Painful Cramps or Dysmenorrhea: A Few Naturopathic Treatments
Menstrual cramps can be quite painful and debilitating! Dysmenorrhea, which is the medical term for painful menstrual cramps, affects between 50 to 80 percent of women. While mild cramping can interfere with quality of life and cause the sufferer to reach for a painkiller like Advil or Tylenol, severe cramps can lead to absence from work or school and even visits to the emergency room. Severe cramps can also trigger nausea, vomiting, fatigue, poor concentration and negatively affect mood. Considering that typically a menstrual cycle occurs every month, and the average woman menstruates for approximately 40 years, this means that at the very least she will be suffering for 480 days with cramps. This is assuming her cramps only bother her for one day of her cycle, which is not always the case.
I think it is safe to assume we’ve established the reason why painful cramps warrant our attention and why you, as the potential sufferer, could be interested in finding treatment solutions for this problem. Naturally this brings us to the question of – what can we do about this? Here are some of the treatment options that are helpful for primary dysmenorrhea or menstrual cramps that are not caused by other conditions, such as endometriosis.
The foods we eat have significant impact on our reproductive hormones, gut microflora and our liver. The liver clears reproductive hormones from the body through urine and to some extent through the bile or stool. The oils in the foods can also change the production of prostaglandins, which are partly responsible for the painful cramps. Here are a few things that you can start doing today:
- Reduce amount of dairy or temporarily eliminate it – for some women this small change can result in significant improvement in degree of pain
- Drink 1-2 L of water per day to promote elimination of excess hormones
- Eat fish weekly (look for wild as opposed to farmed options to reduce intake of antibiotics and other by-products) or consider supplementing with fish oil. Fish oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and thus reduce the level of prostaglandins. In fact, recent research suggests that fish oil can be more effective than ibuprofen for severely painful cramps 1.
If these approaches provide limited results you may want to consider exploring food intolerances. As individuals we respond differently to certain foods and while we generally consider fruits and vegetables healthy, there may be certain items that do not work well for your individual body.
Physical exercise promotes sweating which allows for release of toxic substances. Exercise also promotes circulation, stimulating endorphins, improves mood, regulates digestion and… and… the list can really go on indefinitely. Regular exercise 45-60 minutes per day three to four times per week can help reduce intensity of the cramps and in some cases resolve them. Find an exercise routine that works you and see what happens over the next few months. Do not be discouraged if the first cycle does not produce results. It is common to see improvement after 3 cycles.
Botanical medicine can help both acutely and in chronic prevention of painful cramps. When the cramps occur, herbal products containing antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory herbs can reduce the intensity of the pain and lessen the spasms. Long term, hormone regulating herbs can prevent the painful cramps from the starting in the first place. Once again, this can take three months or more to see improvement.
Turmeric, also known as Curcuma longa, is a great herb that can help with painful cramps as they are happening. You can buy turmeric as a root or a yellow powder in the spice aisle and add it to your cooking. One table spoon of turmeric along with some black pepper in olive oil can lessen the pain. Turmeric does not absorb well. Both oil and pepper can improve its absorption. Another useful herb is Ginger, Zingiber officinalis. You can take ginger in the form of tea or as a powdered supplement. The supplement can be quite effective when taken for the first 3-4 days of the menstrual period 2. As always, do not combine these herbs with other medication without first consulting with a naturopathic doctor or your family doctor.
Check out “Acupuncture Treatment for Heavy Bleeding in Fibroids” if you are interested in other women’s health conditions and treatments.
- Zafari M. Comparison of the effect of fish oil and ibuprofen on treatment of severe pain in primary dysmenorrhea. Caspian J Intern Med. 2011; 2(3): 279-282
- Daily JW. Efficacy of ginger for alleviating the symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Pain Med. 2015; 16(12): 2243-55