Maybe some of us are like those models in the tampon ads — romping through the park, taking charge in the boardroom or laughing over a salad (as one does) — completely unbothered by period pain or the agonies of the PMS that comes before it. The rest of us, however, meet our monthly cycle with an ugly array of cramps, sore and swollen breasts and overall body achiness — and, of course, the foul mood accompanying this pain.
We know that we can make an appointment with our OB-GYN or at a local clinic and get some measure of relief in the form of hormonal birth control or pain medicines; however, some of us don’t necessarily want to take the inevitable painkillers that are prescribed. There’s good news: Trained medical professionals can offer us all-natural remedies that soothe our pain.
Magical magnesium & other dietary strategies
Dr. Prudence Hall, a gynecological surgeon and practitioner who founded The Hall Center, tells SheKnows that menstruators who experience the most severe cramps have low levels of magnesium. She recommends that people who are prone to cramps take a nightly magnesium supplement. Magnesium helps to preserve good muscle tone (and the uterus is, essentially, one large muscle) and nerve function. We can also add magnesium to our diets by eating leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and avocados, Hall notes.
If we’re the bathing beauty types, then we can add Epsom salts to a warm bath — the heat of the bathwater will relax tense muscles, and the Epsom salts contain magnesium according to Hall. She also advocates upping our omega-3 intakes since omega-3s — whether consumed as a supplement, or in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, oysters, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts — are powerful anti-inflammatories, which can help cramps and other menstrual-related swelling.
Adding these supplements to our diets and our daily routines can ease our period pain. But cramp relief can be fun, even exciting — Hall recommends getting amorous, with a partner or with ourselves, as an all-natural painkiller.
“Although it may sound counterintuitive, having sex — and orgasms — will definitely help relieve pain due to the hormones released into the body,” she says.
She also suggests that people with period pain talk to their doctors about prescribing oxytocin — a natural hormone that has the effect of decreasing menstrual cramps and general body aches while also producing an overall feeling of well-being. What’s not to like about that?
Cannabis can help
Oxytocin isn’t the only feel-good, or at least feel less-bad, chemical we can use. Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician and cannabis therapeutics specialist who has practiced with the Veterans Administration, tells SheKnows, “Cannabis is a powerful pain reliever based on the effects of THC and other cannabinoids on both peripheral (at the uterus) and central (brain) mechanisms.”
Tishler explains that the smooth muscle found in the uterus and fallopian tubes have CB1 receptors that are triggered by THC and cause relaxation. “Similarly, THC triggers CB1 receptors in the spinal cord and thalamus that decrease pain signals,” he adds. Not only that, but according to Tishler, the anti-inflammatory properties of “other lesser known cannabinoids like CBD and THC-A” may help with the pain and bloating. And if that weren’t enough, he says that THC is also helpful for the mood dysphoria (aka depression and irritability) associated with PMS.
But before we dial up that guy we knew back in college (or see if maybe those cool girls down the hall have the hook-up), we should know that, as Tishler puts it, “most recreational users use way more than is good and helpful for medical purposes… the THC does the heavy lifting.”
He stresses that people should consult with their doctors and get a referral to a trained cannabis specialist. Though we may think of medical marijuana dispensaries as one-stop shops, Tishler counsels us that, “dispensaries are sales shops and should never be trusted to give medical advice.”
For some people, these natural treatments for period pain and PMS can be very helpful — and, even, well, fun (at least, if we’re doin’ it right). However, if we’re experiencing severe, debilitating period cramps or unmanageably heavy period flows, we should still contact a trained and trusted medical professional.