How can I get relief from menstrual cramps without taking painkillers?

How can I get relief from menstrual cramps without taking painkillers?

Tanya Edwards, M.D.

Tanya Edwards, M.D.

A family physician, Dr. Tanya Edwards is passionate about using nutrition for the prevention and treatment of chronic illness.  She... Read more

I recommend 2,000 to 4,000 mg of fish oil per day for menstrual cramps. (If you have a sensitive stomach, you can start with 1,000 mg. But most people don't notice any stomach upset even with the upper range. At the most, you might initially burp up a fish taste.) This recommendation stems from a study that looked at dietary fat and risk of endometriosis (which can also cause painful periods). Researchers found that many cases of significant dysmenorrhea (the clinical term for severe menstrual pain) go undiagnosed, and that patients who ate the highest amount of omega-3s were 22 percent less likely to suffer from menstrual cramps when compared with women who ate the least amounts.

What's the connection? The omega-3s found in fish oil (which come in the form of DHA, docosahexaenoic acid; EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid, and ALA, alpha-linolenic acid) are crucial to cell function throughout the body. As cells in the lining of the uterus are shed each month, new cells are formed. The more omega-3s that get stored in the cell membrane, the better these cells are at regulating things like hormonal output. Menstrual periods trigger the release of prostaglandin hormone, which causes uterine contractions that you feel as cramping. The higher the level of prostaglandins, the more cramping. Fish oils can help regulate how much prostaglandin hormone your cells crank out each month.

Taking fish oil on a regular basis enables your blood levels of omega-3s to build. After two to three months, levels should reach their maximum, which means you'll be at a point to experience the most relief.

This is a great example of how nutrients and diet directly impact health, and how making adjustments, in this case by supplementing, can improve bodily functions and prevent or reverse disease.

Until the fish oil effect kicks in (and even when it does), you might want to take a daily ginger supplement. There's research to show that 250 mg taken four times per day is as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (including ibuprofen and naproxen). Pretty cool.

Applying pressure to stimulate the SP6 acupressure point area (on the inside of the lower leg, one hand width above the ankle bone) can often give relief within minutes or immediately. An acupuncturist can teach you how to do it, or you can search out a video demo online.

You should also make it a point to exercise during your period, which can significantly reduce pain and cramping (as well as the fatigue and mood swings) associated with your menstrual period.