By Chris D. Meletis, N.D.
If you dread that time of the month because of menstrual cramps, you’re not alone. Menstrual pain—what doctors call dysmenorrhea—is common. And in up to 20% of women it’s so severe that it interferes with daily activities.1 But menstrual cramps don’t have to bring you down. There are some effective ways to overcome the pain. In this article, I’ll describe some strategies I have used with my patients to provide natural menstrual pain relief. These strategies are based upon the latest scientific evidence. First, though, it’s important to touch upon what causes menstrual cramps in the first place.
What Causes Pain During Your Period?
When you’re menstruating, your uterus is eliminating its lining. To do this it must contract and it’s this contraction that causes the pain and discomfort during your period. There are also some health concerns that can cause painful periods such as endometriosis.
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Not every woman has bad cramps. Chemical messengers in your body called prostaglandins are involved in the severity of your pain. Higher levels of prostaglandins may equal more cramping.2
An inflammatory substance known as arachidonic acid, which can be converted into prostaglandins in your body, also plays a role in your menstrual cramps. Higher levels of arachidonic acid are linked to more menstrual pain.3
Natural Relief for Menstrual Cramps
Conventional treatment for menstrual cramps includes aspirin or birth control pills. However, for women who prefer a more natural approach, there are a number of ways to soothe your discomfort. Your body may just be telling you that it needs more relaxation and important nutrients.
A combination of yoga and meditation can work wonders for menstrual health during that time of month. In a study of 113 medical school students who suffered from menstrual cramps, menstrual pain was significantly reduced in the women who participated in yoga and meditation.4 In fact, 88.3% of those women reported complete relief of their menstrual cramps while 11.6% still had mild pain.
Dietary Supplements and Menstrual Health
If you’re suffering from menstrual cramps, your body might simply need key nutrients. Here are some vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids that play an important part in menstrual health.
Studies have shown this mineral is beneficial in supporting the health of women with menstrual cramps, premenstrual syndrome, and menstrual migraine.5
Calcium is another important mineral for menstrual health. Studies have shown taking 1,000 mg of calcium can be helpful.6
Vitamin E and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids—either alone or together—both support the health of women during menstruation. However, one double-blind, randomized study found that combining these two nutrients made them even more powerful.7 The study used 180 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA and 120 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA combined with 200 IU of vitamin E. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, may protect against the inflammation caused by high levels of arachidonic acid.8
Vitamin B1 and Vitamin B6
Several randomized, controlled studies have found that thiamine (Vitamin B1) supports menstrual health.9,10 It does this by playing a role in healthy uterine muscle contraction.11
Combining magnesium with vitamin B6 may also reduce premenstrual stress.12
Menstrual cramps are an unfortunate part of many women’s lives. The many natural strategies mentioned in this article can support the health of women experiencing this painful monthly problem.
About Dr. Meletis
Dr. Meletis is an internationally recognized naturopathic physician, an accomplished author, and respected educator in the field of natural medicine. Dr. Meletis was honored as a ‘Naturopathic Physician of the Year’ by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians for his commitment to education and helping those in need. His mission is simply, “changing the world’s health, one person at a time”.
He has authored 14 books on subjects ranging from natural medicine interactions to fertility enhancement and has published over 80 articles in publications such as Natural Health andNatural Pharmacy. Dr. Meletis has served as the Dean of Naturopathic Medicine and Chief Medical Officer for the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) for seven years and later as the school’s Senior Science Officer. He sits on several medical advisory boards and has worked with Oregon Health and Science University on a grant from the National Institute of Health to further educate MD graduates on natural medicine.
- Proctor ML, Farquhar CM. Dysmenorrhoea. BMJ Clin Evid. 2007;2007 0813.
- Bernardi M, Lazzeri L, Perelli F, et al. Dysmenorrhea and related disorders. F1000Res.2017 Sep 5;6:1645.
- Bieglmayer C,Hofer G, Kainz C, et al. Concentrations of various arachidonic acid metabolites in menstrual fluid are associated with menstrual pain and are influenced by hormonal contraceptives. Gynecol Endocrinol. 1995 Dec;9(4):307-12.
- Nag U, Kodali M. Meditation and yoga as alternative therapy for primary dysmenorrhea. Int J Med Pharm Sci. 2013 Mar;3(7):39-44.
- Parazzini F,Di Martino M, Pellegrino P. Magnesium in the gynecological practice: a literature review. Magnes Res. 2017 Feb 1;30(1):1-7.
- Zarei S, Mohammad-Alizadeh-Charandabi S, Mirghafourvand M, et al. Effects of Calcium-Vitamin D and Calcium-Alone on Pain Intensity and Menstrual Blood Loss in Women with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pain Med. 2017 Jan 1;18(1):3-13.
- Sadeghi N,Paknezhad F, Rashidi Nooshabadi M, et al. Vitamin E and fish oil, separately or in combination, on treatment of primary dysmenorrhea: a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2018 Mar 15:1-5. [Epub ahead of print.]
- Saini RK, Keum YS. Omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids: Dietary sources, metabolism, and significance – A review. Life Sci. 2018 Jun 15;203:255-67.
- Dennehy CE. The use of herbs anddietary supplements in gynecology: an evidence-based review. J Midwifery Women’s Health. 2006 Nov-Dec;51(6):402-9.
- Hosseinlou A,Alinejad V, Alinejad M, et al. The effects of fish oil capsules and vitamin B1 tablets on duration and severity of dysmenorrheain students of high school in Urmia-Iran. Glob J Health Sci. 2014 Sep 18;6(7 Spec No):124-9.
- Abdollahifard S,Rahmanian Koshkaki A, Moazamiyanfar R. The effects of vitamin B1 on ameliorating the premenstrual syndrome symptoms. Glob J Health Sci. 2014 Jul 29;6(6):144-53.
- McCabe D,Lisy K, Lockwood C, et al. The impact of essential fatty acid, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc supplementation on stress levels in women: a systematic review. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep. 2017 Feb;15(2):402-53.