Menstrual Cramps and How to Avoid Them
Uwe Porters - Midwife & Menstrual Cycle Expert
Menstrual cramps are one of the most common period-related complaints. While everyone will have a different experience, more than 65%* of women suffer from abdominal cramps either just before or during their period.
Sometimes, they are completely predictable and nothing more than a mere annoyance. Other times, they can be so severe that they interfere with your life.
You might be surprised to learn that they aren’t actually unavoidable. Most people believe that period cramps are something you just have to live with but that’s simply not true. You can of course take the edge off with a heating pad or a pain medication but treating the cause - through lifestyle changes and the right supplements for menstrual health - is key to reducing the pain.
What Do Menstrual Cramps Feel Like?
If you know the answer to this already, just skip on to the next section. 😬
Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones that have never experienced period cramps, or maybe you’re not sure if what you’re feeling is cramping. Everyone is different, so you’ll experience symptoms in different ways, but typically, period cramps start in the lower belly one to two days before you start bleeding. The discomfort will peak after 24 hours, and it could last two or three more days.
For some unlucky women, cramping can be so bad it can cause nausea, upset stomach, dizziness and pain in the lower back and thighs.
What Causes Menstrual Cramps?
Cramps are something that most of us just expect as part of our menstrual cycle, but we don’t really stop and think about what actually causes period cramps. Are they just a necessary part of our cycle? Or could they be a sign of something else?
Scientists think that cramps are caused by prostaglandins, a substance that your uterus makes that causes it to contract. The cramping feeling is your uterus contracting.
If prostaglandin levels are higher, the more pain you will feel from cramping. This is different for everyone but cramps often get less painful as you get older and after childbirth.
There are a few other conditions like endometriosis, uterine fibroids and pelvic inflammatory disease that cause cramps and treating them will help alleviate the pain.
Why Not Just Pop Some Pills?
Yes, drugs can help alleviate cramps, but they often have side effects or long term effects and at the end of the day, they do not treat the root cause. Also, painkillers like ibuprofen, can actually make PMS symptoms worse over time by suppressing ovulation and resulting in lower progesterone!
If your cramps are severe, you may have already visited your doctor for help. Hormonal birth control is a popular recommendation but what many doctor’s don’t say (or don’t know!) is that it can come with some serious issues because all it does is mask symptoms and suppress naturally occuring hormones. If you’re really suffering, this might not sound like a bad compromise, but long-term hormonal imbalances can impact your ability to get pregnant and it can cause hair loss, weight gain and mood disorders.
Instead, we recommend that you skip the pain meds and pills. Try some of these things to help alleviate the pain from period cramps.
How To Reduce Menstrual Cramps
Movement and physical activity can help your body in so many ways but did you know that some yoga poses can also help stop the pain you feel from period cramps? You don’t need to be a pro yogi either. The poses that can help are easy for even the most novice yoga enthusiast. Try some of these poses:
Hold each for as long as it feels good. There’s tons of other poses to try - just Google yoga for period cramps and see what pops up. Try a few and see what works for you.
Dark Chocolate 🍫
Chocolate is magical. You already knew this, of course but did you know that dark chocolate (with a minimum of 70% cacao) can actually help reduce period cramps? This is because dark chocolate is high in magnesium and magnesium helps relax muscles and may stop the production of compounds that signal cramps. So head to the shop and get yourself a bar of the Guud stuff, guilt-free!
Skeptical on this one? Don’t be. When you orgasm, you release a burst of endorphins including serotonin and dopamine, also known as the “feel-good” hormones. These hormones act as a natural painkiller and boost your pain tolerance. You can actually alleviate pain with your own natural drugs!
Orgasms also increase blood flow to your uterus and this can help relieve period cramps. It can even help get rid of stress, enhance relaxation and help you sleep better. Sign me up, please!
And it’s not just sex. Masturbation will produce the same effect as long as you have an orgasm.
Scientists still don’t fully understand every role that endorphins play in our body, but we do know that they’re vital in reducing pain and promoting pleasure.
Want to know more on this topic? Check out our blog post on how orgasms can relieve period pain.
Healthy Fats 🐟
Adding some healthy fats into your diet is also proven to help alleviate period cramps. Oily fish like salmon, mackerel and anchovies are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats have an anti-inflammatory effect which can help reduce period pain (and prevent mood swings!). Not a fish fan? You can get omega-3s from nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, or a high-quality supplement. Choose for omega-3 made from algae oil (and no fish oil).
Are your cramps impacting your life? Feel like yoga and chocolate won’t cut it? Talk to us. We can help you pick a supplement that can help.
*From Guud Ivox research May 2022