5 Supplements That Can Ease Period Symptoms, Plus What They're Used For
From the blood and bloating to the cramps and mood swings, menstruation can be a demanding time of the month. Many of us (myself included!) feel out of sorts before and during our period. We wish we could spend the week taking hot baths and binge-watching guilty pleasure TV. Sadly, we don't have the luxury of hiding out from the world every time we get our period—but there are some supplements that can help make the time more bearable. Capsules of plant- and mineral-derived materials have shown promise for banishing bloat, curbing cranky moods, and soothing painful cramps. It's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking any supplement. Here are five to explore with your physician if you're looking for ways to make your period a little easier:
Do cramps accompany your time of the month? A growing body of research shows that magnesium can help with dysmenorrhea (doctor-speak for menstrual cramps).*
A 2017 literature review of studies on the use of magnesium in gynecology found that the mineral was significantly more effective at relieving cramps than placebos in two of three controlled studies, while an additional open trial showed that magnesium helped manage symptoms.*
Period cramps are just one of the menstrual symptoms that magnesium can help with, though.* The literature review found that daily magnesium supplements over the course of 12 weeks led to a 41.6% reduction in the frequency of menstrual migraines—a finding that was repeated in one other study the researchers analyzed.* Magnesium also showed promise in easing PMS symptoms in several pieces of research in the lit review, including a placebo-controlled study on 32 women.* Not to mention, certain forms of magnesium—like magnesium glycinate—also show promise in promoting deeper sleep, which can be difficult to come by during menstruation1.*
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like fish, nuts, and flaxseed, have been linked to a variety of potential health benefits2, such reduced risk of heart problems, improvements in infant development, and lower risk of breast cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Research also shows that taking omega-3 supplements can help make your period much more comfortable. A Danish study3, which looked at 78 women with dysmenorrhea over the course of three menstrual cycles, found those who took Omega-3-rich fish oil experienced a significant reduction in their discomfort and their period's interference with everyday activities compared with participants who took a placebo. The findings in that report built upon the conclusions of two other studies conducted back in the late 1990s—one that followed 181 women4, another that evaluated 42 adolescent girls5—both of which had similar results in period pain relief from omega-3s.
Chasteberry, a fruit from a tree found in Central Asia and the Mediterranean, has a long history of use in reproductive health. The fruit's chastity-inspired name nods to its use by monks in the Middle Ages to suppress their sexual desire. Whether or not there's proof of that property remains to be seen, but there is some compelling evidence to back up another centuries-old use of the fruit in reducing PMS symptoms6.
A 2013 systematic review of 12 randomized, controlled trials on chasteberry and female reproductive disorders found that it was effective at reducing PMS symptoms in seven out of eight studies. The studies ranged in size from 55 to 120 participants who had PMS symptoms for at least three to 12 months. After taking an average dose of 40 milligrams of chasteberry per day, the subjects noticed improvements in symptoms like bloating, depression, nervousness, breast pain, and irritability.
Crimson tide, shark week, the red wedding—there are all kinds of playful nicknames to describe the anything-but-fun experience of having a heavy flow. It's generally not a medical concern, but let's get real: Soaking through tampons is a drag. Fortunately, ginger might be able to help make your periods lighter.
In a 2014 study, 92 high school girls with heavy periods took either ginger supplements or a placebo pill over the course of six consecutive menstrual cycles. The results showed that those who took ginger saw a dramatic decline in blood flow. What's more, ginger also shows promise for reducing cramps. A 2015 systematic7 review of seven studies on ginger and dysmenorrhea found evidence that taking 750 to 2,000 milligrams of ginger powder at the beginning of the menstrual cycle could ease pain.
5. Ginkgo biloba
One of the oldest surviving species of trees, ginkgo's fan-shaped leaves contain powerful antioxidants and terpenoids that may help reduce inflammation8, boost circulation9, and relieve anxiety10. Scientists are still learning all about this ancient plant, but early research has shown that ginkgo may be a useful supplement to take for menstruation, as well.
A 2009 study11, in which 85 students took either 40 milligrams of Ginkgo biloba extract three times a day from the 16th day of their menstrual cycle to the fifth day of their following cycle or a placebo, found that the supplement reduced the severity of the physical and mental symptoms of PMS in nearly one out of four participants, compared with less than 9% of those who took the placebo. The scientists say that more studies are needed to determine the best dosage and treatment duration, but the early findings show promise of using ginkgo for a better period.
The bottom line.
Research on supplements for menstrual health is ongoing, but studies have shown that taking magnesium, omega-3, chasteberry, ginger and/or ginkgo could soothe certain symptoms.* Remember: Supplements, even natural ones, can interact with other medications you’re taking, so be sure to talk to your doctor before adding anything new to your regimen. Additionally, these supplements work best when used in conjunction with healthy behaviors including avoiding processed carbs and sugar, getting enough rest, managing stress, and regular exercise.
Joni Sweet is an NYC-based freelance writer specializing in travel, health, and wellness. She earned her bachelor's in journalism at Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications.
Her work has been published by National Geographic, Forbes, The Christian Science Monitor, Lonely Planet, Real Simple, Prevention, HealthyWay, Healthline, Thrillist, and more.