Aug. 23, 2014 at 10:59 AM ET
Killer cramps, premenstrual backaches, monthly migraines... painful periods make up to 85 percent of women miserable every month. But these clever remedies may help cut your risk — and soothe the pain fast if you’re suffering right now.
Sneak in more fiber
Add at least 20 grams of fiber to your daily diet and you could cut your menstrual cramps, back pain and other monthly miseries 25 percent or more in two months, Canadian researchers say. Turns out fiber helps tamp down your intestinal tract’s production of prostaglandins—hormones that trigger uterine inflammation, bloating, tenderness and painful cramping. An easy Rx: Enjoy one cup of any high-fiber cereal—such as Bran Buds or Fiber One—daily.
Get a belly rub
A new study suggests that gently rubbing calendula oil, a marigold extract, into their bellies helped soothe menstrual cramps for up to 81 percent of women in 20 minutes. Calendula is rich in natural muscle-relaxing compounds that absorb readily through skin, the study authors say. Look for calendula oil in health food stores or online.
Treat yourself to an arch massage
A great on-the-spot cramp-killer: Sit on a comfortable carpet or pillow with the soles of your bare feet touching each other, then use your thumbs to firmly massage your arches for at least three minutes. “This acupressure technique helps stimulate the release of endorphins, which are powerful painkilling hormones,” says Susan Lark, M.D., author of Dr. Susan’s Solutions: The Menstrual Cramps Cure.
Try a low-dose estrogen patch
Prone to menstrual migraines? Cornell University researchers have now confirmed what you probably suspected all along: These throbbing headaches tend to be three times more severe than migraines that flare up at other times of the month! To prevent the pain, talk to your doctor about using an estrogen patch (such as Alora or Climara) during your premenstrual week. Just preventing that premenstrual estrogen plunge ends menstrual migraines for 50 percent of women, Yale researchers say.
Pull an all-nighter
If your aches and pains flare up during your premenstrual week, try this: One night each month—just before your PMS normally strikes—shortchange yourself of sleep by going to bed at 9 p.m. and setting the alarm for 1 a.m. so you can get up and watch movies, catch up on emails or read a great book. After one groggy day—and eight hours of catch-up sleep the next night—80 percent of women are completely symptom-free the rest of the month, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego. What gives? Although chronic sleep deprivation is bad news, one well-timed, groggy day revs up your brain’s production of painkilling neurotransmitters.
Dust off that hot water bottle
Your grandma was right—a hot water bottle or heating pad can be your best friend when hormone havoc hits. The proof? According to Stanford University researchers, just heating up your belly can soothe bad menstrual cramps as effectively as OTC meds. “Warming your abdomen relaxes spasming muscles and boosts blood flow, helping to flush out pain-triggering inflammation,” says Dr. Lark.
Still need a pain pill? If you’ve been taking acetaminophen, try switching to aspirin or ibuprofen. According to UCLA researchers, these two meds tamp down pelvic inflammation by 82 percent, doubling women’s pain relief.
Take a hike
In a New Zealand study, when women started getting regular outdoor exercise—roughly 30 minutes four times weekly—it cut their period problems in half within two months. The combination of sunlight and motion kick-starts production of serotonin, a hormone that helps you weather the hormonal ups and downs of your period with ease, explains Marie-Annette Brown, Ph.D., author of When Your Body Gets The Blues.