5 herbs for menstrual cramps (+5 more natural tips)
Did you know that more than 80% of women experience menstrual cramps in their life?
You are not alone in this.
Menstrual cramps are a common issue among women. Throbbing or at times dull pain in the lower abdomen, hips, and even thighs that starts a few days before your period and can continue up to a few days after.
Since I was a junior high school student, I’ve been struggling with my period every month. So much, that oftentimes I hated that I was born as a woman because of painful cramps.
But surprisingly, this is not an issue that people talk about much.
So, you may take a painkiller and hope your period will pass soon.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to live in pain or rely on pills that have many negative side effects.
Are you aware that there are many natural remedies that can help relieve menstrual pain?
And they are backed by science!
So let’s dive into how these natural remedies can help you find relief from menstrual cramps and take control of your health and wellbeing.
***Please note, if you are taking any medications or if you are pregnant, you must check with your doctor before trying any new herbal remedy.
What causes menstrual cramps?
First of all, what exactly causes menstrual pain? And is it normal?
To answer these questions we should start by understanding what happens in our bodies during menstruation.
Each month, the inner lining of the uterus thickens and prepares itself for pregnancy. If the pregnancy doesn’t happen, the uterus sheds its lining. This shedding process is what we call menstruation or having your period.
It’s completely normal to feel some discomfort and cramping before, during, and a few days after your period. That’s due to the production of prostaglandins, which trigger muscle contractions in the uterus. In turn, these contractions cause inflammation and the pain we associate with menstrual cramps.
That’s to say, menstrual pain is a normal part of your cycle. Doctors refer to painful menstruation as primary dysmenorrhea.
However, if you experience severe menstrual cramps that keep you from performing basic daily tasks, then it may be time to see a doctor. Severe pain might be a sign of an underlying medical condition (secondary dysmenorrhea).
Why turn to natural remedies to relieve menstrual cramps?
Even though menstrual cramps might be a normal part of your cycle, that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to relieve the pain.
Some women rely on painkillers (e.g. ibuprofen, aspirin, mefenamic acid, and naproxen) or get on “the pill” as a solution. While these methods might help to numb the pain, they also come with many side effects.
Harvard Health Publishing explains how taking over-the-counter drugs over a long period of time can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, kidney and liver damage, and several gastrointestinal problems. Whereas birth control pills are synthetic hormones that can negatively impact your gut health and metabolism. Being on the pill is a personal choice. However, it’s good to know there are other options for treating period cramps. And if you’re thinking of getting off the pill, you should first consult with your doctor so you can do it safely.
That’s to say, in the long run, managing your cramps by “popping a pill” can do more harm than good.
So what can you do instead?
The good news is that you can turn to natural remedies to find relief from menstrual cramps.
Several herbs contain natural anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate menstrual cramps. These herbal remedies have been used for centuries and it’s amazing to see how nowadays their medicinal values are being studied and supported by research.
5 Herbs to Relieve Menstrual Cramps
Here are 5 herbs that can help you relieve menstrual cramps in a natural, effective, and safe way. The best part: you most likely already have them in your kitchen cabinet or fridge.
1. Ginger for menstrual cramps
Ginger contains anti-inflammatory compounds that counteract the inflammation caused by the rising level of prostaglandins. Remember that? The hormone produced by our bodies before menstruation triggers period pain.
There are several studies that support the effectiveness of ginger for relieving menstrual cramps.
One clinical study found that ginger is as effective as ibuprofen in relieving menstrual pain. Another study found that taking 500 mg capsules of ginger root powder 3 times a day for 5 days had a significant effect on relieving both the intensity and duration of pain. Similar results were shown by a later study published in the National Library of Medicine: taking 750-2000 mg ginger powder during the first 3-4 days of the menstrual cycle was shown to be effective in alleviating menstrual cramps.
How to use ginger for menstrual pain?
One easy way of introducing ginger to your system is to make yourself a warm cup of ginger tea. You can either buy tea bags or opt for brewing the tea yourself using fresh ginger root. Bonus points if you add some honey to your tea. Honey is also known for its anti-inflammatory benefits.
Ginger root is also eaten in its raw form. But if you’re not a fan of it, you may also choose to opt for some ginger capsules in the form of supplements.
2. Lavender for menstrual cramps
This one is a personal favorite. Besides its great smell, lavender has been proven to have a calming effect on the nervous system.
A 2016 study found that smelling lavender on the first 3 days of the menstrual cycle may be effective in reducing the severity of period cramps. Another experimental study found that lavender oil massage proved to be effective in reducing cramps.
How to use lavender for menstrual pain?
You can make yourself cozy with a cup of lavender tea – either by purchasing lavender tea bags or making your own.
Alternatively, you may use lavender essential oils. Try sprinkling a few drops of lavender essential oil into a cloth and inhaling it. You may also add the oil to an aromatherapy vaporizer/diffuser or to your bath. If you choose to massage lavender oil into your skin, keep in mind to first mix it with a carrier oil such as jojoba.
3. Cinnamon for menstrual cramps
Research on the effects of cinnamon on primary dysmenorrhea has shown that cinnamon is a safe and effective treatment for menstrual cramps. What’s more, cinnamon also helps with other symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding, nausea, and mood swings.
In addition, cinnamon is a great source of magnesium, which is a natural relaxant and has proven to be effective in preventing dysmenorrhea.
How can we use cinnamon for menstrual pain?
Similar to the other herbs, you can also enjoy cinnamon in the form of a warm cup of herbal tea. Here’s an easy-to-follow cinnamon tea recipe.
Another popular combination is cinnamon and honey, a power duo filled with antioxidants. You can mix cinnamon powder and honey in a warm glass of water or milk.
4. Fennel for menstrual cramps
Here we are talking about the herb fennel, not the vegetable.
Clinical trials found that taking 30 mg fennel capsules every 4 hours, 3 days before the start of the menstrual cycle till the 5th day was effective in providing pain relief in women with primary dysmenorrhea. Another study found that fennel was as effective in relieving menstrual cramps as medical therapy like mefenamic acid, albeit without the side effects.
How to use fennel for menstrual pain?
You can enjoy the benefits of this herb in the form of a warm cup of tea made from fennel seeds. Alternatively, you can also take fennel orally in the form of supplements.
5. Dill for menstrual cramps
Clinical studies show that dill is as effective in reducing the pain intensity in women with primary dysmenorrhea as over-the-counter pain relievers. In the mentioned study, the participant took 1000 mg of dill powder 2 times a day for 5 days, starting 2 days before the beginning of the menstrual cycle.
How to use dill for menstrual pain?
This herb has a sweet flavor so it makes for a tasty tea. You may find dill tea bags at the supermarket or make it yourself using dill seeds. Dill seeds can also be roasted, fried, or cooked in water.
+5 natural ways to relieve cramps other than herbs
Besides incorporating herbs in your diet, here are 5 other tips on how you can reduce menstrual cramps in a natural way.
1. Avoid coffee and alcohol
Ah, this one may not sound like that much fun. But, it can have a great impact on the level of pain you experience during your period. There are several studies that support this claim.
A 2010 study as well as a 2014 study both show that coffee worsens your menstrual symptoms and is associated with more intense pain. Another study published in the Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences found that caffeine intake is considered a risk factor for menstrual abnormalities.
Similarly, alcohol is also associated with more severe menstrual symptoms.
- You do not need to give up coffee and alcohol forever. Give it a try to reduce your coffee and alcohol consumption on the days leading to your period and avoid them during the cycle.
- Herbal teas can be a good replacement for your daily coffee during those days. Find your favorite herbal tea to enjoy – I like lavender tea!
- Drink lots of water. Research shows that hydration is important to reduce menstrual pain and menstrual duration.
2. Manage stress
Stress is the root cause of many health problems and more intense period pain is one of them. I usually experience more pain when my stress level is higher throughout the month. Studies also say that stress and anxiety worsen menstrual pain.
But what can you do to manage stress?
Everyday life is filled with many stressors. It’s a part of life. And at times we are not even aware we are experiencing stress.
There are small habits you can form that will help you manage stress on a daily basis, not only when you are on your period. Check out the tips below!
- Try to schedule fewer tasks during your period. Experiencing PMS symptoms (premenstrual syndrome symptoms) during that time of the month is normal. Is okay to be emotional. Your body is going through fluctuating hormone levels. So it’s not uncommon to find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Don’t let your to-do list add to that. See if you can work on easier work tasks or fewer chores at home. No laundry, cleaning the floor, washing some dishes – is fine! Be gentle with yourself and your expectations of what you have to do.
- Give meditation a try. When you’re in pain, it’s easy to focus too much on it. Meditation can help you shift your focus and how you relate to your pain. Even 5 minutes of meditation in the morning can help you set the tone for the rest of the day. Take a deep breath and check out our beginner’s guide to meditation to help you get started.
- Incorporate holistic self-care on a daily level to manage stress throughout the month. We have a guide for that as well!
3. Pay attention to what you eat
Happy gut, happy life (and happier periods).
While devouring a bag of chips or your favorite ice cream in front of the tv during your period may seem comforting, research shows that nutrition plays a key role in the severity of menstrual cramps.
So you need to be mindful of what you eat, especially during your period.
That doesn’t mean you have to eat boring food. You can enjoy a delicious diet, just look at the list below (chocolate is included!).
Foods that help with menstrual cramps
- Omega-3 rich food: Think of seafood and fish, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, and yogurt. Yummy right? These foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and anti-inflammatory nutrients. A 2012 study found that Omega-3 fatty acids were effective in reducing the severity of period pain.
- Fruits and vegetables: While typical staples of a nutritious diet, research has shown that a vegetarian diet is helpful in reducing menstrual cramps.
- Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate is full of magnesium. And magnesium is found to be effective in preventing menstrual cramps. Plus dark chocolate is delicious, and it may even count as comfort food!
- Seed cycling: Seed cycling is becoming increasingly popular as a hormone balancing practice. This naturopathic remedy involves eating specific seeds during the two main phases of the menstrual cycle. The first phase, also known as the follicular phase, refers to the first 14 days of your menstrual cycle, from the first day of your period until ovulation. During this phase, it’s advised you consume 1 tablespoon daily of pumpkin seed butter and ground flax. Whereas during the second phase of your cycle, the luteal phase (day 15-28), it’s advised to consume 1 tablespoon daily of sunflower seed butter and sesame seed butter. You can also add these seed butters to smoothies, steel-cut oats, or have the butter spread over a rice cake – be creative! Here are some delicious seed cycling mixes.
Food to avoid on your period
These foods will make your menstrual cramps worse, so it’s best to avoid them during your period.
- Processed food: Processed food, such as french fries, cereals, and canned food, is high in trans fats. These types of fats (among many other negative side effects) increase inflammation in the body, which can increase the severity of your menstrual cramps. You should instead turn to whole foods.
- Sugary foods: Sugary foods will increase your insulin level and end up in a sugar rush, which will wreak havoc on your hormones. On top of that, sugar tends to increase inflammation, which can worsen your cramps. If you’re craving something sweet, opt for natural sugars such as bananas and figs.
- Oily foods: Fatty foods increase the level of the prostaglandins hormone in your body, making your menstrual cramps worse. So it’s best to avoid foods like fatty meats, dairy food, and pastries.
- Carbs: Our bodies tend to crave high-carb foods during our period due to hormonal changes. It’s science! But that doesn’t mean that a high-carb diet is good for your menstrual cramps. While carbs increase your serotonin and make you feel momentarily better, later you will feel even more sluggish. That’s not to say you should completely remove carbs from your diet. Instead, opt for healthier alternatives or limit your portion. Here’s a great tool to help you understand how much carbs you should eat.
Try to not think as if you are restricting your diet during your period. Instead, make a list of foods you are looking forward to when you are on your period. Maybe take the time to explore some new recipes containing food that help relieve menstrual cramps if you enjoy cooking. It’s all about a small mindset shift.
4. Try some yoga and stretch
Following your normal workout routine might be hard during your menstrual cycle. I know it is for me.
But did you know that exercise can actually help with your period pain?
Research says so. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone, and endogenous opiate peptides, the pain regulating hormone. Exercise also suppresses the release of pain-causing prostaglandins.
So while you might feel like skipping your normal workout routine, you should try some gentle movements like yoga and stretches. These types of exercises are specifically helpful at relieving cramps.
- Some yoga poses are better than others for when you are on your period, such as hip yoga. You can also try this gentle yoga session created specifically to help reduce cramps.
- And if you feel yourself become stiff, give these shoulder and neck stretches a try.
5. Keep your body warm!
Now, this is one of the MOST important and effective tips. Also referred to as heat therapy, heat has been proven to significantly reduce period pain, being as effective as painkillers.
How does that work?
Heat therapy serves to relax your uterus muscles, stimulate blood flow and the amount of oxygen in the area, which dilutes the cramp-causing prostaglandins hormone.
- Use a Japanese heating pad and stick it on your belly and back – I like this because I can go outside and no one can see it, and it lasts 12 hours. I always put it on my belly and back and I can’t get through my menstrual cramps without this! An electronic head pad may be cheaper but the con is you can’t take it outside.
- Take a warm foot bath whenever you can. Our feet play a key role in regulating our body temperature. A 2021 study found that a 20-minute warm foot bath significantly relieves period cramps. So it’s a good idea to have a foot bath basin!
- Take a bath instead of showering. A warm bath can ease your cramps.
- If you can, going to get a massage is also a good idea. Usually, reflexology helps my menstrual cramps a lot.
Many women are affected by menstrual cramps. But you don’t have to dread that time of the month. There are many natural things you can do to relieve your period pain, from incorporating herbs in your diet to making some lifestyle changes. You don’t need to feel overwhelmed by all the tips or try to implement them all simultaneously. Maybe start by picking one or two herbs and lifestyle changes and see if you want to add some supplements or new habits once you feel comfortable.
Listen to your body to see what works for you.
While it may seem difficult to focus on something else besides the pain, it’s important that you find ways to divert your attention to other things, things that you enjoy. For instance, you can incorporate some breathing work into your day, invite your friends over, immerse yourself in a hobby, or go somewhere you’ve never been before. Menstrual cramps can be mentally and physically draining, so planning something fun can bring you some joy 🙂
Also, if you’re interested in looking into other natural solutions for your menstrual cramps, you can also work with a qualified naturopath or integrative medicine doctor to get continuous support. Working with an integrative medicine doctor can be a bit expensive if it’s not covered by your benefits, so I’d suggest you look for a student naturopathy doctor. I noticed they charge much less. You can look for a qualified naturopath in the United States on this website; for naturopaths in Canada, you can refer to this site.
And keep in mind that if your menstrual cramps are too strong, to the point that you cannot perform basic daily tasks, then you should go see a doctor. Your pain may be pointing to an underlying condition such as uterine fibroids or other uterine issues.