What are Menstrual Cramps?
One of the most common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, menstrual cramps are thought to be caused by excess levels of prostaglandins (hormone-like substances linked to pain and inflammation). Menstrual cramps typically affect the lower abdomen but may also radiate to the lower back and thighs.
For many females, cramps are a normal consequence of premenstrual syndrome. But if you're experiencing severe cramping, consult your doctor to see if you're suffering from an underlying health issue (such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or uterine fibroids).
Herbal Remedies for Menstrual Cramps
Here's a look at four kinds of herbal medicine that could help relieve menstrual cramps.
1) Chinese Herbs
In a 2007 report, scientists sized up 39 studies (involving a total of 3,475 women) and concluded that Chinese herbs may alleviate menstrual cramps more effectively than over-the-counter pain medications. Most study participants were given formulas containing five or six herbs, such as Chinese angelica root, fennel fruit, licorice root, cinnamon bark, and red peony root.
Learn more about traditional Chinese medicine.
2) Raspberry Leaf Tea
Sipping this soothing tea may help relieve menstrual cramps, possibly by relaxing the uterus.
Extracted from the bark of pine trees, the supplement Pycnogenol was found to significantly diminish pain and reduce the need for pain medication among a group of women with menstrual cramps in one 2008 study.
This warming herb may help lower your levels of pain-causing prostaglandins (as well as fight the fatigue commonly associated with premenstrual syndrome). In a 2009 study, women who took 250 mg capsules of ginger four times a day for three days from the start of their menstrual period experienced a level of pain relief equal to that of study members who treated their menstrual cramps with ibuprofen.
Suzuki N, Uebaba K, Kohama T, Moniwa N, Kanayama N, Koike K. "French maritime pine bark extract significantly lowers the requirement for analgesic medication in dysmenorrhea: a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study." Journal of Reproductive Medicine 2008 53(5):338-46.
Zhu X, Proctor M, Bensoussan A, Smith CA, Wu E. "Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhoea." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007 17;(4):CD005288.