Many women (okay, me) dread the days leading up to our monthly periods. From the bloating, cramps, and breakouts to the unexpected accidents of early periods to mood swings and all-around icky feelings, PMS is a total drag and a legit strain on life. So when I heard that magnesium may help ease—and in some cases prevent—symptoms that I experience 12 times a year, I had to investigate.
You’ve probably already heard of the many ways to use the natural powerhouse: It can help with anxiety, insomnia, migraines and IBS, and even get your skin glowing. And now, medical and wellness pros are recommending the nutrient as a natural way to ease pre-period pain.
I spoke with two firm believers in the mineral’s PMS-fighting power: Dr. Lara Briden, naturopathic doctor and author of Period Repair Manual, and Kat Schneider, CEO and founder of natural supplement brand Ritual. (As if you needed further convincing to whip up a batch of magnesium-packed PMS brownies during your next cycle.)
Keep reading for how to unleash the power of magnesium for menstrual cramps
Using magnesium for menstrual cramps
Let’s start with the basics. One reason why many of us need to add magnesium into our diets is because we aren’t getting enough of it through food alone. “It’s estimated that about two-thirds of Americans have a magnesium deficiency,” says Dr. Briden. And low levels of the mineral can have a major impact on how your body feels during your cycle. “Magnesium deficiency increases both the contractility of smooth muscle and the level of prostaglandins, which are the inflammatory compounds that drive period pain.” This is basically a recipe for killer cramps.
It's also why Dr. Briden frequently recommends magnesium to her patients suffering from PMS. “I dub magnesium the ‘miracle mineral for periods.’ It’s my front-line prescription for PCOS, PMS, period pain, and perimenopause,” she proclaims, adding that it also helps regulate cortisol levels. “Magnesium calms the nervous system, so it's great for the headaches and mood symptoms of PMS,” she says. Although tampons don't cause cramps, it can help when they cause discomfort. It's also a recommended remedy for anus cramps during periods.
How to get more magnesium through food
While a daily supplement is a great way to increase your magnesium levels, there are also ways to simply tweak your diet for a less painful period. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, and arugula are bursting with the mineral, as are nuts like cashews, almonds, and walnuts. Try adding more pumpkin seeds and avocados to your lunch salad, while skipping out on the saltier toppings. “Decrease your overall salt intake, as this makes it easier for magnesium to prevent bloating and water retention,” advises Schneider.
When it comes to satisfying your craving for something sweet, Briden recommends eating magnesium-rich dark chocolate (score!). Just make sure to stay away from bars with too much sugar, as out-of-control insulin levels can mess with your hormones and promote inflammation.
Tips for buying magnesium supplements for PMS
If you do choose to use magnesium supplements, make sure to take them daily—and be patient. Unlike pain relievers, which take effect almost immediately, magnesium needs to be soaked up by the body over time. “Consistent intake lets the body get the most use out of [the magnesium], and it takes some time to reach that point—maybe days or weeks,” says Schneider. She recommends a three-month "therapeutic trial" to see how the supplements work for you. “After this period, assess how you feel," she says.
As for what type of magnesium to buy, Schneider suggests staying away from magnesium oxide, which is the most commonly available type of supplement, as well as magnesium hydroxide and magnesium chloride, as they are typically too harsh. Instead, both Schneider and Dr. Briden suggest taking magnesium glycinate. “It’s magnesium joined to the amino acid glycine, which is more absorbable than other types of magnesium and is less likely to cause diarrhea,” says Briden. “Also, glycine has its own calming effect on the nervous system.”
Fewer cramps and an overall sense of calm? Now that’s a win. Period.
- Guo, Wanli et al. “Magnesium Deficiency in Plants: An Urgent Problem.” The Crop Journal, vol. 4, no. 2, 2016, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cj.2015.11.003.
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