People are praising this mineral supplement for easing period pain, but does it work?
It goes without saying that most women experience some level of dull discomfort during their period. But studies show that over 43% have intense pain during every single bleed, and another 41% experience pain some or most months. While most of us with menstrual cycles have tried and tested ways to manage those crampy, achy days (hot water bottles, paracetamol, gentle yoga poses), living with a throbbing stomach and lower back for a few days seems like an incurable part of our lives.
But what if there was an easy solution to ease those pains? Recently, there’s been a buzz online from women discussing how a common mineral has helped soothe those cramps than other home remedies they’ve previously relied on. But could magnesium be the key to better periods?
How does magnesium help period pains
First up, what actually causes these monthly pains? “Pains can happen because of a rise in chemicals called prostaglandins, which cause the muscles and blood vessels of the uterus to contract, causing a cramping pain,” explains Dr Nina Fuller-Shavel, founder of women’s health clinic Synthesis Clinic.
For that reason, magnesium seems like a smart solution. As well as being widely known to help aid sleep due to its relaxing properties, the mineral is crucial for aiding proper muscle contractions and nerve transmissions throughout the body. And the uterus is no different.
“Magnesium can influence the contraction and relaxation of the uterine muscle and may inhibit the synthesis of prostaglandins that cause cramps,” says Dr Fuller-Shavel.
The evidence is pretty compelling, too. One of the early studies into magnesium on period pain in 2007 found that 250mg of the mineral a day reduced PMS symptoms including cramps by over 35% over three bleeds. Since then, a thorough review of the literature in 2017 has concluded that “magnesium supplementation may reduce or abolish clinical symptoms” of PMS.
It’s worth noting that these improvements may not be because magnesium is magic, but rather because huge proportions of the public are deficient in the mineral. It’s thought that between 15-30% of people are deficient in magnesium, and the World Health Organisation states that as many as 75% of people in America aren’t meeting their daily intake of 420mg.
It makes sense that topping up levels of the mineral that controls contractions means the uterus can more easily and less painfully contract. That was proven in a 2008 paper that found those with PMS had lower levels of magnesium than those without the syndrome.
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How and when to take magnesium for period pain
If you are worried you have a deficiency, it’s always best to talk to your GP. That’s especially true as there are different forms of magnesium and they all have different absorption rates and effects on the body, warns Dr Fuller-Shavel. “For example, magnesium citrate is a highly absorbable form that also has a mild laxative effect, so if you are prone to loose stools then magnesium glycinate would be a better choice,” she says.
Starting with food first is always a good idea, so stock up on leafy greens (which also contain iron, a mineral lost when you bleed) and dark chocolate. But if you want to supplement, and have got the all-clear from your doctor, she suggests opting for a 300g magnesium supplement in the evening or before bed. Crucially, she says to keep up the supplementation throughout the menstrual cycle, not just when you have pain.
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).