If you or your loved ones have ever suffered from period pain—what doctors refer to as 'dysmenorrhea'—you know it's more than just cramps in your lower abdomen.
Periods often arrive with low back pain, leg pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and extreme fatigue. Small wonder that it's a common reason why women miss days at school or work.
When period pain has no obvious cause, at least according to conventional medicine, it's classified as 'primary,' while pain caused by an actual condition—like endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease—is known as 'secondary.'
Increasingly, doctors schooled in functional medicine believe that these pains are caused by certain nutritional deficiencies, notably of B vitamins, magnesium and essential fatty acids.
Addressing the root cause of period pain is the best way to treat it, but if you've ruled out secondary causes, try the following five remedies that have been found to ease or even eliminate pain.
1) Try acupuncture
This ancient Chinese technique appears to be a safe and effective treatment for period pain.1 According to one scientific review, electroacupuncture—when a small electrical charge is applied to acupuncture needles—can have an immediate painkilling effect. And when used for at least three cycles, it's been shown to be even better than drug treatment.2
2) Take magnesium
Mounting evidence shows that the mineral magnesium can reduce sensitivity to pain,3 and it's one of the most promising dietary supplements for period problems.4 In one study, 21 out of 25 women treated with magnesium for six months saw a reduction in their symptoms.5
Suggested dosage: 360 mg/day
3) Make like a cobra
Yoga—specifically the cobra, cat and fish poses—has been found to significantly reduce both the intensity and duration of pain in a controlled trial of women with period pain.6 The cobra pose is when you lie on your front with your hands under your shoulders and gently bend backward; the cat pose is when you round your spine toward the ceiling while kneeling on all fours; and the fish pose is when you lie on your back and arch your spine. Try practicing the poses in the second half of your cycle.
4) Opt for aromatherapy
Aromatherapy—the use of essential oils from plants to improve physical or psychological wellbeing—can be a useful DIY therapy for period pain. In fact, one study found that aromatherapy massage with essential oils of lavender (Lavandula officinalis), clary sage (Salvia sclarea) and rose (Rosa centifolia) effectively reduced the severity of menstrual cramps compared to both no treatment and massage without essential oils.7 Try adding two drops of lavender, one drop of clary sage and one drop of rose essential oils to a teaspoon (5 mL) of almond oil and massaging the mixture over your abdomen when the cramps occur.
5) Get your Bs
B vitamins appear to be beneficial for period pain. In one study of over 500 12- to 21-year-olds with moderate to severe period complaints, 87 percent were completely cured after three months of treatment with vitamin B1 (thiamine). Just 5 percent saw no effect at all, while 8 percent saw their pain reduced.8 Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) may also be useful.9
Suggested dosage: 100 mg/day vitamin B1 and 50-100 mg/day B6 as part of a B-complex vitamin