Menstrual Cramps and Pain (Dysmenorrhea)
It’s not unusual for many women to experience mild pain during their periods for a couple of days each month. However, if your pain is more than mild, you may have “dysmenorrhea”. Dysmenorrhea, also known as painful menstruation (periods), or menstrual cramps, usually occurs before and in the beginning of menstruation and typically lasts less than three days. The pain is usually located in the pelvis or lower abdomen. Menstrual spasms (cramps), associated with menstrual pain, are defined as involuntary contractions of the uterus.
There are two types of dysmenorrhea; primary and secondary. In the primary dysmenorrhea, which is most common, cramping and pain usually start 1–2 days before period begins and can last 2–4 days. Secondary dysmenorrhea is the result of a medical condition such as endometriosis in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found outside its normal location.
– Menstrual pain is caused by excessive uterine contractions (when uterus tightens and relaxes, allowing blood to leave the uterus). The lining of uterus releases prostaglandins which increase the strength of the contractions, especially during the first days of menstrual cycle.
– It is very possible that the painful menstruation, caused by increased uterine contractions, has a lot to do with magnesium deficiency (very common problem today) as magnesium helps muscles, including uterus, to relax. Without enough magnesium in the body uterus contracts too much causing pain.
– Painful menstruation and uterine cramps can be also caused by hormonal imbalance caused by too much oestrogen which has been proven to cause excessive uterine contractions. Many women are suffering from painful menstruation due to having too much oestrogen (oestrogen dominance) caused by many factors including overweight leading to excess estrogen which is deposited in adipose (fat) tissue, xenoestrogens (pesticides, plastics, DDT and dioxin), lack of exercise, etc.
- Liver congestion and weakness can contribute to the increased levels of oestrogen and to painful menstruation. Excess of oestrogen is normally removed in part, via the liver. Unfortunately, since the liver gets frequently overloaded with toxins it becomes less efficient and unable to filter them and also ineffective in removing excess of oestrogen.
- Xenoestrogens, which contaminate water and food stored in plastic containers, mimic real oestrogen and magnify the negative effect of oestrogen dominance in human body increasing its contracting effect on uterine muscle and pain.
- Low levels of progesterone contribute to painful menstruation and menstrual cramps because unlike oestrogen progesterone relaxes the uterine smooth muscles. Chronic psychological stress, toxins, poor dietary habits and other factors can indirectly deplete progesterone levels.
– Frequent uterine contractions accompanied by pain can be caused by an increased amount of inflammation, poor blood circulation in uterus and congestion caused by lack of physical activity and exercise, dehydration, cold feet and hands, poor diet, etc.
– Excessive consumption of animal foods, such as meat, containing Arachidonic Acid contributes to dysmenorrhea as it increases production of prostaglandins (hormone-like chemicals involved in activation of the onset of bleeding).
– Emotional stress, nervousness, and anxiety contribute to the menstrual cramps as brain can influence uterus through the nervous system triggering excessive contractions. For this reason irritability, inability to control stress, anxiety and any negative emotions may have a very bad influence on female reproductive system. The problem gets much worse when nervousness and frequent psychological stress are associated with magnesium deficiency and lack of other vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients involved in maintaining normal brain and muscle function.
– Other factors that contribute to menstrual cramps include: Lack of exercise, thyroid and liver problems, lack of zinc and B vitamins, certain medications, refined diet high in sugar and white flour products, use of stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, illegal drugs, cigarette smoking), artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, lack of probiotic bacteria in the gut due to bad refined diet, antibiotics, consumption of meat and dairy products, sugar, stimulants, overgrowth of harmful bacteria and candida (yeasts), toxins, stress, lack of dietary fibre, etc.
RECOMMENDED SUPPLEMENTS & HERBS
– Since lack of magnesium (extremely common today due to soil depletion, stress, use of stimulants and refined diet) leads to spasms and dysfunction of various muscles, including uterus, heart, stomach, colon, magnesium supplementation is often the best and sometimes only way to relax these muscles. Therefore, the most important supplement to use for muscle cramps, stomach cramps, or menstrual (uterine) cramps is a good quality magnesium such as magnesium citrate. It relaxes nervous system and muscles including uterus. Magnesium deficiency is rampant today and it is essential to cope with menstrual cramps and tension.
– According to one study women who took vitamin D supplements had 41 percent reduced PMS symptoms.
While using vitamin D3 supplements always remember to take also well absorbed magnesium (such as citrate) as vitamin D supplements lead to magnesium deficiency over time.
– Raspberry leaf has been used for centuries to help women at various points during their menstrual cycles. According to Dr. Diana Ramos, "Fragarine (active ingredient in raspberry leaf) is known to help tone and tighten muscles in the pelvic region, thereby assisting with the cramps caused by spasms of these muscles." In addition, tannins, found in the same raspberry leaf, are believed to strengthen the uterus, thus helping to mitigate heavy and irregular menstruation. Studies have concluded that there are no side effects of using raspberry leaf. A 2000 study indicated that raspberry leaf have the ability to act as a relaxant agent thereby able to help with muscle (including uterus) spasms and cramping. Also according to a 2002 research by scientists from the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom raspberry leaf extract had a relaxant activity.
– According to Dr. Barry Sears menstrual problems and PMS are linked to a genetic defect in the proper synthesis of Gamma Linolenic Aid (GLA) which is the building block of prostaglandin hormones. Medical research provided data according to which women with severe PMS and menstrual pains have GLA levels about 80% lower than normal. There are also studies indicating that women on GLA supplement (Evening primrose oil and Star flower oil) get relief. However, according to other studies there was no benefit. Trying to explain the cause of this contradiction, Dr. Sears suggests that often GLA supplementation alone can't resolve menstrual problems and PMS, because it has to be combined with a healthy lifestyle and proper unrefined diet that increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood levels of this hormone. It is so important because GLA is the building block of both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory prostaglandin hormones. If there is too much insulin in the body, an enzyme called delta -5 desaturase is activated and converts GLA into arachidonic acid, which is then converted into pro-inflammatory prostaglandinsresponsible for painful menstruation and PMS symptoms.
– Dr. Hanley recommends natural progesterone in the form of a wild yam tincture (rubbed into the skin), because only 10 % of hormones taken orally actually reach the bloodstream; the liver filters out the rest. The wild yam cream should be used between ovulation and the day before the menstrual flow starts.
– Vitamin B6: A group of British researchers suggest that taking daily dose of 100 to 200 milligrams of vitamin B6 may be very helpful in relieving PMS symptoms. According to the study women with PMS taking vitamin B6 supplements experienced significantly reduced PMS symptoms compared to the placebo group. In order to be more effective B6 supplements should be taken about seven days before menstruation. For the first two weeks of the cycle, it is recommended to take about 100 mg of B6 daily with other B vitamins. Also keep in mind that the more vitamin B6 you is used, the more magnesium is needed. Magnesium is also necessary to be used with vitamin D supplements.
– Zinc citrate (citrate doesn’t cause nausea): 30 to 50mg a day after breakfast. According to some sources vitamin B6 must be taken with zinc as without it B6 won’t help to cope with hormonal imbalance and PMS symptoms! You need to take about 30 to 50mg of zinc after breakfast.
– Consumption of Chamomile seems to be more effective than a drug in relieving the intensity of PMS associated symptomatic psychological pains >
– Take good quality probiotic formulas (such as UltraProbio, ImmuProbio, or ColiProbio) as gut health greatly depends on a healthy ratio between good and bad bacteria. Good quality Probiotic formula is one of the best ways to keep Candida (one of the key causes of PMS and menstrual problems).
– There are women who claim to recover from menstrual pain and cramps as a result of taking Vitamin B12 supplements: 1,000 to 2,000 mcg a day under the tongue (must be in the form of sublingual Methylcobalamin). Deficiency of this vitamin is regarded as rampant today.
– Take good quality Omega 3 fish oil supplements (HealthAid makes excellent omega 3 fish oil as it is molecularly distilled and therefore free from mercury and other contaminants >): 1000 mg 2 times a day with meals. I recommend this one also because it is high in both EPA and DHA.
– Serotonin. Since one of the reasons of menstrual problems is lower serotonin levels it is important to increase the production of this very important antidepressant and feel good hormone. The best way to do it is regular aerobic energetic exercise such as fast walk for about 30-60 min a day (especially in the morning). Try to exercise outside as the more light you see the more serotonin will be produced. Apart from that, also vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, zinc, L-tryptophan (5HTP) and complex carbohydrates (bananas, dried fruits, etc.) are required for proper synthesis of serotonin in the brain.
Increasing serotonin synthesis through tryptophan (5HTP) supplementation during the late luteal phase of the menstrual cycle has a beneficial effect in patients with premenstrual dysphoric disorder >
– If your periods are very heavy, take good quality iron supplement to support your iron levels and prevent anaemia and fatigue.
NUTRITIONAL AND LIFESTYLE RECOMMENDATIONS
- Remember to keep your feet and hands always warm by wearing proper shoes, socks, and gloves and keeping feet in hot water as otherwise cold feet and hands may create congestion in upper parts of the body, including uterus, contributing to the poor blood circulation and inflammations.– Exercise at least 30–60 minutes per day.
- Get enough sleep.
- Proper stress control and positive thinking – extremely important!
- Avoiding chlorine, fluoride (toothpastes with fluoride, tap water, etc.), and bromine.
- Don’t drink tap water as it is often high in estradiol (100 times more powerful than estrogen) which causes hormonal imbalance in both men and women. Try buying water in glass bottles as Bisphenol A (BPA) which is found in plastic bottles and cans (they are lined up with plastic) disrupt endocrine system. If possible, drink and use for cooking only distilled or at least filtered water. Unfortunately, not all water filters remove fluoride, so make sure the one you have does (such as reverse osmosis filters) or use only distilled water (buy a water distiller) as distillation is the best and most economical way to remove all contaminants from water as well as harmful inorganic calcium. Taking chlorella and turmeric help to get rid of fluoride and heavy metals such as mercury that have already accumulated in your body. Read more about drinking water >.
- Avoid sugar and high glucose / high fructose syrup, Splenda and other artificial sweeteners. Use Xylitol or Stevia instead.
- Eliminate or at least reduce use of stimulants (alcohol, smoking, anything with caffeine or other similar harmful alkaloids: coffee, tea, green tea, mate, yerba mate, cola, chocolate, etc.).
- Eat plenty of raw vegetables salads and raw vegetable juices.
- Avoid hydrogenated fats and trans fats (margarines, doughnuts, cakes, etc.) and pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids (soy oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, etc.).
- Increase consumption of omega 3 fatty acids in the form of ground flax seeds, chia seeds.
- Increase intake of healthy fats such as raw coconut oil, coconut milk, avocado, chia seeds (soaked for at least 30 minutes or overnight), ground flaxseed, and hemp seeds as they will balance hormones. Coconut oil is a saturated fat comprising medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are known to increase metabolism and promote weight loss. Coconut oil is very stable (shelf life of three to five years at room temperature), so body is much less burdened with oxidative stress than it is from many other vegetable oils.
- Reduce consumption of meat and dairy products as they contribute to hormonal imbalance. Excessive consumption of animal foods (especially meat) containing arachidonic acid contributes to dysmenorrhea as it increases production of prostaglandins (hormone-like chemicals involved in activation of the onset of bleeding).
- Treat unresolved emotional issues as a source of stress. Menstrual cramps reflect emotions and mental attitude. Stress, anxiety or depression is often a key culprit. It is important to identify the stressors and learn use ways such as prayer that can help to control stress and negative emotions.
Written by Slawomir Gromadzki, MPH
- British Medical Journal May 22, 1999;318:1375-1381.
- Loch E-G, Selle H, Boblitz N. Journal of Women’s Health and Gender-Based Medicine 2000; 9 (3): 315-20.
- Van DIe, MD, et al.. “Effects of a combination of Hypericum perforatum and Vitex agnus-castus on PMS-like symptoms in late-perimenopausal women: findings from a subpopulation analysis.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 15.9 (2009): n. pag. pubmed.gov. Web. 21 May 2014
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