You’re probably all too familiar with the uncomfortable and sometimes downright debilitating cramps that can come with your period. While there are a lot of different things that can help alleviate period cramps, one nutrient that is particularly helpful is magnesium.
First of all, what is magnesium? It’s a mineral that’s involved in a wide array of functions, from muscle relaxation to inflammation. Magnesium is found in foods like nuts and seeds. Pumpkin seeds have the highest amount of magnesium with about 156 milligrams per 1 ounce (about ¼ cup). Chia seeds contain 111 mg of magnesium per ounce and almonds come at third place with 80 mg of magnesium per ounce.
So why do period cramps happen?
To understand how magnesium helps with period cramps it’s important to understand how period cramps occur. Each time you have a period cramp that sensation is actually your uterus contracting and relaxing repeatedly. Very mild uterine cramps are normal, however cramps that require pain relieving medications or impact your ability to do what you want in your day is not really normal. It has become so normalized to just “pop an Advil” each month (sometimes many Advils!), when in reality period cramps are a sign from your body that something is off.
When cramps are more severe in nature, that is because chemical messengers made by your immune cells are signaling to your uterus to contract stronger, which results in more pain! You may be wondering, why is the immune system sending out these messengers to begin with? The primary reason is because the immune system is detecting inflammation. For instance, let’s say someone eats a lot of ultra-processed take-out food on a regular basis. Those ultra-processed foods contain high amounts of ultra-processed ingredients that are often detected as inflammatory (think like “debris”) by your immune system. Imagine your immune system like a commander saying “Alert, we have some debris to clean up!” That sends a cascade of inflammatory signals and messengers whose job is to attack and clean away the debris. All the organs will get impacted by this crossfire in different ways, and one way the uterus responds to this inflammation is through contractions. So, the next time you feel intense cramps, try to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, whole grains, and fatty fish like salmon.
How can magnesium help with period cramps?
Well, it works in two ways. The first is by relaxing the muscles in your uterus to help reduce cramping and discomfort. Magnesium also reduces inflammation and some of those inflammatory chemical messengers we talked about. Therefore, magnesium’s muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory benefits are what contribute to easing period cramps.
But that’s not all! Magnesium has a bunch of other benefits too. It helps with digestion, helps regulate your blood pressure, and can even improve your sleep. If you’re interested in trying magnesium to help with your period cramps, there are a few different ways you can go about it.
First, it’s important to note that everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work exactly the same for another. That being said, many people have found relief from period cramps by incorporating magnesium into their routine. If you’re interested in giving it a try, it’s definitely worth a shot! Just make sure to start slowly and listen to your body.
CAUTION: Magnesium can interact with numerous medications and be a health risk in certain conditions, please make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before using magnesium supplements.
How to you use magnesium to relieve period cramps
It’s very hard to get higher amounts of magnesium through food, you’d have to eat multiple cups of pumpkin seeds! For this reason magnesium supplements may be needed to get the cramp relieving benefits of magnesium. There are many types of magnesium supplements, there’s magnesium glycinate, magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide, and the list goes on. The two forms of magnesium I stick to in my practice are magnesium glycinate and citrate so we will focus on those two. If the goal is to use magnesium for period cramp relief only, then going for the magnesium glycinate form is best. If someone tends to be more constipated, magnesium citrate can be a better option since it’s also a laxative (i.e., makes stools looser). You can also get creative and alternate between both forms depending on your needs. Here’s the breakdown on how magnesium can be used for period cramp relief:
- Magnesium glycinate – this is the non-laxative form of magnesium. The dose can range anywhere from 400-1000 mg per day. What many people will find helpful is taking a daily dose of 400 mg per day throughout the entire month then a few days before their period starts, they bump up the dose to 600 mg or 800 mg per day. It’s important to space out dosing (e.g., morning & night) so the benefits of magnesium last throughout the day. They can then continue this dose of 800 mg during the cramping days of their period too, then go back down to half the dose of 400 mg after the cramping days are finished.
- Magnesium citrate – this is the laxative form of magnesium, which is more helpful for those who tend to be more constipated. The ways to use magnesium citrate are generally the same as magnesium glycinate. The only exception is to keep in mind that since it’s a laxative you probably don’t want very high doses of magnesium citrate as that may give you diarrhea. If you need some stool softening effects start low and go up slow. For example, someone may start at 250 mg of magnesium citrate and see how their stools look for the next 24-36 hours. If nothing changed, they could increase the dose to 400-500 mg, and so on. Let’s say someone’s constipation is relieved at 500 mg of magnesium citrate. They may then take another 300 mg of magnesium glycinate (non-laxative form) to get up to a dose of 800 mg of magnesium before their period for the cramping relief.
Overdosing: It’s very important to note that you should not go beyond a dose of 1,000 mg of magnesium per day to prevent overdosing.
Wait… what if my cramps last for a whole week and not just a few days?
Period cramps that start before 24 hours of the period and/or last beyond 72 hours of the start of the period should be discussed with your gynecologist and should not be dismissed. Extended days of pain beyond that window of time may indicate an underlying gynecologic condition that is resulting in longer-lasting pain. Also, if the pain is excruciating and severe that is also also important to get checked out by your gynecologist.
In conclusion, magnesium is a mineral that can help greatly with period cramps. It works by relaxing the muscles in your uterus and reducing inflammation. There are a few different ways to incorporate magnesium into your routine. If you’re interested in trying it out, it’s definitely worth a shot – just make sure to talk to your doctor or dietitian first and start slowly.