Natural Remedies for Cramps & PMS

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Sex Hormones Leave a Comment

If you’re suffering from PMS and cramps, you’re not alone. If you're searching for natural remedies for cramps and PMS, again you're not alone. Many women suffer from PMS. In fact, it is estimated that 75% of women experience headaches, bloating, difficulty sleeping, mood swings and other symptoms of PMS — symptoms that are debilitating and threaten our relationships.

Many women unconsciously accept that this is the ‘norm’ and that this monthly nuisance is inevitable….but it doesn’t have to be.

Sure, common symptoms of PMS like breast tenderness, sugar cravings, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, depression, bloating, headaches, and sleep disturbance affect 75% of women. And about 20% of those women will be medicated for their symptoms because they are so severe.

But this doesn’t have to be true for you. You can eliminate PMS symptoms naturally. I know, because I help women do it every day.

Why not just take a prescription drug?

It’s true there are prescription drugs and supplements that can help alleviate PMS and cramps, but they are not without their side effects.

Ibuprofen, Advil, and Aleve can make PMS symptoms worse over time by suppressing ovulation and subsequently resulting in lower progesterone. Read more about pain medications and hormones.

Birth control is commonly prescribed for…well, for, just about anything that is related to hormones in a woman. It’s offered up a magic little pill that will make all your troubles go away, but what most doctors don’t say (or don’t know) is that the pill can do some serious damage and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

But what is most problematic about using the pill is that it masks symptoms and suppresses your hormones. Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad…but left to brew, these hormonal imbalances that are suppressed can result in an inability to get pregnant, hair loss, weight gain, difficult menopausal symptoms, and mood disorders.

And the list of drug options really only get worse from here…

Danazol, which suppresses ovulation and will help you grow a healthy beard.

Gonadatropin-releasing hormone change your brain to shift estrogen and progesterone levels…. and can contribute to osteoporosis.

And let’s not forget the sleep, anxiety, fluid retention, and depression medications meant to treat the symptoms… yes, there is a lot of pharmaceutical answers to suppress your body’s signals, but if you’ve found your way onto my blog, I suspect you’re looking for more than just a “pill for every ill.”

It’s important that you know — you do NOT have to be at the mercy of your PMS. You can treat it naturally and you can free yourself from the monthly mood swings, cramps, and other symptoms that have been stealing your joy from life.

I want to share with you the 5 tools I use to eliminate PMS and cramps in my patients, but first, I want to share a patient story with you.

Natural Remedies for Cramps  – Eliminating PMS & Cramps without Drugs

Anne was 38 years old when she came to see me. She was experiencing debilitating cramps that made it impossible to work and kept her from enjoying her social life. Anne admitted to me in the first visit that she couldn’t book a vacation, buy concert tickets or commit to anything that would have her out of the house the week before or during her period.

She was essentially homebound and at the mercy of her hormones 2 weeks out of every month.

Debilitating fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and severe sugar cravings (which lead to binge eating and weight gain) had taken a toll on her over the last 7 years, but now they were at an all-time high. Her sex drive was gone and her periods were getting heavier and heavier.

Being at the mercy of sugar cravings was making it hard for Anne to lose or even keep from gaining weight. She confessed to drinking 2-3 cups of coffee just to get through the day and on weekends indulging in a bit too much alcohol. She ate a decent amount of vegetables and was up for any dietary changes that would help her feel better.

Her doctor offered her an antidepressant, sleep medication, birth control, and recommend she start exercising to lose the weight.

Anne’s story is one that I hear often in my clinic. It’s unfortunate that more doctors don’t listen to their patients stories and order appropriate lab testing to understand the root cause of their hormonal imbalances. But Anne was ready to take charge of her health and I was more than happy to guide the way.

The Root Cause of PMS

Sugar, alcohol, stress, blood sugar imbalances, excess weight, and inflammation were driving her estrogen levels way up! She was estrogen dominant.

We made some diet changes, I had her take some herbs and we supported her liver in detoxing the excess estrogen. The changes were simple really, but the effects were profound — within one cycle her PMS symptoms were cut in half and her cramps were barely noticeable.

And her weight was coming off!!! All from natural remedies for cramps and PMS, no pills necessary.

Once those estrogen levels could be brought into balance and her inflammation dampened her body was able to let go of the excess weight and her energy could support her exercise routine. And with a little adrenal love…her sugar cravings disappeared.

It took some simple interventions to give her body what it was craving…what it was trying to say with all of those symptoms.

The Underlying Cause of PMS

PMS is caused by an imbalance in hormones — namely, your estrogen is dominant, either absolute or relative to progesterone, the latter being more common.

Diets rich in sugar, refined carbohydrate, non-organic meat, conventional dairy products and caffeine promote hormone imbalances. Whereas, diets that are low in these foods, plus include vegetables, plenty of fiber, and healthy fats help balance hormones.

Stress, environmental pollutants and hormone-disrupting chemicals in our environment also induce these hormone changes, as does excess stress.

Constipation keeps your body from releasing estrogen from the body and alcohol can inhibit your liver from processing estrogen — both of which lead to estrogen dominance.

And lack of exercise can also cause hormones to fall out of balance. Daily movement is necessary to keep your hormones in balance.

When healing PMS and cramps in my clinic, we focus on these 5 tools as a starting place to begin eliminating symptoms while we dig deeper for the individual's root cause. After 2 cycles you should notice an improvement in your symptoms.

Natural Remedies for PMS & Cramps

Magnesium for Cramp Relief

Cramps are the worst! Getting pain relief is a priority.

I ask all of my female patients who complain of cramps to take 300-450 mg of magnesium glycinate at bedtime each day. One week before their period they up their dose to 600 mg at night. In my practice, we use Magnesium Plus because it is a highly absorbable form of magnesium that doesn't cause digestive upset like other forms.

Many of my patients kick their Midol habit with this simple strategy. As a bonus, magnesium will also help you get better sleep.

You have to poop every day to get your estrogen out and handle your PMS. Click To Tweet

Fiber for Your Estrogen

Increasing dietary fiber helps keep the bowels regular, which reduces bloating and helps your body move out excess estrogen.

You don’t have to be making extra estrogen to become estrogen dominant. It can be as simple as just not being able to move your estrogen out of the body.

Estrogen is moved out of the body through the bowels. You have to poop every day to get your estrogen out. If your bowels aren’t moving, your estrogen sticks around longer than it should. When this happens estrogen goes back into circulation and can lead to symptoms of bloating, cramping, heavy periods, and irritability.

Eating at least 25 grams of fiber every day is crucial for keeping your bowels regular, moving your estrogen out and kissing PMS goodbye!

I have my patients add fiber rich foods to their diet to support digestion and hormones. You can grab a free meal plan here to help you get started. 

Balance for to Support Estrogen Metabolism

Sometimes our issue can be that we're making the wrong kind of estrogen, which can lead to breast tenderness, heavy periods, and a whole lotta period problems. Balance by Dr. Brighten is formulated with broccoli seed extract, DIM, B vitamins, and other nutrients that support healthy estrogen levels and supports proper estrogen metabolism. The typical dose is 2 caps twice daily.

Lower Inflammation

Another mechanism that can cause estrogen to go up and subsequent estrogen dominance is inflammation. Inflammation increases the activity of an enzyme called aromatase. Aromatase converts testosterone to estrogen, which results in elevated estrogen and harmful estrogen metabolites which drive your PMS symptoms crazy.

When your estrogen is up and your testosterone is down then you’ll likely be feeling cranky, weepy, unmotivated. Your libido will go missing.

But lowering inflammation can slow aromatase and keep your estrogen and testosterone in check.

One crucial tool to lowering inflammation is adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. Cutting gluten, dairy, sugar, processed food and any foods you are sensitive too will cool the inflammation and give your hormones a chance to even back out.

Plus, as inflammation decreases, so does the frequency of menstrual cramps, low backache, irritability, and fatigue.

Using a turmeric supplement can also be beneficial in helping you maintain healthy levels of inflammation. In my clinic, we use Turmeric Boost because it is a well studied and potent form of turmeric that gets the job done. 

Handle Your Stress

Cortisol, a stress hormone secreted by your adrenals, are designed to be released at only certain times of the day and in times of stress. When you experience prolonged, chronic stress your adrenal glands work overtime and excreted excess cortisol.

In a perfect world, you make both cortisol and progesterone in just the right amounts the body needs. But in the crazy, stressful world your body pushes hormone production into cortisol overdrive at the expense of progesterone.

Progesterone is down, cortisol is up and with it are a number of symptoms.  You’re likely experiencing excess weight in the mid-section, weepiness, breast tenderness, disrupted sleep, anxiety and painful periods.

But not to fear! You can handle your stress with some easy bliss-inducing practices like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, visualization, walking, and floating (in a float tank).

When you feel stress starting to bubble up, take some deep breaths and re-assess if your response really matches the stressor. Often times, when our hormones are out of balance we will overreact and worry more than we would otherwise. If this is true of you, you’ll likely need more hormone support with herbs, specific nutrients and mega-stress reduction to eliminate this problem.

Regulate Insulin

It is true that insulin is the hormone of concern with diabetes. However, insulin also has a large role in your hormone system.

Remember that enzyme aromatase? Well when insulin goes up then aromatase gets to work making lots of estrogen from your testosterone. And remember, mood swings, heavy periods, low libido and bloating can all come from this type of hormone imbalance.

Meals loaded with simple carbs or sugar will cause your insulin levels to soar! Eating fat and protein while limiting simple carb intake can help lessen the load on your hormones.

In addition, adding dietary fiber will help keep insulin and blood sugar stable. Plus, leaving you feeling full longer.

Regular exercise that includes strength training will help sensitize your cells to insulin so that your body doesn’t have to produce high amounts of the hormone.

Next Steps to Heal

When PMS symptoms have been with you for awhile or are quite severe, it is often necessary to leverage supplements like Vitex, turmeric, calcium d-glucarate, omega-3 fatty acids, and adaptogenic herbs. In my clinical practice, women often begin the Period Problems Kit because it has foundational supplements to begin healing their hormones fast!

So what is next on the healing journey? Grab my Hormone Starter Kit and expand your toolkit to feel better, learn the labs to ask your doctor for and understand which of your hormones need some love.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is one of the leading experts in women’s medicine and is a pioneer in her exploration of the far-reaching impact of hormonal birth control and the little known side effects that impact health in a large way. In her best selling book, Beyond the Pill, she shares her clinical protocols aimed at supporting women struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance, including Post-Birth Control Pill Syndrome and birth control related side effects. A trained nutritional biochemist and Naturopathic Physician, Dr. Brighten is the founder and Clinic Director at Rubus Health, an integrative women’s medicine clinic. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and has been featured in prominent media outlets such as Forbes, Cosmopolitan, ABC news, and the New York Post. Read more about me here.