13 Easy Antidotes
"A whole lot of women are still needlessly suffering from menstrual cramps," says Penny Wise Budoff, M.D., director of the Women's Medical Center in Bethpage, New York.
Menstrual cramps—or dysmenorrhea in medical jargon—are a chemical problem, Dr. Budoff explains. Each month, the lining of a woman's uterus produces chemicals calls prostaglandins, which help the uterine muscles contract and expel tissue and fluids during menstruation. High levels of prostaglandins cause uterine muscle contractions, or cramps.
Not every woman suffers from cramps, but if you do, these self-help remedies might provide some relief.
Get into balance. "Too many women tend to skip means and consume excessive amounts of sweets and salty foods just at a time when they should be so careful in their dietary choices," says Dr. Budoff. While a healthier diet won't cure cramps, it can do wonders for improving your overall sense of well-being, she says, Cut out salty and sweet junk foods, which can make you feel bloated and sluggish. Instead, eat more vegetables, fruit, chicken, and fish, and try to space them out in small meals throughout the day rather than having three large meals.
Take your vitamins. Many of her patients report fewer problems with cramps when they're getting a healthy daily dose of vitamins and minerals, says Dr. Budoff. Take a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement, preferably one that contains calcium and one that comes in small doses that you can take a couple of times a day after meals, she advises.
Mind your minerals. The minerals calcium, potassium, and magnesium can also play a part in relief, says Susan Lark, M.D., director of the PMS Self-Help Center in Los Altos, California. She says she has found that women taking calcium suffer less pain from cramps that those who do not. Magnesium is important, she notes, because it helps your body absorb calcium more efficiently. She suggests increasing calcium and magnesium intake before and during your period.
Cut out caffeine. The caffeine in coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate can contribute to menstrual discomfort by making you nervous, says Dr. Budoff. Go caffeine-free. The oils in coffee also may irritate your intestines.
Abstain from alcohol. If you tend to retain water during your period, alcohol will only add to your problems, says Dr. Lark. Don't drink, she advises. Or if you must, limit yourself to a glass or two of light wine.
Don't do diuretics. Many women think diuretics are great for reducing menstrual bloating, but Dr. Lark advises against them. Diuretics have the ability to take important minerals from the body along with the water. Instead, she advises, reduce your intake of water-retentive substances like salt and alcohol.
Warm up. Warmth will increase your blood flow and relax your muscles—especially important in your cramped and congested pelvic area, says Dr. Budoff. Drink lots of hot herbal tea or hot lemonade. Also, put a heating pad ofr hot-water bottle on your abdomen for a few minutes at a time.
Take a mineral bath. Create your own relaxing "health spa" bath to relax your muscles and relieve cramps, suggests Dr. Lark. Add 1 cup of sea salt and 1 cup of baking soda to a warm bath. Soak for 20 minutes.
Take a brisk walk. Walk or engage in some form of moderate exercise at all times, but especially before your period. You'll feel better when it arrives, says Dr. Budoff.
Do a yoga stretch. Yoga stretches during your period can also help, says Dr. Lark. Here's one example. Kneel on the floor and sit on your heels. Bring your forehead to the floor and place your arms along the floor against your body. Close your eyes. Hold the position for as long as it is comfortable.
Make love. Having sex with orgasm is great for relieving cramps, says Dr. Lark. The vigorous muscle action moves blood and other fluids away from congested organs, relieving pain.
Take a pill. Aspirin and acetaminophen are fine for relieving cramps. Even more effective, however, are over-the-counter medications like Advil, Haltran, Medipren, and Nuprin, says Dr. Budoff. These contain a chemical called ibuprofen, which has the ability to inhibit the actions of prostaglandins. Take one of these medications—along with some milk or food to avoid stomach irritation—when your cramps start and continue taking them until the cramps go away.
PANEL OF ADVISERS
Penny Wise Budoff, M.D., is director of the Women's Medical Center in Bethpage, New York, and author of No More Menstrual Cramps and Other Good News, No More Hot Flashes and Other Good News, and other related books.
Susan Lark, M.D., is director of the PMS Self-Help Center in Los Altos, California, and author of Dr. Susan Lark's Premenstrual Syndrome Self-Help Book.
Alexis Phillips is a medical massage instructor and supervisor of the Peter Ling Clinic of the Swedish Institute in New York City.