When you’ve got menstrual cramps, all you want to do is make them disappear—and quick! Here’s how to do just that:
Step 1. Take the right painkiller
Choose naproxen (Aleve) rather than acetaminophen (Tylenol), advises Deborah A. Metzger, Ph.D., M.D., medical director of Harmony Women’s Health in Los Altos, California. It’s longer-lasting and does more than block pain signals—it also curbs the inflammation that worsens menstrual pain and slows your output of prostaglandin, the chemical that signals your uterus to contract. Have your period and haven’t started cramping? Don’t wait—painkillers work better when you take them before cramps kick in. (Can’t take naproxen or prefer natural remedies? Try popping 1 gram of fish oil containing DHA and EPA, which has the same inflammation-fighting, prostaglandin-busting effects!)
Tip: To sidestep cramps next month…
Take one to two doses of naproxen daily beginning three days before your next period (or one gram of fish oil). You can guesstimate if you’re not sure. You’ll block far more prostaglandins. Result: Less cramping (or none!), plus a lighter period! (Never exceed the recommended dose on the product label.)
Step 2. Pop pine bark extract
Take 30 mg. of pine bark extract (Pycnogenol) now, then continue taking it twice every day of the month and you’ll have less pain during your period than if you just took an over-the-counter painkiller. The supplement is a potent anti-inflammatory that’s loaded in antioxidants that help bring down painful swelling, explains Dr. Metzger. Bonus: It’ll cut the number of crampy days you experience by 50% within three months!
Step 3. Apply heat
While waiting for your painkiller to kick in, place a hot water bottle or heating pad on your lower abdomen. Heat stops cramping for up to one hour by blocking pain signals between nerves, say scientists at the U.K.’s University College London.
Step 4. Sip chamomile tea
Down up to five cups daily and brew a double-strength batch two to three hours before bedtime, Dr. Metzger advises. Chamomile boosts your levels of glycine, an amino acid that calms uterine spasms, she says. A big plus: It relaxes you all over, resulting in better sleep, a common problem during menstruation. Best way to brew: Steep one tea bag for 10 minutes in boiled water that has cooled for one minute.
See a doctor if…
* You have more severe cramps than usual.
* You missed a period, then have severe cramps the following month.
* Abnormal or excessive bleeding requires you to change menstrual products every one to two hours.