By Aly Walansky
Ah, that time of month. Period struggles often seem like the definition of life kicking you when you’re down—you’re bloated, you’re cranky, all you want to eat is pizza, and it feels like there’s a siege on your lower abdomen. While not fitting into your jeans and lashing out at your friends, coworkers, and significant other can all be dealt with in some shape or form (with skirts and profuse apologies, respectively), dysmenorrhea—better known as menstrual cramping—is a tougher nut to crack. If twice the recommended dose of Motrin just isn’t working like it used to, give these more natural cures for cramps a try.
They’re not only useful for better skin and hair: Arielle Levitan MD, a physician and cofounder of Vous Vitamin LLC, says that certain vitamins, like vitamin B6, vitamin E, and magnesium, can be of great help when it comes to preventing and treating menstrual cramps. Some women find that taking the vitamins regularly can even help prevent the symptoms of PMS and menstrual cramps from occurring in the first place. We’re partial to magnesium supplements—in fact, magnesium is known as the anti-stress mineral, and its muscle-relaxing properties help to significantly relieve cramps, says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a medical doctor and nutrition expert and author of The Magnesium Miracle and The Complete Natural Guide to Women’s Health.
Dark Cherry Juice
Delicious and effective. “My favorite cure for cramps is 2 ounces of dark cherry juice or 1500 mg of dark cherry extract,” says Clint Fuqua, a fitness trainer and health coach. The secret behind the juice’s efficacy is in the high amounts of magnesium and ellagic acid, both of which are powerful muscle relaxants. To further boost its effects, try adding raw cacao to the mix—it’s also packed with magnesium, as well as theobromine. Why should you get excited as theobromine? Because it’s the “feel good” component of chocolate responsible for elevating endorphin levels, which aids pain reduction and creates an elevated sense of well-being.
Watch Your Diet
We know: When you have your period, the only foods you can even fathom enjoying live in the neighborhood of nachos and Nutella. Resist the urge! The less garbage you eat, the better you’ll feel, and you’ll spare yourself from the crash that inevitably follows a junk food binge. Do your best to eat loads of fruits and veggies, and keep super hydrated to balance out your out-of-whack body.
Now here’s a weird one to add to your cramp-combating repertoire. Vinegar, especially apple cider vinegar, works by rapidly changing the body’s pH balance to “shock” it into lessening pain, says Fuqua. “Thanks to the vinegar, turmeric, and mustard seed content, a packet of mustard will work to stop a cramp rapidly. I have used all of these for clients and athletes for years now to get them off NSAIDs and Rx pain meds,” he adds.
As if yoga didn’t have enough benefits already, gentle poses such as child’s pose, knees in to chest, and spinal push downs can help relieve cramps, says Melissa Irvine of Green Locus Yoga and Organics. Additionally, mindful breathing can help relax the muscles in the body, alleviating tension from cramps.
Surprisingly, Nicole Murray, L.AC., MSTOM of Beach Community Acupuncture in San Diego says that her clinic frequently sees patients suffering from menstrual cramps. She even says that, after several cycles of the treatment over time, some patients find that their cramps disappear altogether. And get this: “In a study published in 2008 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a randomized controlled trial that included 201 women with dysmenorrhea showed that the women who received acupuncture had lower pain intensity. The study concluded that ‘additional acupuncture in patients with dysmenorrhea was associated with improvements in pain and quality of life as compared to treatment with usual care alone,’” says Murray. If you find cramps to be a seriously debilitating monthly issue for you, consider investing in a few rounds of acupuncture.
When all else fails, lounging on the couch with a heating pad or immersing yourself in a warm bath will both help to soothe those painful muscle contractions.