No woman enjoys getting her period.
However, for some of us, the inconvenience of the blood is nothing compared with the twisting, aching pain of monthly menstrual cramps!
These cramps can last for hours, or even days, disrupting our schedules, stealing our energy, and overall just making us feel unjustly targeted by Mother Nature. However, if Mother Nature created the problem, she may have created the solution as well…
Essential oils, and the plants they come from, have been used for centuries to reduce the pain and inconvenience of menstrual cramps. But how far has modern research got in confirming their effectiveness? And which essential oils are best to use?
Can essential oils really reduce menstrual cramp pain?
The one good thing about the regularity of menstrual periods is that it makes them really easy to study! There have been lots of studies with human subjects showing the effectiveness of aromatherapy and/or aromatherapy massages in reducing menstrual cramp pain.
And what’s even more encouraging than a long list of studies is that there have been no less than seven systematic reviews/meta-analyses published in the last decade (three of them from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, two of them specific to lavender) supporting the use of essential oils against menstrual cramps! (Review 1, Review 2, Review 3, Review 4, Review 5, Review 6, Review 7)
How do I use essential oils to reduce menstrual cramp pain?
When it comes to essential oils and cramps, there are basically two different approaches:
- Inhalation — We recommend diffusing your oil of choice for 30 minutes at a time, at least once a day (though more often if you choose) for as many days as your menstrual pain lasts. Breathe deeply, allowing the scent molecules to make their way in through your nose to your lungs.
- Topical massage — We recommend diluting your essential oil of choice with a carrier oil at a 2-3% dilution rate (roughly 2-3 drops per teaspoon). Massage the solution into not just your lower abdomen but also your lower back.
Which oils are best for fighting menstrual cramps?
Are we surprised that lavender has the most research behind it for fighting menstrual cramps? Not at all.
Studies done with human subjects have repeatedly found that lavender oil reduces the severity of menstrual symptoms when inhaled (1, 2, 3, 4), when used alone in a topical massage solution (5,6), and when mixed into a massage solution with other essential oils (7,8).
And as an added bonus, lavender is only oil considered to be safe for applying “neat” or undiluted! So, on a bad crampy day, you can pull out your lavender bottle and get straight to work!
While experiencing period pain, “Stop and smell the roses” might be the last idea that comes to mind—but really, you should!
Researchers from Iran and Turkey have found rose oil to be helpful in reducing period pain in a number of human studies (9, 10, 11, 12) and, if not for the pain, you might find it useful in reducing a menstruation-related headache (13).
Menstrual cramps come from the contracting of uterine muscles and, as it happens, peppermint is a great friend to unhappy muscles!
Clary Sage is an herb famous for helping with women’s ailments since medieval times and now, modern research is lending a hand to prove clary sage’s worth!
So far, the best studies have been ones that have mixed clary sage with other oils for a topical massage (16, 17) but research has begun exploring the unique potential of sclareol, an organic compound of clary sage (18) and we’re excited to see where the research goes next!
Other Oils To Try
What else can I do to reduce period pain?
If you’re looking for other methods to reduce menstrual cramp pain or even get ahead of your period cramps so they don’t come on so strong, there are a number of things to try:
- Avoid unhealthy food. An unhealthy diet equals bloats and water retention—both of which can make your period worse. Before and during menstruation, make an extra effort to avoid extra fat, sugar, alcohol, carbonated beverages, salt, and caffeine. Healthy eating will improve your overall mood and help reduce cramp pain!
- Improve your digestive health with fiber (and maybe some ginger, mint, or lemon tea). The smoother things flow above, the easier your menstrual cycle will take it on your anatomy below.
- Take care of your pelvic health with yoga. Regularly practicing yoga in the week before your period can reduce menstrual cramp pain and boost your mood as well!
- Exercise 3 times a week. Research has shown that regularly getting 30 minutes of low-to-medium intensity aerobic exercise 3x a week can reduce menstrual cramp pain. Try some swimming, running, cycling, or dancing!