Home remedy for menstrual cramps is often the rule as per the reports of surveys and even the experiences of many women!
Such therapy, though administered at home, carries the same limitations and risks as any other medical therapy. Having the right info to begin with is therefore of utmost importance to gain maximum benefit and minimize risks. This article seeks to provide women with such info covering the different home options and how to apply them correctly.
Home self-care means treatment to achieve menstrual cramp relief that could be administered at home without the need of a
physician. I have found that many women really appreciate this and it is the usual first option by default both for newbies and those with longstanding pain.
Of course I would not counsel any woman to seek medical care every month for cramps. Indeed it is not recommended especially for primary dysmenorrhea.Home remedy for menstrual cramps will be the mainstay of therapy in such cases.
Get these facts straight about home therapy
There are several options now available which could also be used as home remedy for menstrual cramps. These are considered below with considerations given to the medical evidence of effectiveness and their application.
Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDS)
These are usually the firstline home remedy for menstrual cramps when they are tolerated. They block the effects of prostaglandins which are the main chemicals involved in causing cramps.
- Many women are making the mistake of ignoring these in search of “any other treatment” and wholly miss the great therapeutic benefits which these drugs could offer. Improper administration leads to reduced effectiveness in some women which cause them to loose theirconfidence in NSAIDS.
- Preparations available without prescription by physician(OTC drugs) include ibuprofen( Advil®),naproxen( Aleve®) and ketoprofen(Orudis®); mefenamic acid, indomthacin and diclofenac are preparations requiring a prescription in countries like the United States.
- If there is little effect with one type, try another type because they are not the same in every respect. One type may provide menstrual cramp relief while the other will not for the same woman.
- They are best taken a day or two before the onset of menses. I usually counsel women to take throughout the menstrual flow or through the usual painful days.
- The problem with these medications is their side effect profile including nausea, diarrhea, peptic ulcer and abdominal discomfort. This does not mean all women have these symptoms. Each occurs in some women only. Taking the drugs during meals may reduce these effects. If you suffer from peptic ulcer or kidney disease, it is best to avoid them or discuss with your doctor if they really have to be taken. Alternative simple pain killers include acetaminophen(tylenol) or tramadol.
- The drug dosages of two common non-prescription NSAIDS are as follows: Ibuprofen(Motrin®, Advil®) 400 to800mg initial dose followed by 400 to 800mg every 6 to 8 hours; Naproxen(Aleve®) 440mg initial dose followed by 220 to 440 mg every 12 hours.Note that the initial dose is usually a high dose for maximum initial menstrual cramp relief.
There is some medical evidence for the effect of some nutritional supplements that make them a good home remedy for menstrual cramps, though most of these studies were small scale clinical studies. At least there is some evidence anyway for some.
Below is a consideration of the nutritional strategies available.
- Omega-3 fatty acid.
The effectiveness was proven by a 1996 study of 42 adolescents with dysmenorrhea which showed that 63% of them obtained a significant pain relief with.Omega-3 supplements. These are essential fatty acids meaning they cannot be produced by the body and must be taken by mouth. Natural sources include salmon,mackerel, sardines, anchovies, flax seed and cod liver oils. They are also available as fish oil capsules sold in nutritional supplement stores, drug stores and also online. These fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA),show a potent anti-inflammatory effects in the body and block the production of inflammatory prostaglandins which are responsible for cramping. Look for these active ingredients(EPA and DHA) on the label before purchasing. The daily amount is 2g and should be taken just before meals to reduce the uncomfortable aftertaste.
- Vitamin E. In 2005,a randomized controlled trial studied the effectiveness of vitamin E in a group of 278 girls aged 15–17 years suffering from dysmenorrhea.The study demonstrated significant menstrual cramp relief and also reduced blood loss with vitamin E supplementation. This compliments the evidence obtained in 1955 which demonstrated that 68% of patients with dysmenorrhea had significant menstrual cramp relief with vitamin E. Doses of 200 to 500 unit a day could be used though higher doses have been used in some studies.Evidence has demonstrated an augmented effect if it is started 2 days before Menses and continued for 5 days.
- Magnesium.The evidence of magnesium’s effectiveness in providing menstrual cramp relief came from a meta-analysis(combining different studies together) of 3 studies by the Cochrane Collaboration( Britain-Based institution that reviews and puts together many clinical studies) in 2001. It is a mineral that takes part in many metabolic processes in the body including normal muscle function. Natural sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables and whole grains. It is also available as nutritional supplements.It therefore stands out as a good home remedy for menstrual cramps. Its effects have been shown to be augmented by vitamin B6 so taking them together may result in increased benefit. Beware of high doses as these may cause gastro-intestinal upset, muscle weakness and heart abnormalities. It can interact with some medications used for hypertension, osteoporosis and diuretics so ask your physician about these if you are taking such medications.
- Vitamin B1 ( Thiamine).
A controlled study demonstrated a significant menstrual cramp relief in 87% of females experiencing dysmenorrhea. It should be taken in 100 mg daily doses.
- Zinc A simple study reviewing the medical charts of women with dysmenorrhea ( such studies are not unequivocal) demonstrated that 30mg a day of zinc reduces menstrual cramps.
- Vitamin B3( Niacin) Some evidence was suggested in the 1950s about niacin’s effect in relieving cramps but no control trial has be done to confirm it. Nevertheless, that evidence cannot be completely discarded. Flushing is a possible side effect.
- Calcium Clinical studies have suggested that calcium supplementation provides menstrual cramp relief during menses and reduces water retention during the period before menses. It similarly reduces symptoms of Premenstrual syndrome(PMS). Daily supplementation with 1000mg should be taken throughout the month.
- Other dietary issues Generally foods substances like caffeine, sugar and salt which are known to exacerbate symptoms of PMS should be taken in reduced amounts.
In 2001, a study demonstrated that continuous low-level heat applied to the lower abdomen was as effective as ibuprofen in providing menstrual cramp relief. As high as 70% of women reported complete relief( vs 35% with placebo). This is an interesting finding. However, the study utilized continuous application for 12 hours but about 50% of the women reported significant pain relief after 1 hour 30 minutes. A heating pad or a self-heating patch, not a water bottle, could be used for this treatment. Do not burn your skin with heat! A temperature of about 104ºF (40ºC) is sufficient. It could be applied in short periods as often as necessary throughout the day to obtain relief. Associating this therapy with NSAIDS can be an excellent home remedy for menstrual cramps.
In 1998, a study demonstrated the beneficial effects of exercise in providing menstrual cramp relief. It is now commonly accepted to reduce and also prevent menstruation cramps. This is in addition to its other health benefits like its effect on cholesterol and others. It is therefore strongly advisable for all women with primary dysmenorrhea to try regular exercise to reduce cramps. Aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, biking and swimming on most days during the week may promote pain relief possible through the release of natural body pain killers called endorphins.
Varied evidence exist for the effectiveness of some herbs in providing menstrual cramp relief. They are good options that could be used as home remedy for menstrual cramps.
- Chinese herbal medicines In 2008, an analysis of many clinical studies( some of poor research quality) suggested that Chinese herbal medicine provide “promising evidence” suggesting beneficial menstrual cramp relief effects. The researchers suggested this could be an alternative when conventional therapy fails. No significant adverse effects were noted. Some Chinese herbs include Dang Gui ( Angelica sinensis or “female ginseng”) and Yan Hu So(Corydalis).
- Japanese herbal medicine.In 1997, a Japanese herbal formulation called toki-shakuyaku-san(TSS) was shown to provide some relief of menstrual cramps for women with dysmenorrhea.
- Guava leaf extract.In 2006, a clinical study demonstrated significant menstrual cramp relief with an extract of guava leaves.
- Black cohosh.This
is established for the treatment of menopausal symptoms but has also been used as home remedy for menstrual cramps. The different forms available include the dried root (300-2,000 mg per day) or the solid, dry powdered extract (250 mg three times per day).Some find such herbs very feasible as a home remedy for menstrual cramp since it could be taken along as part of regular diet. The extract has been made available in standardized doses given as 20-40 mg of extract twice per day. Large doses may cause abdominal upset and headache.
- Cramp bark.Traditionally used for menstrual cramp relief but available evidence is limited to its effects in generally relieving smooth muscle cramps. It may be taken as the tea form or tincture.
- Other herbs used with less evidence include Vervain, false unicorn,Açaí and vitex.
In 1980, a study revealed that 20-minute relaxation sessions twice a week improve symptoms of dysmenorrhea. These include meditation and yoga techniques. A good home remedy for menstrual cramps then that could be tried if no significant relief after the others have been tried.