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How to relieve horrible period cramps — no pills required

Sarah grew up in Monterey, CA and now lives in Los Angeles. When she's not writing, you can find her enjoying a good book, fine wine, sunflowers and long walks on the beach.

You might be surprised by what actually helps get rid of cramps

For most of us, being on our period is no joke — and we've all gone to great lengths to figure out how to relieve cramps. The pain is very real, and can even cause us to miss out on school or work. While it seems like a hopeless situation that we're doomed to live with, there are actually some healthy ways to get rid of heinous cramps that don't include popping a pill.

More: How I cured my menstrual cramps using weed — without getting high

Next time you're in agony give these a try.

1. Eat right

Yes, when you're PMSing hardcore, all you want to do is reach for potato chips and sweets, but that will only makes things worse.

Eating the right foods, such as those heavy in fiber, can make all the difference. The Mayo Clinic reports that a number of studies have indicated that vitamin E (found in sunflower seeds, almonds and spinach), omega-3 fatty acids (load up on salmon), vitamin B1/thiamine (try green peas, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts), vitamin B6 and magnesium supplements may help to significantly reduce cramps.

If you're really jonesin' for chocolate, just make sure it's over 70 percent cocoa. Studies have shown that dark chocolate can actually help relax muscles.

And don't just start eating right when your period starts. If you know you're due for that time of the month, get ahead of the game and get feel-good nutrients into your body beforehand.

2. Heating pads

According to the Mayo Clinic, heat can be just as effective as popping over-the-counter painkillers when it comes to nipping cramps in the bud. Soak in the tub or place a hot water bottle on your lower abdomen to ease pain.

Most drugstores carry heating pads that are easily placed on the skin and fit under clothes — which are a lifesaver when you just can't miss work no matter how bad your cramps are. ThermaCare has heat wraps specially designed for menstrual cramps, and they retail for around $6 for a pack of three.

Try laying on the floor on your back with your legs up on a wall perpendicular to your body while you have the heating pad on. Trust me, it works.

3. Say buh-bye to caffeine

Coffee might be lifeblood on a normal day, but caffeine can actually enhance your cramps. Not only that, caffeine ups tension and anxiety, which is already higher than normal while you are on your period. Not good.

4. Get movin'

It's probably the last thing you want to do when you are in excruciating pain, but exercise releases beta-endorphins — chemicals in the brain that boost mood, help relieve pain and relax muscles. They're pretty much the body's natural painkillers according to Kotex.

And we're not talking about running a marathon, here. A brisk walk, a bike ride or some light yoga are all helpful in releasing endorphins.

5. Try essential oils

Not only do essential oils smell amazing, but they're also wicked painkillers too.

A triple-blind study published in the Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine found that ingesting thyme oil worked better for reducing cramps than ibuprofen. The researchers explained that thyme was so effective because of its analgesic and antispasmodic effects. As an added bonus, it also has fewer side effects than traditional over-the-counter painkillers.

Want to give it a try? The study used 25 drops of essential thyme oil diluted to only 2 percent, meaning it was diluted with another oil. It also should be noted that just because something is natural doesn't mean that there are no side effects. As always, be careful and ask your doctor if you feel off.

Essential oils can also be applied topically to help bring relief, says holistic health coach Lauren Birgitta.

"My favorite is doTERRA's Serenity scent blended from lavender, sweet marjoram, Roman chamomile, ylang-ylang, Hawaiian sandalwood and vanilla bean," Birgitta said. She suggests applying the oil with a spoon of coconut oil across the belly or lower back.

More: Miracle device zaps period cramps away — literally

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

You might be surprised by what actually helps get rid of cramps
Image: Terese Condella/Sheknows

Originally published August 2011. Updated January 2017.

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