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Treating Menstrual Cramps Naturally

by Daemon Jones(more info)

listed in women's health, originally published in issue 164 - November 2009

Whenever one of my patients is in pain, I always create a short-term approach and a long-term approach to address their problem. In the short-term I want to help them alleviate their pain as quickly as possible, and in the long-term, I want to resolve the hormonal problem associated with the pain on a more permanent basis.

The author


Pain from cramps is often due to cramping in the muscles of the uterus as it is shedding the inner lining called endometrium. The muscles in the uterus are used to shed the endometrium each month that there is no fertilized egg; this is what produces a period.

To naturally relieve and reduce muscle contractions and pain associated with PMS I recommend nutritional magnesium. As a short-term plan, I suggest supplements and foods that are high in magnesium. I have patients start on these a couple of weeks before their period.

Foods that are high in magnesium include Swiss chard, spinach, summer squash, pumpkin seeds, broccoli and other green, leafy vegetables. Although organically grown vegetables are best, due to the depletion of nutrients in our soils over the last 50 years, I also recommend magnesium supplementation in divided doses during the day. Not all forms of supplements are bio-available. For example, magnesium citrate in a powder form that dissolves in water is extremely absorbable whereas magnesium oxide is only about 4% absorbable.

After I focus on the short-term goal of reducing the menstrual pain during the first menstrual cycle the patient has under my care, I then focus on the long-term goal of treating any hormonal imbalances that are occurring during her menstrual cycle.

Treating Hormonal Imbalances and Stress

As I work with patients that have come in with a complaint of menstrual distress, I look at solutions that include eating foods rich in essential fatty acids and fibre. Essential fatty acids omega-3, -6, and -9 are required for a women's body to create our oestrogens and progesterone. These hormones are also the precursor to our cortisol hormone known as one of our stress hormones.

When women do not have an adequate supply of essential fatty acids, our stress management system and our menstrual system compete for the essential fatty acids that are available. Our stress management system will win every time, leaving our menstrual system off balance, which can cause pain and cramping among other PMS symptoms. If we eat foods high in essential fatty acids then we have an adequate supply for both our stress management system and our female hormonal system. Foods that are high in essential fatty acids are salmon, scallops, sardines, avocados, legumes (phytoestrogens act like weak oestrogens) flax seeds, walnuts, cauliflower and cabbage.

The Magnesium Miracle - book cover



One last note with regards to stress. According to Dr Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, "Stress can cause magnesium depletion, and lack of magnesium magnifies stress. Magnesium is necessary to support our adrenals, which are overworked by stress It is very significant if a woman has a magnesium deficiency because of the many vital enzyme systems that require this mineral. They include carbohydrate metabolism, blood sugar control and energy production. A strain on the adrenal glands puts a strain on the magnesium-dependent energy system of the body, which further promotes energy depletion and leads to a vicious circle of decreased ability to manage stress. Magnesium is the anti-stress mineral and is known to alleviate stress, cramping from PMS, muscle tension, depression, anxiety and insomnia."

Fibre and Hormonal Imbalances

The next part of my long-term strategy for treating menstrual cramps (and most menstrual irregularities) is to look at how fibre foods impact your hormonal balance.

Why is fibre important in the hormonal balance process? Fibre foods act as a natural broom for our digestive system and help us to eliminate waste products from our body. Once our oestrogen and progesterone have been used by the reproductive system, they are processed by the liver and deposited in our bowels to be removed when we have a bowel movement. If we are not having daily bowel movements, then those hormones can and do get reabsorbed into the body and begin to re-circulate and act on our ovaries, uterus and hypothalamus (in the brain). This throws off the ratio or balance that our body is trying to maintain, causing menstrual imbalance.

This is where the fibre comes into play. Eating high-fibre foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds allows the body to eliminate the oestrogen and progesterone before it has time to be reabsorbed. You can only get fibre from foods that come from plants. Foods that come from animals do not contain any fibre.

Additionally, according to Dr Dean, "PMS is considered to worsen with constipation and toxicity. If the bowel doesn't empty once a day, toxins can be reabsorbed back into the blood stream from the colon. The longer debris sits in the colon, the more fluid is reabsorbed, making stools more solid and difficult to pass. Magnesium is a natural detoxifier and muscle relaxer and helps alleviate constipation and painful cramps."

The message I want to convey is there is a process to naturally treat menstrual irregularities that will take some time, but will completely be worth the effort. What you eat and how you live can affect the level of pain and suffering of your menstrual cycles and can even potentially make them painless.

Bibliography

1.     Werbach M, Premenstrual syndrome: magnesium. Townsend Letter for Doctors, p. 26. June 1995.
2.     Sherwood RA et al., Magnesium and the premenstrual syndrome. Ann Clin Biochem 23  (6): 667-670. 1986.
3.     Posaci et al. Plasma copper, zinc and magnesium levels in patients with premenstrual tension syndrome. ACTA Obstetrics and Gynecology Scand 73(6): 452-455. 1994.
4.     Facchinetti F et al. Oral magnesium successfully relieves premenstrual mood changes. Obstetrics and Gynecology (USA) 78(2): 177-181, 1991.
5.     Somer E. The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals. HarperCollins, New York. 1995.
6.     Murray M. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd ed. Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA. 1998.
7.     Muneyvirci-Delale O et al. Sex steroid hormones modulate serum ionized magnesium and calcium levels throughout the menstrual cycle in women. Fertil Steril 69(5): 58-62. 1998.
8.     Li W et al. Sex steroid hormones exert biphasic effects on cytosolic magnesium ions in cerebral vascular smooth muscle cells: possible relationships to migraine frequency in premenstrual syndromes and stroke incidence. Brain Res Bull 54(1): 83-89. 2001.
9.     Marz R, Medical Nutrition from Marz, 2nd ed. Omni Press, Portland, OR. 1997.
10.     Benassi L et al. Effectiveness of magnesium picolate in the prophylactic treatment of primary dysmenorrhea. Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol 19(3): 176-179. 1992.
11.     Fontana-Klaiber H, Hogg B. Therapeutic effects of magnesium in dysmenorrhea. Schweiz Rundsch Med Prax 79 (16): 491-494. 1990.
12.     Seifert B et al. Magnesium-a new therapeutic alternative in primary dysmenorrhea. Zentralbl Gynakol 111 (11): 755-760. 1989.
13.     Muneyvirci-Delale O et al., Divalent cations in women with PCOS: implications for cardiovascular disease. Gynecol Endocrinol 15 (3): 198-201. 2001.

Medical Disclaimer

The ideas, procedures and suggestions contained in this article are not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. All matters regarding your physical health require medical supervision. Neither the author nor the publisher shall be liable or responsible for any loss, injury or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestion in this article. The opinions expressed in this article represent the personal views of the author and not the publisher.

Acknowledgement Citation

Versions of this article have also been published on the following online sites:
www.selfgrowth.com/articles/treating_menstrual_cramps_naturally?#  
www.worldwidehealth.com/health-article-Treating-Menstrual-Cramps-Naturally.html  
www.bukisa.com/articles/147695_treating-menstrual-cramps-naturally  
www.familiesonlinemagazine.com  
and is being considered for publication by www.ReviveYourLife.com

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About Daemon Jones

Daemon Jones ND is the author of Daelicious! Recipes for Vibrant Living and The Healthydaes Newsletter. She is a faculty member of Smith Farms Center for Healing and the Arts and Food As Medicine Professional Training program and is a member of the non-profit, Nutritional Magnesium Association www.nutritionalmagnesium.org. As a Naturopathic Physician, Dr Jones is living her life's passion and life's mission – the pursuit of vibrant health for others. She uses private consultations, cooking demonstrations, lectures and workshops as a hands-on way to help people enjoy learning about improving their health. Dr. Dae invites you to get more information that will help you avoid the risk factors of premenstrual cramping. Go to www.Healthydaes.org

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