Ok seriously, how many of you suffer from dysmenorrhea?
I’m going to warn you that before you read further, things are gonna get a little personal in this post. So if you don’t like reading about periods or women’s bodies make you uncomfortable, you can leave.
All good? Good.
Dysmenorrhea is the condition of experiencing insanely painful menstrual cramps. My periods have always been relatively bad, but lately, they’ve been really awful. Two periods ago I had the worst period of my life and honestly would have rather died than dealt with that. It was that bad.
Here’s a list of ridiculous things that have happened during my dysmenorrhea-infused periods:
- Age 13: Walking down the hall in middle school to the nurse’s office, nearly passing out from the pain.
- Age 15: Got picked up from high school by one of my aunts. Walked inside and made four parallel cuts on my left arm with a knife. It didn’t hurt as bad as the cramps.
- Age 21: In the bathtub throwing up oatmeal. My brother had to come over to give me some medication. I couldn’t move.
- Age 22: On the floor of the women’s bathroom at Penn State with my face pressed into that small space behind the toilet, moaning. Girl asks, “Are you ok?”
- Age 25: In the bathroom throwing up chili, ended up in the bathtub with a knife.
- Age 26: Throwing up in the car while my fiance drives us home, scratching myself with a big knife, almost passing out from the pain. Screaming.
These are just the bad ones I remember. There have been countless other times over the last 14 years since I’ve had my period. My dysmenorrhea usually involves a bathtub, a knife, and vomit.
Sounds fun, right? God, I love being a woman. I really do.
With that in mind, I was inspired to create this list of things I’ve tried when it comes to cures for dysmenorrhea. So here’s what works and here’s what doesn’t.
A side note: I am not an herbalist or a nutritionist. The information contained in this post is for educational purposes only.
10 Natural Cures for Dysmenorrhea
1. Cramp Bark
You can find cramp bark in capsules or just buy a big bag of it from Mountain Rose Herbs. It tastes disgusting, but you drink it as a tea (or can take the capsules or use a tincture) to help with painful cramping.
Cramp bark can be taken in the days leading up to your period and can be taken the day of. I have also taken the capsules but have not tried the tincture.
The tea is extremely bitter. Whatever you do, don’t make it too strong!
2. White Willow Bark and Boswellia
This combination actually works pretty well. These are two herbs that are taken together to produce a “Motrin-like effect” on the body. The problem is, you need to take them the morning you get your period. By the time your period starts, it’s too late. At least this has been my experience.
I drink white willow bark tea and take boswellia capsules. I used to take white willow capsules, but then I couldn’t find any that didn’t contain gelatin. So I switched to the tea. Just like cramp bark, this tea is bitter, but it’s not as bad as cramp bark in my opinion.
Get the capsules or the tea and take a few hours before you get your period. This combination can work for other forms of pain as well—I’ve used for headaches and migraines with excellent results!
3. Hot Things: Bath and Heating Pad
In order to stimulate circulation, some people suggest applying a hot compress and then a cold one to your stomach area during your period. I have had mixed results with this method.
What I have had success with is taking a hot bath and then crawling into bed with a heating pad. The heat seems to help the cramps and just helps me to feel better.
Problem is, I don’t always have direct access to a bathtub. Which is why I now work from home and can take as many bloody baths as I want (pun intended). Told you this was going to get graphic. Or wait, I said personal. Same difference.
4. Coconut Oil and Lavender Massage
This one is interesting: research shows that this actually can help and is one of the best cures for dysmenorrhea!
Just get some lavender essential oil and coconut oil (or your carrier oil of choice) and massage your lower stomach. After 20 minutes, it’s supposed to help you feel better.
You can also just straight up huff lavender essential oil while experiencing painful cramping and it’ll help you feel better! Smelling lavender seems to help me more than the massage, actually.
5. Evening Primrose Oil (EPO)
My doc suggested I take this stuff throughout the month to lessen the severity of my periods. I don’t feel that it has helped all that much and I eventually stopped taking it. You should take it pretty regularly to experience results.
The dose is between 500-1,500 milligrams a daily. I take 1,000 milligrams. Easy with capsules. They provide essential fatty acids that are also great for skin and hormone regulation. Find some organic vegan ones like Deva Vegan Evening Primrose Oil.
6. Magnesium and Calcium
You’re probably deficient in magnesium and calcium.
Taking these supplements a few days before your period (some people may need to take them throughout the month to see results) and the day of your period can help reduce cramping greatly.
Everyone is different and everyone’s body will tolerate these supplements differently. Talk to your doc!
(Below: see an update to this post because the right dose and form of magnesium has really helped me out!)
7. Masturbation and Sex
Oh dear, this is the part where I said it would get personal, right?
Masturbation works, but I’ve had short-term results with this method. Not enough to actually stop the cramping for good. Sex can work. The problem with this method is that you don’t really feel that turned on when you’re in extreme pain. But if you’re desperate…
8. Deep Breathing
Tried this during my last one too with positive results. I’ve been really into Eckhart Tolle and presence lately. Staying present has helped my dysmenorrhea greatly. Practice deep breathing, stay present in the moment, and understand that you are not your mind or body. It helps!
This is a big one and regular exercise is definitely one of the best cures for dysmenorrhea. I promise. Get out there and do some cardio: this is what has worked the best for me, specifically running. You don’t need to overdo it, just go for a run a couple times a week.
10. The Menstrual Cup
If you’re still using tampons, you need to stop now. Those death sticks contain a known carcinogen called dioxin. And you’re sticking it up your vag! Seriously???
I used tampons for years (it still makes me cringe to think about that) before finally switching to the menstrual cup and cloth cotton reusable pads. I will never go back.
The menstrual cup can help alleviate your period cramps and relax your vagina a little. Don’t believe me? Give it a try, punk.
On the other hand, some herbalists think that blocking the flow of the blood with a tampon or menstrual cup can actually cause severe cramping. I’ve found that this is not the case with me, but it’s definitely worth experimenting with to see if this makes a difference for you.
If you’re already using the menstrual cup and it leaks, check out my guide to stop that thing from leaking!
5 Natural Cures for Dysmenorrhea I Have Tried Without Success
1. Licorice Root
Licorice is supposedly great for many things, especially helping to regulate hormones and helping during your period. I did not have success with this herb (I love licorice root tea though!)
2. White Peony Root
Tried white peony root (which is anti-spasmodic) without success. I have heard that using licorice root in combination with white peony root can help greatly with painful uterine spasms that sufferers of dysmenorrhea commonly experience. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. I’ll likely give it another try though.
3. Cayenne Pepper Tea
Straight up. Didn’t work. I’ve heard hot peppers are great for pain. Didn’t work for me. Plus it was disgusting!
I love yoga, but unfortunately, it hasn’t so far helped me when it comes to cures for dysmenorrhea.
5. Eating Warm Foods and Spices
I had an herbalist suggest to me that I stop eating raw foods and drinking raw smoothies to help with my dysmenorrhea. She suggested eating cooked foods the majority of the time with an emphasis on warming spices such as ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon, especially on the days leading up to your period. I’ve tried this without success, unfortunately.
4 Natural Cures for Dysmenorrhea I Have Not Yet Tried
These are things I haven’t tried, some of them I don’t plan on trying but others I do!
1. Birth Control
I have never been on birth control or tried birth control. Nor do I want to be. That stuff is unnatural and messes your body up. I’d rather suffer from painful cramping than use this shit when it comes to cures for dysmenorrhea.
2. Calendula Flowers
These are anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory. I use calendula flowers regularly but have not yet applied them to cures for dysmenorrhea. Have you tried them? I should try them next time to see if they work. The tea is much milder than cramp bark or white willow bark!
I haven’t tried valerian, but I’ve heard it works. Unfortunately, valerian is also known for making you very sleepy. It’s an excellent anti-anxiety remedy as well as excellent for insomnia. Problem is, some people (ahem, me) get super sleepy on this herb and can’t really function during the day. Not that I can function on the day I get my period anyway.
Valerian tea also smells like stinky feet. It’s rather awful. But it could work as a cure for your dysmenorrhea!
4. Healthy Diet
My diet is already healthy, thank you very much. Before I get my period I love potato chips and sugar. Really hard to not indulge. Maybe one of these days I’ll make veggie smoothies for a week before I get my period and see if that helps as a natural cure for dysmenorrhea.
Update: What Finally Worked for Me
After years of suffering from dysmenorrhea, I finally began working with an herbalist who really helped me out.
Together, we discovered a pattern: on the first day of menstruation for a few hours, I would be getting these insane cramps, but not bleeding. She suggested perhaps my pelvic circulation was poor and my body was trying really hard to expel the uterine blood and tissue, but couldn’t.
So this is what helped:
- Ginger. Boil 1 tbsp. of dried organic ginger root in 3 cups of water for 10 minutes. Strain the ginger out and drink the tea throughout the day. This really helps pelvic circulation! If you get tired of the ginger tea (I got really tired of it after a while), you can take Gaia Herbs Ginger Supreme 2 capsules a day.
- Magnesium. Turns out, your body can’t really absorb magnesium citrate, which is why many people experience diarrhea at high levels of magnesium citrate. My herbalist suggested I take magnesium glycinate, 400mg in the morning and 400mg in the evening, for a total of 800mg every day. I do this throughout the month, and it really seems to have helped.
- Breathing. The right kind of breathing actually saved me from one intense episode of menstrual cramps. Breathe in through your nose, then out through your mouth. Remember to keep doing it. I was amazed at how much it helped!
Update to this post (2023): While these things have helped a lot, I was never able to completely resolve my period cramps to the point that they were bearable. Some months they were, but I would have a month where they were really bad for seemingly no reason. I eventually ended up getting a hysterectomy, and my doctors believe I have EDS, which may have been causing my intense period pain. I have not been in pain since my surgery!
A Note on Omega-3s
I have also been taking lots more omega-3s (EPA and DHA from fish) in the form of fermented cod liver oil and omega-3 supplements.
I did a lot of research and discovered that these types of essential fatty acids are different from the kind you get from vegan sources such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, avocados, etc. Your body can convert these vegan sources into EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate has been shown to be poor. Your best bet is to get them from fish if you’re not vegan.
Also, omega-3 supplements have been shown to be as effective as Ibuprofen in research about painful menstrual cramps.
I really hope this post helps some of you looking for cures for dysmenorrhea. It’s an awful condition that makes life particularly difficult. Getting your period is bad enough as it is, suffering from dysmenorrhea certainly doesn’t make it any easier.
I would also really recommend working with a natural health professional, such as an herbalist who specializes in women’s health. I’ve found out all the above tips from 14 years of getting my period, but you could save yourself a lot of pain and trouble simply by working with someone who can help you discover what’s causing your pain and how to make it stop.
What do you think of these natural cures for dysmenorrhea? Have you tried any? Are there some I didn’t list that work for you? I wanna know!