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Menstrual Cramps Revisited

I often report on cases of dysmenorrhea for two reasons. The first is personal. I freely explain that the reason I became interested in alternative medicine was because of my own history of menstrual cramps. The second reason is because I see many women who have monthly recurrent debilitating symptoms causing missed work, and more importantly, they miss out on well being. Patients tell me they schedule vacations, dinner out with friends, family events and other activities making certain that they won't be menstruating during important times.

It was only after years of prescription therapy that really did nothing to help me and only complicated my life by leaving me in pain and unable to think straight, I turned to herbs, nutrients and dietary changes, which changed my life in a matter of months. I remember that the first supplement I ever took in 1976 was vitamin E. I recently came across an article in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2001;108:1181-3. In short, the study participants who took 500 IU of vitamin E per day experienced a significantly greater reduction in menstrual pain compared to those taking the placebo. And the benefit was felt the first month of treatment. That is how I remember it so many years ago; being amazed how much better I felt after only a month.

In practice, I believe that many nutrients and botanicals can influence the pain brought on by hormone changes at the start of the menstrual period. Diet and exercise also can have a major impact. Peanuts, dairy, and red meat seem to favor the formation of the hormones that trigger inflammation. I routinely suggest that my patients with painful periods refrain from these foods at least five days before the anticipated onset of the menstrual flow. The vitamin E article just reminded me of another important nutrient to help with this symptom that reportedly affects up to 72% of menstruating women.