What are menstrual cramps and why do they happen?
Menstrual cramps are the pains that very often accompany a period, or menstruation, which typically happens once every 28 days to women. The pain can range from excruciating to mildly annoying, but it is frustrating that those that suffer from it can find themselves getting distracted from things that they want or need to do.
Scientists and doctors, however, still have no idea why or how menstrual cramps occur. There have been a number of links made between menstrual cramps and adequate hydration, healthy eating and regular exercise, amongst other things, but nothing has been conclusively linked to its cause.
Some women will experience terrible cramps one month and feel nothing the next. For those who suffer from bad menstrual cramps, the most common method of coping is taking pain killers.
However, sometimes these are not strong enough deal with the agony that menstrual cramps can cause, and many people have started to look to alternative therapies and more natural remedies for menstrual cramps.
How can natural remedies help with menstrual cramps?
Taking too many painkillers – such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – can have damaging effects in the long run and can even get addictive (particularly if you are taking painkillers that are codeine or morphine based).
Besides this fact, taking painkillers does not actually cure the underlying problem, rather masks the symptoms, which is not always the best way of dealing with problems.
Instead, you should be listening to your body and helping to find a way to make it healthier and help it to work properly. Menstrual cramps are perfectly natural, of course, but they can also indicate that you are not getting enough of a certain vitamin or that you are not adequately hydrated, for instance.
Using natural remedies, on the other hand, can actually get the bottom of the issues and the pain, helping the body to strengthen itself and better defend against problems such as menstrual cramps.
The best natural remedies for menstrual cramps
Rather than just popping a pill and trying to get on with things (or, more usually, popping a pill and realizing that you are still in too much pain to go about your day normally), there are a number of ways that you can help to prevent and get through menstrual cramps without filling your body with painkillers once every month.
Many of these treatments are recommended in general – eating healthy and exercising, for instance, are great ways to keep yourself in general good health and will not just benefit your menstrual cycle – and combining them can make the results even better.
Scientists are still looking into the effect of diet on menstrual cycles and, in particular, menstrual cramps, and have found significant links between eating a relatively large amount of fatty and sugary foods as opposed to fibrous and nutritious foods.
Having a good diet, of course, ensures that your body is getting all the things it needs to be able to maintain itself, fix problems and prevent health issues.
The best way to eat yourself out of painful menstrual cramps, therefore, is to make sure that you are eating foods that are high in fiber, that have lots of vitamins and minerals in them and that are low in sugar, fat and salt.
Eating a wide range fresh fruit and vegetables every day, for instance, is a great way to provide your body with a wide range of vital nutrients that it can get from nowhere else.
Staying away from fatty, processed and fast foods, which are packed full of artificial flavorings, colorings not to mention fats, sugars and salts, is a good way to make sure that you are not taking on too many things that your body cannot process properly.
Another problem that researchers have found is that many people are actually eating too much, even if they are eating mainly the right sort of things. Therefore it is essential that you manage your portion sizes so that you are not forcing your body to digest too much at once.
Eating the right amount of the right foodstuffs that help your body maintain itself is one of the best ways to prevent diseases and to help your period go as smoothly as possible.
Drinking plenty of fluids
There is now more and more evidence than being dehydrated is one of the main causes of the worst of the menstrual cramps that women suffer. If you are often dehydrated or don’t drink enough while you are on your period, you may find that you suffer from worse menstrual cramps than your friends, for instance.
For this reason, as well as for the many other benefits of ensuring that you’re getting when you remain well hydrated all throughout the day, you should make sure to drink as much water, milk, tea (especially decaffeinated tea), fruit and vegetable juices and even low sugar squash as possible.
A good indication of whether you are adequately hydrated is the color of your urine. If it is very pale yellow or almost entirely clear, you are very well hydrated; if your urine is very dark, you need to be drinking a lot more water to feel the benefits.
Getting enough sleep and rest
Your body needs to be able to fix itself if it gets ill, maintain itself throughout the day and even prevent illnesses from developing. For all of these things, it needs to get a certain amount of rest every day.
Getting plenty of sleep, therefore, is a great way to allow your body to repair and maintain itself. This also extends to periods: the body will find it more difficult to regulate your menstrual cycle if you are not getting enough rest, which might make your periods more irregular, heavier and more painful.
Most fully grown adults need between six and eight hours of sleep each night. Less than this, and the brain and body start to struggle to keep up normal and essential maintenance on your menstrual cycle, for instance.
The brain and the body need to be able to rest and it is highly recommended that, particularly when you are on your period, you make sure you get eight solid hours of sleep each night which allows the body and brain to relax and recuperate.
Exercise is a great way to maintain the general health of your body, but it is also a great way to make your period go smoothly, without any unnecessary pains, for instance.
Although it is the last time that most women want to go running, make their way to the gym or engage in sports, it is actually one of the best things for your menstrual cycle to get moving when you are on your period.
As annoying as it can be, the exercise can help to make your period much shorter and regular exercise can help to make them shorter, easier and less painful. Besides this, exercise is a great way to keep your body as fit and healthy as possible.
A good diet and drinking plenty of water are not the only ways to get your body at its peak of performance, and by themselves they are not sufficient to make your menstrual cramps less painful or to get rid of them entirely.
Instead, you have to make sure that you are moving at least three times a week for around fifty minutes at a time, getting your heart pumping and making sure that you sweat a bit.
It does not matter how you exercise, but strengthening your muscles – particularly those in your abdomen – can help to prevent and cope menstrual cramps and with your menstrual cycle as a whole.
Meditating has had proven positive effects on both the mind and the body. Many scientists think that stress has a lot to do with the severity of menstrual cramps that women experience, and many women would agree.
A lot who keep themselves in peak physical condition, who eat and drink well, will still suffer from very painful menstrual cramps because they are under a lot of pressure. By meditating, you can eliminate this factor from your life and therefore cut out the pain from your periods.
You can start by simply sitting quietly for a few minutes a day and eventually spend at least fifteen minutes a few times a week meditation. Since there are so many meditation techniques, you will be spoiled for choice.
There is bound to be something to suit everyone, so do not worry if the first few meditation practices you find do not work for you or if they are too difficult.
Remember that everyone meditates in different ways, too, so do not feel as though you have to sit on the ground for hours at a time. If you want to go for a run and allow your stresses and worries to fall away from you while you sweat, that is perfectly acceptable and a really great way to keep fit as well as to keep happy.
Taking supplements and vitamin tablets
Some doctors will suggest that you are suffering from painful menstrual cramps because your body is not getting enough of a certain vitamin or mineral. Very often, it is said that slight iron deficiencies can cause unbearable menstrual cramps.
For this reason, it is worth talking to a doctor or nutritionist and allowing them to help you work out what you are missing from your diet. You can then introduce these things into your life with supplements and vitamin tablets.
Remember to ask for help and advice when looking for the right type of supplements for you, as many of them are needlessly expensive and will not give you the right does of the active ingredient.
It is always better to try and get enough vitamins and minerals from the food you eat, rather than supplements, but if that is not possible, try out some natural vitamin tablets.
Looking into alternative therapies
If a change to your diet and general lifestyle are not enough to make your menstrual cramps any better, then it might be time to try some alternative, natural therapies. There are a great many to choose from, and only a few of them are listed below.
If you feel as though one of these could help you, it is worth seeing your doctor and talking to them so that they can advise you on the best way to proceed.
Remember, however, that every patient is different, and what works for one may not work for another, so do not be discouraged if one does not work for you but does work for your friend.
You will find the perfect alternative treatment for you by just trying a couple of the ones listed below.
Acupuncture – this has been used in Chinese medicine for many hundreds of years and can be used for a variety of issues, including pain. If you are still not sure how to improve your menstrual cramps, it might be time to look into acupuncture.
You do not need to ingest anything or take any drugs, simply have an expert put needles in special places that are linked to your pain receptors all over your body. This treatment is not recommended for those who are afraid of needles.
Aromatherapy – once again, since nothing needs to be ingested in aromatherapy, this is a great one for those who are on other medications and who do not want to overdose on pain pills, for instance. This is a great alternative to meditation that can help you relax and unwind to help reduce the pain of your menstrual cramps that are caused by stress.
Homeopathy – not all doctors are convinced that homeopathy is a good alternative, but many patients find it very useful. Basically, it works with the placebo effect, meaning that if you do happen to feel any sort of difference in your menstrual cramps, it is because you have been convinced that the placebo will work.
This, however, is a completely legitimate alternative to pain medications and doctors have long admitted that the placebo effect is powerful enough to cure even the most potent of pains caused by things such as menstruation.
This treatment is recommended not only for menstrual cramps, but also for other chronic pain conditions that doctors and scientists have not yet found a cure or reason for.
Hypnosis – once again, not all doctors think that hypnosis is the best alternative method for dealing with things like pain, but many patients have come away from hypnosis feeling completely better.
Because hypnosis works with the mind, it can be used to help reduce those who are very stressed and anxious, but it can also help to reduce the amount of pain that you may feel during your period.
All of the treatments recommended above will need you to commit to them for a couple of sessions before you can decide whether or not they work, as their effect is cumulative.
However, do not be discouraged if one does not work for you: with a bit of determination and by sticking to a strict regime of healthy eating and exercise, you are bound to find something that works for you.
Most importantly of all, do not despair!
Menstrual cramps can be extremely painful and they can be absolutely miserable. Many people who suffer from them will find that, at one point or another, they are prevented from living their lives normally, and it is impossible to explain exactly why to other people who have never experienced menstrual cramps.
This does not, however, mean that your experiences and your pain is not very real and very difficult to cope with. There are doctors and physicians out there who will work with you to help discover the root of the problem and to try and find a way to improve the situation.
Do not give up on finding a way to get through and do not allow yourself to despair. In these situations, it is best to remain positive and to try and get on with life in as normal a way as possible.
Although this can, of course, seem impossible at times, by talking to professionals about your problems, they can help you find solutions and this can help you feel better overall.
Finally, it is important to note that, if you suffer from extremely bad menstrual cramps (if, for instance, you tend to pass out from pain if you cannot move for the pain) then you will need to see a doctor, as painful menstrual cramps can be indicative of other, more serious conditions such as endometriosis which needs to be treated in a different way from menstrual cramps.
If you suspect that you are suffering from something a little more severe than normal menstrual cramps, talk to your physician about treatment options and the best course of action.