Monday, November 17, 2008

Painful Periods: How to Ease Menstrual Cramps

It's that time of the month and for many women this is a painful time. First there is PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) which can involve mood swings, back aches, lethargy, bloating, pimples,irritability,breast tenderness,headaches. And then here come the painful cramps.
Menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea, are sharp pains that occur in a women's lower abdomen when her menstrual period starts. These pains can range from mild to very severe and can last for up to three days.
Prostaglandins, which are hormone-like chemicals made in our bodies from fatty acids, are one of the causes for menstrual cramps-they cause uterine muscles to contract. Therefore, women who have higher levels of prostaglandins may have more contractions which usually means more pains. As a matter of fact, artificial prostaglandins are used to induce labor. How's that for pain!
Now, since we know what menstrual cramps are (as if most women did not already know), and how they are caused, lets find out how to make them less painful. Here are some tips that could make that time of the month easier.

Try taking over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). These pain medicines help prohibit prostaglandins which means less contractions and less pain. They work best when taken just before on at the start of a period. Also, NSAIDs can help lighten up blood flow. However, NSAIDs can be harsh on the stomach and kidneys (especially if you have history of kidney problems) so you can also so try some natural medicines such as Menstrual Magic softgels, which is an herbal supplement made with a blend of essential oils.

I tried Menstrual Magic (it did help) because I wanted to use more natural approaches to help ease pain. Plus, I popped so many Advil, Motrin, and Aleve in my twenties that I am sure my body might have needed a break from them.
Along with Menstrual Magic, there are plenty of other herbal natural supplements on the market that are for pain relief. I find many of these products at
I must also mention birth control pills which may level out hormone levels and regulate periods, and relieve some pain in women. I, however, did not experience less pain when on the pill. As a matter of fact I felt worse, I was an emotional wreck, gained weight, and I broke out badly. I guess I maybe needed a different dosage, but after such a bad experience, I did not want to try again.

Use Heat
Placing heating pads or hot water bottles on you abdomen may help improve blood flow, relax muscles, and ease pain. I use pepper patches or pain patches instead. These patches use hot pepper extract (capsaicin) to release pain relieving heat to achy muscles and I have found that these help ease cramps and back pain. Some patches are sold as one large sheet (I cut these into smaller pieces) and other are pre-cut and are about the size of a larger bandage. I apply them to my abdomen a day or two before I expect my period to start.
Some pepper patches, such as Salonpas, can be found in local drugstores (Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid) while others mostly in Asian marketplaces (Chinatown for example). They are also available at and

Exercise that gets your heart pumping may help relieve cramps. The best relief comes from strenuous exercises such as aerobics, brisk walking,walking,etc. When you do these types of exercises endorphins are released and they help counteract prostaglandins. Plus exercise helps to relieve stress and tension in muscles. I have also found that strengthening my abdominals have lessened my menstrual pain.

Drink Tea
Drinking herbal tea such as peppermint,chamomile,lavender, raspberry leaf, chaste berry, helps to relax muscles and soothe tension. Chamomile contains a compound called glycine which helps relieve muscle spasms and lavender, peppermint have some anti-inflammatory properties.

Get Vitamin and Minerals
Some vitamin/mineral supplements such as calcium, vitamin B6, magnesium,and iron have been shown to help reduce menstrual pain. It is best to get these vitamins and minerals from food sources-especially dark leafy green such as spinach and kale. However, there are some decent supplements that come in pill form such as the vitamins from Super Nutrition. Their products are vegetarian, food-based, and include organic herbs.

Eat Well
Eating a low-fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables will help ease pain. High fat diets ususally contain a lot of saturated trans- fats (butter,animal fats) which may metabolize into pro-inflammatory prostaglandins while good fats( oil oil,flaxseed oil, omega-3) metabolize into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins which may result in less pain.

Go See Your Doctor
I you suffer severe menstrual pain you should see a physician. Your pain may be a result of other problems such as: fibroids, cysts,endometriosis, infections,abnormal pregnancies, and IUDs.

The Women's Blend - 180 - Tablet
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Menstrual Magic Advanced Formula (15 gcap)
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Salonpas-Hot Capsicum Patch 5.12in X 7.09in - box of 50
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Yogi Tea Healing Formula, Woman's Moon Cycle, Tea Bags, 16-Count Boxes (Pack of 6)
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Yogi Tea Organic Chamomile, Tea Bags, 16-Count Boxes (Pack of 6)
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Yogi Tea Organic Peppermint Herbal Tea, Tea Bags, 16-Count Boxes (Pack of 6)
Price: $14.59List Price: $20.42