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Menstrual cramps are painful and frustrating companions of menstruation for many women. They can be relieved with over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen but it is always better to go for natural options which have less or no side effects and do not harm the health.

What are menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea, are pains that occur in the lower abdomen and lower back, sometimes extending to the thighs, before and during menstruation. The pain is usually dull and it can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and sweating.

There are two types of menstrual cramps - primary and secondary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea usually occurs a few years after the first period and it is not a result of any physical abnormalities while the secondary dismenorrhea can be caused by a condition like endometriosis, fibroids, polyps or pelvic inflammation syndrome.

Prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that the body normally produces are probably responsible for primary dismenorrhea.

Natural remedies for menstrual cramps

Omega 3 fatty acids are thought to be effective in relieving the pain that occurs before and during menstruation. They can be found in fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. They also come as a supplement, in fish oil capsules.

Some people prefer fish oil capsules because most manufacturers make sure to filter out harmful ingredients like mercury and metals that are sometimes found in fish.

Fish oil capsules can cause belching, aftertaste and breath that smells of fish, so it is recommended to take them before meals.

When choosing a fish oil brand, make sure to check if EPA and DHA ingredients are listed on the label.

Another beneficial remedy for menstrual cramps is magnesium. This mineral is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains and seeds. It can also be taken as a supplement.

Magnesium plays an important role in many different body functions. It regulates sugar levels in blood, muscle and nerve function, the immune system, heart function and it is good for the bones.

Magnesium must be taken in prescribed dosage, otherwise it may cause side effects like nausea, weakness, low blood pressure and confusion. It also may interact with some medications so it is advised to consult the doctor before taking magnesium supplements.

Acupressure has proven to be effective against dysmenorrhea in many women. Acupressure works similarly as acupuncture, only the pressure applied with fingers is used instead of needles. The acupressure point for menstrual cramps is Spleen 6.

Spleen 6 is located at the inner part of the calf about four fingers above the inner ankle bone, not at the shin bone but just next to it. This point should be pressed firmly but without causing the pain for about three minutes.

Other natural remedies for menstrual cramps include vitamins E and B1, low fat diet, calcium, fennel, aromatherapy, massage and exercise.

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