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PMS Cramps—Safe Natural Relief
by Dr. Daniel J. Heller
Cramps can be one of the most common and distressing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. When PMS cramps recur with each cycle, the pain and discomfort can interfere with your enjoyment of life and relationships, as well as your productivity. Many women with PMS symptoms lose time at work, which may be a result of the cramping pain that can occur with PMS.
*Conventional, over-the-counter remedies for premenstrual syndrome often contain acetaminophen, a widely used pain-reliever, but this medication treats only this one symptom, and is potentially harmful to the liver. While the best approach to recurring PMS cramping is to address the cause of the problem, natural relief for severe PMS cramps can offer significant benefit without side effects.
Scientific research indicates PMS cramping may be related to an imbalance in cellular messengers called eicosanoids and leukotrienes, which is why drugs like aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories are often recommended, as they interrupt pain-causing inflammation and restriction in blood supply. A slightly different angle is taken in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which theorizes that pain is related to stasis—a fancy way of saying "things are stuck." In Chinese medical theory, when blood or "energy" doesn't move as it should, pain is the result.
Regardless of what pain theory you subscribe to, PMS cramps relief can often be had naturally. Here are some alternatives to over-the-counter pain drugs for premenstrual symptoms.
First, don't forget that "you are what you eat." You can offset the tendency to inflammation in your body by eating a diet rich in natural plant foods, with their cornucopia of healthy phytonutrients and antioxidants. Vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and whole grains are excellent sources of fiber—and there is definitely a fiber-inflammation-pain connection.
That connection, from a natural medicine point of view, derives from the function of your liver, which must be optimal for healthy premenstrual cycles. Supporting your liver is essential for proper elimination and detoxification, and plenty of natural fiber from whole plant foods assists the liver's natural elimination and detoxification pathways. The brassica family of vegetables—broccoli and cabbage being the best-known examples—do triple-duty, because they are a superb source of fiber, facilitate liver detoxification with their sulforophane content, and also help bring about hormonal balance. The phytochemicals in broccoli have even been studied for their role in cancer prevention!
All of these health-promoting plant foods in your diet help displace excess unhealthy fats and empty calories. Highly refined sugars found in sweets and sodas; saturated fats from too much butter, eggs, and red meat; and fried and adulterated fats from fast food and manufactured snack foods are all items you'd be better off without too much of, anyway.
Many healthy foods are also excellent natural anti-inflammatories, though they don't work as quickly as medication because they work upstream in your inflammatory cascade. For instance, the omega-3 fats found in wild-caught cold-water fish like salmon, halibut, and sardines, as well as in ground flax seeds, flax seed oil, chia seeds, and walnuts help balance your eicosanoid levels to help prevent premenstrual, and menstrual, cramping. And, with long-term benefit, they appear to help prevent heart disease and other chronic conditions as well.
There are a host of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemical compounds found in other foods and spices: apples and tea are a source of quercetin; turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow-orange color, contains potent curcumin; while ginger contains a wide range of anti-inflammatories. Many of these chemicals are also being researched for potential roles in preventing heart disease and cancer.
Of course, if you are suffering from cramps now, eating a healthy dinner probably won't calm things down. However, if you want to decrease the amount and intensity of premenstrual cramps, you can't go wrong by including more whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables, and fruits in your diet. And you can feel secure doing so, knowing that your overall health will be so much better in the long run as a result.
You don't have to limit ginger to your stir-fries: if you suffer from menstrual or premenstrual cramps, you can slice or crush 1–2 tablespoons of fresh ginger and steep it in one cup hot water for 10 minutes. A few cups of ginger tea per day is a healthy natural way to control cramps—and it's also good for your digestion. If you don't like the flavor, try mixing it with black, green, or herbal tea. A small amount of honey is another addition that can make it go down easier. (Dried ginger, and ginger tea bags, are not nearly as potent as fresh ginger. The same is true for shorter steeping times, or drinking a single cup. You need two or more cups of strong ginger tea to make a difference.)
An old-fashioned remedy that is sometimes forgotten in this technical age is the hot water bottle. Because the heat can increase menstrual bleeding, this is not a good solution for menstrual cramps when you actually have your period. Sometimes, though, the soothing heat is the only thing that brings rapid relief. A heat wrap or heating pad (used with care) can also work well as a natural remedy for PMS cramps.
Castor oil packs, an innovation ordinarily attributed to the 20th-century healer Edgar Cayce, are made by soaking a clean flannel cloth in castor oil, heating it to a comfortable warmth, then applying the castor-oil flannel to the whole abdomen. If you decide to try this, keep in mind that it can be a little messy! A strategically placed layer of plastic sheeting can be used to protect clothes and furniture from the castor oil. Although you could lay the castor oil pack exclusively over your lower abdomen and uterus, it is best when the pack extends to your liver and all your organs of digestion and elimination. Also, the castor oil pack is usually applied for an extended time, on the order of 45 minutes. This is a powerful treatment, but it can be a little intimidating because of the clean-up and time involved. The warmth of the castor oil pack means that, like a hot water bottle, it should not be used during the menstrual flow.
In traditional naturopathic medicine, two forms of magnesium are relied upon for premenstrual cramping. For more rapid relief, the homeopathic cell salt, Magnesium Phosphoricum, usually known as "Mag Phos" can be used. Cell salts are a special type of homeopathic remedy that is used in 3x, 6x, or 12x potencies. Many health food stores carry homeopathic Mag Phos in higher potencies such as 6c, 12c, or 30c, but these may not be as effective as the X potencies, and don't provide the same dosage of magnesium, either.
Nutritional magnesium, meaning larger doses of the mineral as a nutritional supplement, are less likely to give rapid relief, but proper magnesium nutrition is especially important for anyone experiencing PMS cramps. For this reason, a full dosage of magnesium is an essential component of the PMS Comfort nutritional program, along with 100% of the daily requirement for calcium. Calcium and magnesium work in tandem in the body, so it is essential that a correct amount of each be taken per day.
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