Thirty to fifty percent of women in the United States suffer from menstrual cramps, and at least 10% have such severe menstrual symptoms that they inhibit them from participating in their normal activities. These symptoms include not only abdominal pains, but also backache, nausea, and pain in the inner thighs.
What Causes Menstrual Cramps?
For a long time, experts were unsure. Now, experts know that a decline in progesterone levels causes the endometrium to produce more hormonelike fatty acids called prostaglandins. These prostaglandins then decrease blood circulation to the uterine muscles and blood vessels, so these muscles, in turn, receive less oxygen, leading to a buildup of metabolic waste products such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid. This buildup increases pain and discomfort in the contracting uterine muscles.
However, many women have no cramping at all, due to correct balance of nutrition. Coffee, cola, chocolate, alcohol, diuretics, and a low mineral diet, as well as a lack of exercise all contribute to cramping. People with gluten sensitivity should avoid wheat, oats, spelt, and other foods containing gluten, as it will make cramps worse. Red meats and butter aggravate cramping because of the saturated fat. Many women who have become vegans or vegetarians have found their cramps disappear. Menstrual cramps are often associated with hormonal imbalances, a high fat diet, lack of calcium and magnesium, and stress. The pain is produced by changes in hormone levels that occur during menstruation and cause contractions in the uterus. IUDs have been associated with cramping, as has a history of sexual abuse.
Treatments for Menstrual Cramps
Some supplements help prevent and relieve cramps naturally.
- Pulsatilla helps prevent and relieve menstrual cramps by correcting the hormone imbalance that causes them. Evening primrose and black currant oils help prevent both premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramps before they start, due to their content of gammalinolenic acid (GLA), an omega6 fatty acid. Taking two calcium capsules every four hours may also relieve cramps (a drop in calcium before and during a woman's period can result in irritability and fatigue) as can vitamin B6.
- Magnesium 500 mg taken three times a day is helpful, as is Vitamin E at 400 IU per day.
- Dong Quai is an Asian herb that is considered a tonic for women, curing all sorts of female suffering. It contains vitamins E, A, and B12 and is a powerful antispasmodic and anticlotting agent. It also helps to stimulate the nervous system and regulate blood sugar.
- Black Cohosh herb is great for night sweats.
- Try cotton leaf tea or extract (cleans menstrual blood and encourages menstruation). This has been used as a natural abortive in South America for centuries, so be careful to take this only for menstruation. Peppermint, ginger, and raspberry leaf teas can also help. Many women alternate these with ginger root, passion flower, and chamomile teas.
- Drinking water and laxative herbs (see Laxatives) helps move the bowels, as premenstrual constipation is often a major part of the discomfort. See Constipation and Laxatives.
- Many find their cramps stop when they switch from using tampons to using pads.
- Avoid sugar.
- Hydration is important in preventing cramps, so drink plenty of pure water.
- If you have some time to relax, keep a hot water bottle on your lower abdomen and drink a cup of chamomile tea every 15 minutes. This will soothe away pains. A hot bath with Epsom salts may also help.