Updated: Apr 26, 2019
Some people rarely get cramps, and other get cramps so bad that childbirth is a cakewalk. It's common to be prescribed birth control pills for severe cramps, which of course doesn't address the heart of the matter.
Asian medicine has metaphors like "blood stagnation" or "cold uterus" as the cause of painful periods. Western medicine generally blames prostaglandins, which are molecules made by the body for immune and hormonal purposes. Some prostaglandins are pro-inflammation, and some are anti-inflammation, because we need various types for would healing, clot formation, etc,... The thought is that painful periods are partly due to excess inflammatory prostglandins, or simply excess inflammation in general. Another line of thinking about cramps and PMS is that excess estrogen contributes to the symptoms, and helping to metabolize the estrogen will lower PMS symptoms and reduce cramping.
On to the practical suggestions and the reasons for each:
Drink Water - this allows your body to flush excess whatever out of your system, and it means you aren't drinking other things.
Eat Fiber - estrogen can be processed by joining to fiber and being excreted in feces. More fiber in = more estrogen out. Also, more potassium from vegetables will help manage water retention symptoms.
Exercise - moves lymphatic fluid to circulate and releases hormones through sweat. Also a mood boost and sleep aid, and it lightens the load on the liver which has to process hormones.
Sleep - if you're always sleep-deprived, you may cope well enough generally, but feel the effects (mood swings, crankiness, weepiness) during the week before your period. Do yourself a favor and schedule some early nights.
Caffeine - Not that it's bad for you in itself, but it allows you to kid yourself about how tired you are. Great for emergencies, but a crutch of sorts. Also something more for the liver to process.
Alcohol - Again, tends to change the emotional terrain, avoid feelings, etc,... and more work for the liver.
Dairy - This doesn't matter for everyone, but in many people it promotes inflammation, especially if you're eating lots. It also crowds out other foods with more fiber and other minerals. Experiment by just cutting back the week before your period. And any dairy you do eat should be full-fat and low in added sugar.
Sugar - Again, individual thresholds vary, but be honest with yourself here. Extra sugar doesn't make anyone feel great in the long term, and you'll have steadier energy and mood eating real food most of the time.
Stress - Just kidding! You don't have to worry about avoiding yet one more things out of your control. There's some stress in most people's lives, so taking care of your body and soul and focusing on the good will help you cope and enjoy life. Do what you can and don't worry about being perfect.
Any other great ideas? Share in the comments below. Have a great day!