Painful menstrual cramps are extremely common; they affect 70 to 90 percent of young women. Sometimes the pain is mild and only produces minimal discomfort; in other women the pain can be so excruciating that they faint.

A number of different factors can contribute to menstrual cramps (also called dysmenorrhea): hormones, nutrient deficiencies, stress and lifestyle factors. Sometimes the culprit is endometriosis or uterine fibroids, and this is why severe menstrual cramps should be investigated by your doctor.

Pain is usually worst just as menstrual bleeding begins and tapers off by the second day of bleeding. The pain is usually caused by contractions as the body expels the uterine lining. Pain that continues beyond the second day of bleeding may be associated with a medical problem and warrants further investigation.

Menstrual pain is incredibly common but that doesn’t mean it’s normal. It is normal to feel some abdominal discomfort but intense pain that requires pain relieving medication is not normal, nor is it healthy. It may indicate there is excessive inflammation in your body.

The medical treatment for menstrual cramps is usually anti-inflammatory pain relieving drugs such as aspirin or naproxen. Many doctors recommend the oral contraceptive pill as a suitable remedy. It does work to prevent painful cramps in most women, but only because it suppresses your own body’s hormone production. It is only a temporary solution, and long term use of the oral contraceptive pill may cause harmful side effects.

Fortunately in most cases, menstrual cramps can be eliminated or greatly relieved by simple diet changes and the right supplements. These remedies are effective for the vast majority of women.

Anything that increases inflammation in your body can worsen menstrual cramps. This is because studies have shown that women who experience higher levels of pain have higher levels of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins in their body. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances. Too much of the wrong kind of prostaglandins can promote painful uterine contractions and decrease blood flow to the uterus. High levels also lead to increased muscle contraction. Sugar, omega 6 rich processed vegetable oil, dairy products and alcohol all raise levels of inflammatory prostaglandins in the body.

Caffeine can worsen the pain because it constricts blood vessels and raises tension levels, making cramping worse. Try to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume in coffee, tea and chocolate, the week before your menstrual period is due. This can be tough, because it’s precisely when caffeine, sugar or chocolate cravings are at their worst!

If you get intense chocolate cravings before or during menstruation, try to increase your magnesium intake. Chocolate is actually quite high in magnesium and just taking some of this amazing mineral can drastically reduce sugar cravings for most women. If you do need the real thing, try to stick to sugar free chocolate with natural sweeteners like stevia, or make your own using raw cacao powder.

Sugar worsens all types of pain. Sugar is a strong inducer of inflammation. It can make any pain that you suffer with worse.

Magnesium helps relieve menstrual pain

This is because magnesium relaxes muscles and relieves cramps and spasms. Magnesium also relaxes the nervous system and can greatly help to reduce mood disorders commonly associated with menstruation. It is quite difficult to obtain enough magnesium through diet alone because magnesium levels in most soil are very low, plus stress, caffeine and alcohol all promote magnesium loss from the body. Try taking 1 teaspoon of magnesium powder with dinner each evening.

Other helpful strategies

Try not to eat too much salt. Many women feel incredibly bloated and puffy around the time of menstruation. Consuming too much salt at that time will only make you feel worse. Increase the amount of herbs and spices you add to your meals, so they are still tasty and you don’t notice the reduced salt.

Fish oil is rich in omega 3 fats, which promote production of the good kind of prostaglandins, which are anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic. The healthiest types of fish to include in your diet are sardines, herrings, mackerel, wild salmon, trout and anchovies. Alternatively take 4 capsules of high potency fish oil capsules per day with food.

Include more fiber in your diet. Women who suffer with menstrual cramps typically have a hormone imbalance called estrogen dominance. That means there is too much estrogen in their bodies relative to the level of progesterone. Using a natural progesterone cream can help to correct this imbalance fairly quickly. However it is also important to make sure your bowels are working well and excreting estrogen sufficiently.

Each day your liver breaks down estrogen that is no longer required and it is secreted into your intestines, where much of it should be eliminated in bowel motions. Women with a sluggish bowel do not excrete estrogen well, therefore it builds up in their bodies. Good sources of fiber are chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flaxseeds, fruits and vegetables. If you know your bowel is not functioning well enough, you may benefit from the natural gentle fiber in Fibertone. It can be added to cereal, smoothies, yogurt, juices, or just stirred into water.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.