Painful menstrual cramps have been a part of the lives of women. There is no denying that we experience cramping pain before and during that time of the month. For some, because the pain is unbearable they have gone on a quest to determine the best menstrual pain reliever. Many women have experimented with lots of kinds of food and drink, one of them being coffee. Coffee contains caffeine which has a wide range of benefits. But does caffeine help cramps? This is the question we will be answering today.
What Are Cramps?
Menstrual cramps refers to the dull pain and muscle contraction experienced by menstruating women in their lower abdomen, just above their pelvic bone (9). Menstrual pain, also known as dysmenorrhea, can be classified into two: primary and secondary dysmenorrhea.
Primary dysmenorrhea refers to lower abdominal pain that occurs from your cycle and is not associated with any disease (2). In contrast, secondary dysmenorrhea is linked to several diseases inside or outside your uterus (2). Some of these include:
These are muscular tumors that grow on your uterus (8). They are also referred to as leiomyomas or myomas (8). These vary in shape, and some can be so small as unable to be seen by the naked eye. Your doctor can tell you if you have fibroids by feeling your uterus during a pelvic exam (8).
- Breast tenderness (mastalgia)
- Mood swings
- Changes in appetite and food cravings
These symptoms make some women mistake PMS for pregnancy as many of the above are also included in pregnancy symptoms. That said, the two are different and the only you can tell if it is due to pregnancy is by taking a pregnancy test.
PMS has been linked to menstrual pain. Although doctors cannot pinpoint the exact association, they believe it has something to do with the changing estrogen and progesterone levels during menstruation (7).
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is another cause of menstrual pain. It is a more intense form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that is also referred to as late luteal dysphoric disorder (LLDD) (6). Its high pain intensity is linked to an impairment in menstruating women’s functioning and quality of life (6). Therefore, women diagnosed with PMDD have to seek treatment due to its negative impact.
Ovarian cysts refer to fluid-filled sacs that can be simple or complex (5). They can be complicated by hemorrhage, torsion, and rupture, which is why you need to seek medical treatment immediately when you are diagnosed with this condition.
Endometriosis is a painful condition where tissue that is identical to the tissues that line the inside of your uterus, grows outside the uterus (3). It causes severe pain, especially during menstruation and may also result in fertility problems (3). Painful periods are often one of the major symptoms of endometriosis.
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Does Caffeine Help Cramps?
The answer is no. According to WebMD, caffeine makes menstrual cramps worse. It constricts blood vessels which, as a result, increase tension and pain intensity (1). For this reason, you are advised to avoid taking coffee during that time of the month.
If possible, WebMD also advises women to avoid taking caffeine before their period. This is because it may help relieve PMS symptoms (1). Besides coffee, WebMD also discourages women from taking comfort in the following when on their period:
- Soda and sports drinks. These beverages may worsen cramps (1).
- Using too much salt. Excessive salt may cause bloating and fluid retention (4).
- Junk and fatty, fried foods. This category includes foods like potato chips, crisps, cookies, and doughnuts.
How To Deal With Cramps?
Instead of caffeine and these beverages, experts recommend other drinks, food, and activities to help ease menstrual cramps. They are as follows:
Herbal tea is one of the few beverages that experts recommend to help alleviate menstrual pain. Not only is the tea warm and soothing, but it also contains herbs that may be beneficial in reducing menstrual pain (4). It all comes down to the ingredients used in preparing the tea.
The most recommended and widely used teas that help with menstrual cramps include chamomile, red raspberry, fennel, and dandelion teas. Other herbal substances you can use to help with cramps include black cohosh, cramp bark, turmeric, and chasteberry (1).
Primrose oil has also been found effective in helping women with cramps. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this (1). Similarly, there is also little concrete evidence to support the theory that these teas are helping with menstrual cramps (4). Therefore, make sure you check with your doctor before using any of these herbal products to alleviate menstrual pain.
Anti-inflammatory foods help in reducing inflammation. They also help in fighting cramps naturally by promoting blood flow and relaxing the uterus. As we said, menstrual pain can occur when your blood vessels constrict and restrict proper blood flow. Some examples of the best anti-inflammatory foods you can consider are pineapples, turmeric, strawberries, salmon, almonds, tomatoes, walnuts, and ginger.
Water is one of the best drinks to alleviate menstrual pain. According to WebMD, it does not fight menstrual pain directly but rather indirectly by reducing bloating (1). Experts recommend keeping a water bottle close by before and during menstruation. You can try to enhance the flavor by adding some mint leaves or squeezing some lemon.
Even if you are craving chocolate, experts recommend consuming low-fat, high-fiber foods like whole grains and dark leafy vegetables. Other high-fiber foods with low-fat content include lentils, pulses, fruits, and nuts (1).
These foods are packed with magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamins E, B-1, and B-6 (1). Omega-3 fatty acids help in reducing the substances that cause painful menstrual cramps. These also help in relieving muscle tension and inflammation (1).
Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers
Some women may require pain relievers on top of the listed foods and drinks to ease cramps. In addition, doctors recommend using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to relieve menstrual pain (9).
The other recommended class of drugs to help with menstrual pain is antiprostaglandins. These two classes of drugs have been deemed effective in reducing menstrual cramping, relieving discomfort, and lightening blood flow (9). The most commonly used pain relievers for cramps are ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. Naproxen and ibuprofen may also make your period flow lighter (1).
This may be the last thing you want to hear, but you need to start moving to reduce the pain intensity. Although there is no evidence showing that exercising helps reduce menstrual pain, many women report loosening up after an exercise session (1).
Remember that exercising helps your brain release chemicals known as endorphins that make you feel good. They improve your mood and help draw focus away from the pain. The best exercises to perform during this time are light or moderate aerobic exercises. These include activities like brisk walking, jogging, or treadmill exercise.
Yoga is also another effective exercise that helps with cramps after a period and even during your period. Some of the best yoga poses to perform are the staff, angel, and bridge pose. Note that some yogis discourage women from doing inversions during that time of the month. Doctors, however, disagree and state that there is no problem with doing inversions when on your period (1).
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The other technique you can use to reduce period cramps is applying heat around your abdominal region. All you have to do is look for a microwavable heat pad, disposable heat wrap, or rechargeable cordless heat wrap. These are specifically designed to help with cramps. You can also treat yourself to a warm bath. The warm water comes in handy in calming your muscles and mind (1).
A massage also comes in handy if you have painful menstrual cramps. The massage does not have to be for your full body but instead your belly. All you have to do is gently massage your belly for at least five minutes every day. You can even start a few days before you start your period.
Massaging the belly helps in boosting blood flow and easing tension, which makes you feel ten times better (1). To help with the massage, experts advise using essential oils with pain-relieving compounds (1). Some opt to use a cream or oil with clary sage, a blend of lavender, or marjoram oils. Women report substances with these compounds to be effective in reducing menstrual cramps.
Acupressure also promotes cramp relief, so it is one of the techniques to help with cramps before period. Acupressure is a technique that includes touching key places on your belly, feet, or back.
It helps increase blood flow and also helps with releasing endorphins to soothe the body and mind (1). You can also touch the spot between your thumb and index finger as it helps in relieving pain and aches (1).
Birth Control Pills
Some birth control pills may also help in alleviating period pain if hormonal imbalances cause cramps. This is because hormonal birth control can help balance your estrogen and progesterone levels, which then eases cramps (1).
The Bottom Line
Does caffeine help cramps? No, it does not. Instead, it makes period cramps worsen. The best drinks to have for reduced menstrual cramps are water and herbal tea. Consuming anti-inflammatory and low-fat, high-fiber foods can also help alleviate menstrual cramps. Other techniques that can help relieve menstrual cramps are acupressure, light exercises, applying heat on the abdomen, massage, and medications. Talk to your doctor before implementing any technique.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 13 Ways to Get Rid of Your Period Cramps (2021, webmd.com)
- Dysmenorrhea (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Endometriosis (2018, mayoclinic.org)
- Home remedies for menstrual cramp relief (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Ovarian Cyst (2021, ncbni.nlm.nih.gov)
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) (2020, medicinenet.com)
- Uterine Fibroids (2020, webmd.com)
- What to know about menstrual cramps (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)