If there’s anything worse than bloating, cramps, insomnia and headaches when you’re getting your period, it’s feeling like that’s just the way it has to be. That’s not so, though! Many seem to think that the only options for treating PMS are quarantining yourself to the couch or popping an over-the-counter remedy and going about your business. But with a few lifestyle and diet adjustments, you can help ease your symptoms and make PMS a thing of the past. The best part is, when you keep these habits going over time, your periods will probably start to be less disruptive, and maybe even more regular.
10 Natural PMS Remedies That Actually Work
1. Don’t Do Dairy
Even if you don’t have any problems digesting dairy, the hormones found in milk, yogurt and cheese might be messing with your time of the month. If you have bad PMS symptoms, it may be worth giving up dairy for two weeks to a month to see if it makes a difference. (Read our guide to giving up dairy without missing it first, of course.) If that seems like too big a commitment, make sure to stick to organic, whole-milk, hormone-free dairy whenever possible—or avoid it while you’re PMSing/on your period. I know, what’s a period without ice cream. Good thing you can make it with bananas!
2. Exercise (A Little Bit)
A little dance, t’ai chi, swimming, yin yoga and other PMS-friendly workouts (even walking the dog) can boost your mood and make everything seem just…not as bad. YouTube has a ton of menstruation-specific yoga sequences if you’re not up for a class. Try to stick to poses that support the pelvic area and lower back. You’ll also likely sleep much better after getting some movement in your day.
3. Pass the Probiotics
Getting your gut in balance is key to balancing pretty much everything in our bodies, and your monthly cycle is no exception. The digestive system plays a role in how estrogen is metabolized, which greatly affects our periods (and how they manifest themselves). Keep everything in tip-top shape—and avoid the digestive upset you might experience during your period anyway—with a non-dairy probiotic like coconut water kefir, kombucha, kimchi or fermented lemonade.
4. Turn Up the Heat
The hot water bottle or heating pad remedy has been around for ages, and that’s because it works! A little bit of heat applied to your abdomen area increases blood flow to the uterus—a lack of which is what causes that awful “I just need to sit here doubled over all day” feeling. You can also apply a heating pad to your back if you get lower back pain during PMS. While you shouldn’t do a castor oil pack when you’re menstruating (or when you’re pregnant for that matter), doing them when you’re not on your cycle can minimize cramps and other symptoms when your period does arrive. I found a few months of castor oil packs made my periods more regular, too!
5. Switch to Natural Feminine Care Products
Some women say they’ve seen a reduction in PMS symptoms like cramps within a few months of switching to more natural feminine hygiene products, like sea sponges, reusable pads or bleach-free tampons (get our guide here). While the evidence is anecdotal, it’s worth a shot. And worth it to minimize exposure to the harmful chemicals that are in some traditional tampons.
6. Beat Bloating with Food
The water retention that comes with PMS is sometimes the worst, since it can make you feel just “off” in general. (Seriously, what motivation is there to do yoga or eat healthier when you already feel like a blob!) The foods you eat right before and during your cycle—and the rest of the month, too—can minimize that. Make sure to avoid salty, spicy or highly processed foods as well as soy products, carbonation, fruit juices and beans, and stick to bloat-busting options like quinoa, parsley, grapes, pineapple, brown rice and sweet potatoes. Click here to get our 1-Day Bloat-Busting Menu, complete with recipes.
7. Minimize Sugar and Caffeine
You might rely on these more than normal when you’re stressed or having PMS, but while coffee drinks and sugar have short-term soothing benefits, the resulting crash will likely make you feel worse. Both can also disrupt your sleep and digestion, and keep your body from properly metabolizing the hormones it needs to at this time of the month. Caffeine also constricts blood vessels, which can cause pain. If you absolutely need the caffeine, try to stick to minimal amounts of plain coffee or green tea. If sugar is your vice, opt for fruit whenever possible. Don’t forget to chase every cup of coffee or tea with water, too—the fastest way to a headache is dehydration.
8. Herbal Tea
We all know a cup of herbal tea is one of the easiest ways to relax—which is key this time of the month. But many herbal teas, like raspberry leaf, feverfew, dong quai, chasteberry and guelder rose (known as “cramp bark”) can help you relax and ease PMS symptoms. I have a few friends who swear by Yogi’s Woman’s Moon Cycle tea. A soothing DIY turmeric tea will help you combat a bad mood and get to sleep.
Chasteberry, evening primrose oil, black cohosh and dong quai supplements have all been linked to reduced PMS symptoms like anxiety, breast tenderness, irritability and bloating. I’ve had great luck with a supplement a naturopath prescribed me that includes maca root. There are many PMS-specific supplement blends out there as well. You’ll need to take a supplement all month, and for more than one cycle, to notice a difference. (Make sure to check with a healthcare practitioner before adding any supplements into your routine, too.)
10. Make it a Home Spa Day
Relaxation is key during this time, and your skin might be freaking out a bit. The best way to address both? Put a Do Not Disturb sign on the bathroom door and carve out some alone time to do an at-home beauty treatment you love, such as a facial mask or body scrub. If you break out right before your period, try a Glowing Skin Turmeric Mask, or if you get dry skin, a Hydrating Honey Mask. Aromatherapy roll-ons and shower tablets can also help relieve cramps, stress, headaches and insomnia.12