Period cramps are often treated with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, aspirin and paracetamol. Natural remedies can become part of people's self care for period cramps and bring comfort as natural period pain relief. Every body and every period is different.
This blog post explores some common natural remedies for periods, including exercise, different foods, essential oils, herbs and supplements.
What Causes Period Pain?
Menstrual cramps are the effect of contractions in the uterus during your period, resulting in spasms, aches and throbbing of varying degrees in the abdomen (belly), pelvis (hip area), lower back and upper legs.
This pain, also known as ‘dysmenorrhoea’, is caused by the production of prostaglandins – natural chemicals that play a role in promoting inflammation – in the early stages of the menstrual cycle. These chemicals also cause vomiting, headaches, diarrhoea and nausea during periods.
Sometimes called premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menstrual cramps can start a couple of days before your period comes and can continue on into your period. The discomfort can last for 48-72 hours, ranging from light, mild and severe cramps in people who menstruate.
Other factors and underlying conditions can increase the risk of experiencing severe menstrual cramps, like smoking, stress, endometriosis, PCOS and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Period pain typically becomes milder as a person gets older.
Natural Remedies for Period Pain
An easy home remedy for period pain is engaging in light exercise on your period, including gentle stretching, yoga or going for a short walk. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, dubbed ‘feel-good’ chemicals, that act as your body’s natural period pain relief and mood booster. Endorphins work by blocking pain signals from your brain, which helps block pain signals to your uterus and thereby alleviate cramping. That said, exercise can aggravate period pain for some people and have no effect for others.
High-intensity exercises like running during your period may not be appropriate or comfortable for you and your period pain. The best forms of exercise for your menstrual pain, our WUKA Period Health Experts say, are light walking or other light cardio exercises – exercises that get your heart rate up and help your blood circulation.
During lighter menstrual days, low intensity exercises to relieve period pain such as yoga and pilates can help you manage heavy cramping as a complementary therapy. Certain yoga poses like Cat, Cobra and Child's Pose can be good for your heavy bleeding days too. Remember, stretching is best done when your body is warm.
Our period-proof Seamless underwear are perfect for yogis
Eating a balanced and healthy diet rich in fibre and antioxidants is crucial to maintaining a regular menstrual cycle and can reduce painful period symptoms. Food can also affect your hormones which in turn determines your mood, how long you bleed and how light period flow is.
Some foods you eat during your periods can help to relieve menstrual cramps. Research shows that adding anti-inflammatory action of omega-3 can be used for natural period pain relief. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids – meaning those our bodies need but can’t naturally make them. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies, to name a few) and can be taken as capsules in supplement form throughout the menstrual cycle as well. Vegetarian and vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, chia seeds and brussel sprouts.
Dehydration is a common cause of menstrual cramps, so upping your water intake will help you stay hydrated and reduce period pain.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in America, many women find it difficult to sleep just before and during their period. This could be due to physical and emotional effects of hormone changes during your menstrual cycle, including menstrual cramps.
However, different sleeping positions may provide natural period pain relief from cramps and help you better sleep on your period. While there is little research on the topic, some healthcare providers suggest sleeping in a foetal position to reduce menstrual cramps. If sleeping in this position helps you, then keep at it. If not, try small adjustments to find what feels most comfortable for you.
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Herbal Remedies for Period Pain
Herbal medicine is the use of medicinal plants and plant extracts to help prevent and treat diseases. It’s important to note that evidence for the effectiveness of herbal medicines is generally very limited. Although some people find them helpful, in many cases the use of herbal medicine tends to be based on traditional use rather than scientific research.
If you opt to use herbal remedies for period pain, it is advised that you talk with your healthcare provider about the pros and cons in the context of your general health. According to the NHS, if you want to try herbal medicine, look out for a traditional herbal registration (THR) marking on product packaging.
Chamomile is one of the most commonly used herbal remedies for period pain due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antispasmodic properties. The compounds hippurate and glycine within chamomile makes chamomile tea, for example, useful to help ease lower abdomen cramps by relaxing tense muscles.
Evening Primrose Oil
Akin to its name, evening primrose oil is the oil extracted from the evening primrose plant, often found in capsule form. It has a long history of being used for natural period pain relief. Rich in gamma-linolenic acid, evening primrose oil works as a natural anti-inflammatory to reduce prostaglandin, the hormone that triggers muscles in your uterus to contract.
Ginger is a common choice amongst the herbal remedies for pain relief for people who suffer from menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding due to its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, research has found that ginger can be as effective as ibuprofen when it comes to relieving menstrual pain. A review of studies around the effectiveness of ginger for alleviating period pain saw that over 600 women who consumed 750-2,000 mg of ginger powder during the first 3-4 days of their period found it appeared to help reduce pain from menstrual cramps.
As the name hints, the herbal form of crampbark is a traditional herbal remedy used for soothing period pain. Usually consumed by boiling dried bark in water as a tea, crampbark contains methyl salicylate, a compound known to have pain-relieving properties. One study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada found that a herbal formulation containing crampbark improved PMS symptoms including menstrual cramping. Research on crampbark is generally more limited compared to other menstrual remedies.
Research published in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology has shown that sweet fennel, a choice of natural remedies for periods, is teeming with anti-inflammatory properties and, when consumed regularly, helps to soothe period cramps. Whether in raw fennel seed form or seeds soaked in water to create fennel tea, fennel is an excellent digestive aid, reduces bloating and keeps your energies up too.
Pcycnogenol (pronounced pic-noj-en-all) is a compound that comes from the bark of a French pine tree, and it is used for natural period pain relief. Medically trialled on perimenopausal women and women with endometriosis, Pycnogenol was found to alleviate menstrual pain as a therapeutic alternative. Usually taken by mouth in capsule form, Pycnogenol contains potent natural antioxidant natural chemicals that inhibit prostaglandins, making it an anti-inflammatory remedy.
Cinnamon, in both powder and oil form, is another natural herbal remedy that can be used to alleviate menstrual cramps. Some studies have shown that cinnamon is a safe and effective treatment for dysmenorrhea, or period pain. Aside from providing natural period pain relief, cinnamon has also been known to provide natural relief from heavy bleeding as well as nausea.
Consult Your Doctor
Taking herbal medicines for period pain may not be suitable for you and your health. It is advised that you talk with your healthcare provider before trying herbal medicine.
If you experience severe menstrual cramps that interfere with daily life, or don’t respond to pain relief, this could be an indication of underlying condition, so please speak with your healthcare provider.