If I had access to a megaphone, I feel like I would be saying something along the lines of “Ladies, period cramps are common, but they are NOT NORMAL” on continuous loop.
In fact, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates up to 90% of adolescent girls and women in their reproductive years experience some sort of period pain (also known as Dysmenorrhea).
And while symptoms such as menstrual cramping, migraines, bloat, fatigue, breast tenderness, and mood swings (to name a few) are incredibly common, they’re not normal, rather a sign of an underlying condition or hormonal imbalance.
While this might be disheartening to hear, the good news is you can reduce menstrual cramps and heal your cycle through simple, natural and accessible remedies.
Read below for the tips that have helped hundreds of female clients (as well as myself, who used to suffer from cramping so intense I’d be bedridden popping Midol like tic tacs) on our journey towards reduced PMS and a symptom-free period.
So, what exactly is at the root cause of your menstrual cramps? The answer lies in your prostaglandins, which are made at the site of tissue damage and help to heal injuries.
At the start of your period, prostaglandins are released to constrict the blood vessels in your uterus in order to help your muscle layer contract, which works to expel your uterine lining via blood shed, aka your period.
When you have a normal amount of prostaglandins, you’ll typically experience some slight cramping and contractions right before or during your period. However when cramping be comes excessive, painful, or inhibits your daily life in some way, it’s usually the result of too many prostaglandins.
And an abundance of prostaglandins is the result of too inflammation, as they are directly involved in our inflammatory response. Thus when we’re inflamed (due to overexposure of processed foods, toxic beauty products, alcohol, OTC’s, antibiotics, elevated stress levels, caffeine, sugar, etc.) it causes an overproduction of prostaglandins, which equates to painful menstrual cramps.
Luckily, because menstrual cramping is tied to inflammation, it can indeed be remedied through simple and natural methods.
If you’ve ever wondered why you tend to experience loose stool, digestive cramping or diarrhea around or on your period, this is also the result of an abundance of prostaglandins. Too many prostaglandins not only signal the muscle layer of your uterine wall to over contract (causing excessive and painful period cramping) but they can also begin to attach to your intestinal walls as well. The intestinal walls contract as a result, causing what’s ever so fondly known as “period poops.” Thus reducing inflammation to reduce prostaglandins not only works to provide period pain relief but period poop relief too. Huzzah!
Estrogen dominance or excess estrogen is a hormonal imbalance where you have too much estrogen in relation to progesterone. It’s quite common in women due to the abundance of toxins and chemicals we’re exposed to, which tend to overburden our liver. Because our liver is tasked with filtering both internal and external substances as well as hormones like estrogen, when it gets overwhelmed it dumps estrogen back into our blood stream, which then gets recirculated, leading to estrogen dominance.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance include heavy or painful periods, PMS, mood swings, weight gain (especially around the hip/thigh area), breast tenderness, bloat and water retention, headaches, fibroids, cysts, and (you guessed it) menstrual cramps.
Because estrogen is a tissue proliferating hormone responsible for the growth and thickening of the lining of our uterus, the higher the estrogen levels, the thicker the lining of the uterus. When it begins to break down during the menstrual cycle it creates more prostaglandins, resulting in period cramping and higher levels of pain.
That being said, high levels of estrogen aren’t usually just the culprit of period pain, but rather excess estrogen paired with low progesterone (see below).
As mentioned above, while estrogen dominance is tied to menstrual cramping and painful periods, it’s not the only culprit of your uncomfortable symptoms, but rather the ratio of high estrogen to low progesterone.
This is because progesterone, our soothing and calming anti-proliferative hormone, helps to keep the growth and thickening of the uterus in check. Thus when the estrogen to progesterone ratio is out of balance, the uterine lining tends to overgrow, resulting in increased prostaglandins and intense menstrual cramping.
While menstrual cramping and period pain is an unfortunate symptom many women have to deal with every month, the good news is it can be quickly and effectively remedied through simple and natural steps. Read below for my top natural menstrual cramp relief methods to help you balance your hormones and feel your best during your period (and all month long!)
Keeping steady, balanced blood sugar during our entire menstrual cycle (and especially in our luteal phase, when cortisol production increases, destabilizing blood sugar) helps reduce stress within the body. Less stress = lower cortisol levels = less inflammation = reduced prostaglandins = menstrual cramp relief.
Make sure to eat consistent, balanced meals all day long (every 3-4 hours) that consist of protein (eggs, legumes, meat, seafood), fat (avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, grass-fed ghee) and fiber (veggies, fruits, gluten-free grains), which works to keep blood sugar stable and stress at bay.
As mentioned above, estrogen is a tissue proliferating hormone (meaning it builds up our uterine lining) while progesterone has anti-proliferating properties, helping to keep the growth and thickening of the uterine lining in check. Thus working to keep our estrogen to progesterone ratio balanced will decrease prostaglandin levels, resulting in a decrease of menstrual cramps and period pain relief.
All of the natural cramp relief methods listed will work to optimize your balance of estrogen to progesterone (with a big emphasis on stress reduction), however incorporating cooked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts, reducing toxin exposure, supporting your gut health through probiotic-rich foods and supplements (this brand is my fave, use code SOFRESH15 to save) and eating progesterone-boosting foods are all extremely effective tactics.
Supplying our bodies with the nutrients it needs is crucial for our hormones to be able to function optimally, leading to lower stress levels and inflammation, as well as optimal estrogen to progesterone balance needed for a healthy menstrual cycle and pain-free period.
Incorporating mineral-rich and nutrient-dense foods like salmon (loaded with inflammation fighting omega-3 fatty acids), leafy greens and dark chocolate (rich in calcium and magnesium to boost progesterone), eggs, poultry and bone broth (high in b vitamins to boost energy and progesterone levels) and fruit like citrus and bananas will adequately supply your hormones with the building blocks they need to maintain balanced estrogen to progesterone levels, resulting in reduced menstrual cramping. For more foods and recipes, check out this post.
As mentioned above, if the body is constantly dealing with stress, it increases inflammation and depletes progesterone, resulting in higher prostaglandin levels that cause menstrual cramps and period pain.
While we can’t eliminate stress from our lives, we can work to both reduce our exposure to it and navigate stressful experiences better through practices such as getting outside, moving our bodies, meditating or deep breathing exercises, eating balanced meals regularly, prioritizing sleep, having sex, engaging with our community, seeking support through a therapist or loved one, etc.
Magnesium is a mineral that helps to relax the muscle layer of our uterus, thus reducing prostaglandins that cause menstrual cramps and period pain. Unfortunately, it’s quite easy to become deficient in magnesium these days to due lifestyle factors that deplete it (caffeine, alcohol, stress and hormonal birth control, to name a few).
Along with eating foods rich in magnesium (dark chocolate, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, etc.) and taking a supplement, you can also enjoy a warm epsom salt bath or rub magnesium oil on your lower abdomen for quick menstrual cramp relief (not to mention major relaxation!)
Deep, restorative sleep is absolutely necessary to keeping hormones balanced, reducing inflammation, lowering stress levels and regulating blood sugar, which are all crucial components of reducing menstrual cramps and painful period symptoms.
While this can vary from person to person, I’ve found the best way to optimize sleep is to ensure you’re giving yourself adequate time to wind down before bed, allowing your body to slip into it’s parasympathetic state and get that deep, restorative rest needed. This may look like putting away all electronic devices 1-2 hours before bed, making an herbal tea, dimming lights, reading a book, and getting into bed prior to 10 pm, before your cortisol kicks back into gear and you get that “second wind.”
While not a root-cause approach, applying heat and warmth to your lower abdomen is a quick and effective way to reduce menstrual cramping, as it works to relax uterine contractions.
Applying a hot water bottle or heating pad to your lower abdomen, as well as taking a hot bath or indulging in a sauna session are all effective ways to reduce menstrual cramping.
Herbs like red raspberry leaf and ginger can be highly effective at reducing menstrual cramps. Specifically, red raspberry leaf contains a plant compound called fragarine, which works to tone and tighten pelvic muscles, lessening the overall spasms and contractions caused by prostaglandins, while ginger helps to lower inflammation and bloating, as well as reduce prostaglandins.
Speaking of herbs, there are a plethora of ancient Chinese herbs (including ginseng, skullcap, Da Zao, vitex, etc.) that have been used for centuries to help reduce menstrual cramping and period pain through their anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antiviral, anti-fungal and anticoagulant properties.
Because there are a number of herbs out there and it can be hard to know where to start as well as what brands to purchase to get the most bang for your buck, I highly recommend checking out Elix Cycle Blend, which uses high quality herbs to create a custom blend tailored to your specific hormonal balance needs for the best possible results (including major menstrual cramp relief!). I personally use and partner with this brand, and you can use my code SOFRESH15 to save 15% off your first three months.
If you’re in the midst of intense menstrual cramping and looking for quick and instant period pain relief, your best route would be to opt for the heating pads and warmth (#7), ginger or red raspberry leaf tea (#8), magnesium oil or warm epsom salt baths (#5), and allowing yourself to take it easy and rest (#6).
While these methods are both natural and effective, the more you work on balancing your hormones through lifestyle changes (like #1-#4 and #6), the less likely you are to have menstrual cramps or symptomatic periods down the road, helping you feel and look your best all month (and life!) long.
If you need more recipes, supplements and lifestyle tips to help you balance your hormones, check out my go-to guide!
This post contains affiliate links. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support!
I’m honored to support you on your journey to optimal hormone health + happiness. Thanks for being here babe.