For some women, the monthly menstrual cycle is accompanied by acute discomfort. This usually presents as a cramping feeling in the abdomen, or a dull ache that can spread from the abdominal area to the lower back, and even to the legs.
Up to 90% of women of reproductive age are believed to suffer from period pain or menstrual cramps at some stage.
For most, it is a minor inconvenience that soon passes or is easily alleviated — but for others, it can have a severe effect on their ability to cope and function for several days each month.
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What is primary dysmenorrhea?
The medical term for ongoing menstrual pain is primary dysmenorrhea, and it is a condition that normally starts within the first two or three menstrual cycles as ovulation settles into a regular pattern.
Pain or cramps usually start one or two days before menstrual bleeding, and generally continue for another two days. For many, the condition improves or disappears with age or after a first pregnancy.
What causes primary dysmenorrhea?
Primary dysmenorrhea is caused by the increase in prostaglandins that occurs at menstruation. Prostaglandins are involved in inflammation and pain in the body, and their increase during your period triggers strong uterine contractions. These contractions are necessary as they help the uterus to shed its lining — but too much prostaglandin makes the contractions too frequent and excessive, which then causes severe pain.
What are some natural ways to alleviate menstrual pain?
Mild symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea can be helped by rest and relaxation, holding a hot water bottle or heating pad against the stomach, light stomach massage, or a hot bath. Regular exercise and mindfulness activities such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi also benefit many women.
Nourish your body with adequate water intake and a balanced diet. This diet should include calcium-rich foods such as almonds and dark green vegetables, foods high in antioxidants like berries and tomatoes, and lean meat or other low-fat proteins.
It is also helpful to avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine during menstruation.
The best vitamins for menstrual pain relief
Studies have shown that the use of nutritional supplements can play an important part in reducing the painful symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea.
It has been appreciated for some time that Vitamin D is closely linked to reproductive health, and it can also play a vital role in reducing the inflammation of primary dysmenorrhea.
In a controlled study, it was reported that after eight weeks, pain intensity was greatly reduced in the group taking the Vitamin D supplement. Even after the short study had finished, this group was reported as needing less anti-inflammatory medication.
Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B1
Found in oily fish, Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in lowering the prostaglandin-induced inflammation that causes cramps and period pain. For some, Omega-3 is more effective when taken in conjunction with Vitamin B1.
A study published in the Global Journal of Health found that a group of teenagers taking fish oil and Vitamin B1 had reduced period pain in both time and intensity than the control group.
As well as maintaining healthy bones, Calcium also maintains muscle tone. Having good muscle tone is effective in reducing menstrual pain. While Calcium is easily obtained from a healthy diet, studies suggest that those suffering from primary dysmenorrhea may find it beneficial to supplement with Calcium during menstruation.
The best herbs for menstrual pain relief
Some herbs, which can be taken in capsule form, act like estrogen in the body and can be useful in counteracting the symptoms caused by an increase in prostaglandins.
While scientific research on the effectiveness of herbs in relieving the symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea is rare, herbal teas and supplements have long been used to provide relief.
Studies have already proven the therapeutic and pain reducing efficacy of Ginger when administered during the first 3-4 days of the menstrual cycle.
The bottom line
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