First, I want to start off saying that having menstrual cramps is very common but is NOT "normal", despite what you may have been told. Menstrual cramps are caused by excessive uterine and abdominal contractions due to poor blood circulation, lack of blood (i.e. anemia), exposure to too much cold, magnesium deficiency or lack of exercise. Painful periods may also be a symptom of endometriosis, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, or pelvic inflammatory disease.
1) Avoid ice. Drinking ice cold drinks, ice cream, or smoothies (especially before or during your period) can cause muscle contraction in the ovaries and vaginal wall, leaving no room for muscle expansion, thus causing menstrual pain. Drink warm/hot water or hot teas (especially ginger or chamomile tea) hot foods, soups and stews to ease and prevent menstrual cramps. It is also helpful to use a heating pad on your lower belly (especially if your body is craving that warmth) to improve blood flow and promote muscle relaxation.
2) Take magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is common and the most common symptom is cramping. If you are craving chocolate "that time of the month", you are most likely deficient in magnesium. Why? Chocolate is high in magnesium, so your body naturally craves it to help ease menstrual cramps. You can take magnesium orally, topically in a gel, or you can take a hot epsom salt bath.
3) Stop using tampons. Yes, tampons can be convenient, but tampons block menstrual blood flow and can actually exacerbate or cause menstrual cramps. (Not to mention, they can also cause toxic shock syndrome if left in too long.) Switch to a menstrual cup and/or organic cotton pads instead (non-organic feminine products contain toxic chemicals that can leach into your blood stream and are irritating to your skin).
4) Get acupuncture. Acupuncture is very effective in treating and preventing menstrual cramps. It works by improving blood flow to your ovaries and uterus, and it releases your body's natural painkillers - enkephalins and endorphins. It is also beneficial for regulating your cycle and alleviating PMS symptoms.
5) Sit less & exercise more. Prolonged sitting restricts blood flow to the pelvis and reproductive organs, which can make cramps worse. It is no coincidence that many of my patients with menstrual problems have a sedentary lifestyle or desk job. Regular exercise helps to improve blood flow, release pain-relieving beta-endorphins, and reduce excess prostaglandins (the chemicals responsible for the muscle contraction during your period).