February 22, 2019
By: Courtney Mayszak, RDN, LDN, Lead Dietitian at De Lune and Guest Contributor
Menstrual pain is no joke – the cramps, the back pain, the headaches – it can be downright debilitating. We weren’t surprised to learn that more than half of women who menstruate report some pain from periods cramps each month (that’s a big number!). But, while it can seem that menstrual-related pain is cramping our style (no pun intended), there are ways to ease this discomfort, naturally!
Today we’ve called on the experts at De Lune to break down what supplements we should really be talking to ease that period pain, and simply have a better period.
To formulate the De Lune Pain Tonic, I read all the research about period cramps and supplements as I could possibly find.
It took a while. But I finished with an important takeaway: nutritional and herbal supplements can be a safe and effective way of managing period cramps that’s nearly devoid of side effects. More bleeders should use them.
Why supplements, you ask? Shouldn’t I be meeting my needs through diet, you wonder? Well, yes. You should be meeting your needs through diet. But food preferences, dietary restrictions, schedules, and the convenience factor make this easier said than done. Also, research shows some nutrients act therapeutically only at specific dosages—similar to how drugs work. Typically, these dosages are WAY MORE than what the diet can reasonably provide. You could down a few pounds of kale, or you could rely on supplements and their ultra-concentrated nature to achieve a therapeutic dose.
So the following is an honest review of which supplements good science says actually work for period cramps. Here’s what to take, and how much, for when Midol just ain’t cutting it:
Vitamin B1 is a VIP in muscle contraction and nerve signaling, so it’s not surprising it plays a big role in period pain management. Large, well-designed clinical trials (we’re talking the double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled kind, involving over 1500 menstruating humans), say that supplementing with B1 can make cramps less intense, and happen less often. Importantly, it can do so without any reported side effects at all.
Most studies used daily doses of 100mg of B1 to remedy cramps. B1 is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning you pee out any extra amounts your body can’t use, and risks of complications are very low. But to err on the side of caution if you’ve never taken that much B1 at once before, start with 50mg/day and gradually work your way up to a dose that’s helpful for you.
Researchers believe zinc can relieve period pain by boosting the flow of oxygen to the uterus. Oxygen is critical. The uterus is a muscle, and all muscles run on oxygen. Without it, uterine muscles cramp up and hurt.
Researchers found daily doses between 30 and 50mg were effective for cramps, but I recommend you stay on the low end of that range. Taking too much zinc may deplete the body’s copper stores, which can just cause different problems. So keep it right at 30mg a day. If your stomach is temperamental, split things into two 15mg servings, and take them at least several hours apart.
Studies show vitamin B6 is only moderately useful for period pain, but extremely useful for period-related mood fluxes (which let’s be honest, are sometimes just as life-ruining as cramps). This is likely because B6 helps make serotonin and dopamine—’happy chemicals’ in the brain that regulate mood, motivation, and sleep. Authors of a well-designed study involving over 400 menstruators found that B6 was helpful for a host of period problems, like depression, anxiety, irritability, breast tenderness, and bloating.
Researchers used anywhere between 80 and 300mg of B6 per day to remedy anxiety and depression, but the largest studies found 100mg/day to be effective. Like vitamin B1, B6 is water-soluble and poses low risk of side effects. If you’re new to megadosing with B6, start low and work your way up to a dose that feels right.
Ginger is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse with proven benefits for period cramps. Multiple studies suggest ginger and over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen use the exact same molecular mechanisms to relieve period pain. Both work by quenching prostaglandins—pesky inflammatory signaling molecules that build up in the uterus and trigger cramps in the first place. Many researchers even prefer ginger to ibuprofen, since ibuprofen can cause gnarly side effects. Especially if you’re popping it regularly.
Researchers used daily ginger doses between 250mg and 1g in their studies, but the greatest number of studies used 250mg capsules of ginger rhizome powder.
Ginger and ibuprofen are also similar in their blood-thinning abilities. Although these blood-thinning effects are responsible for their pain-relieving benefits, risk of thinning out the blood too much increases when you use both at once. So if you plan to use ginger, skip the over-the-counter painkillers.
Dong Quai is an ancient Chinese root used for low vitality, fatigue, and pelvic pain. Unfortunately most of the research about dong quai and periods is done in animals rather than humans. But we do have a lot of these animal studies. And if you count its 2,000 years of documented use as an effective medicinal herb, I think the evidence checks out for dong quai. It’s great for relaxing uterus. It’s also great for helping your period show up on time.
Because human studies are lacking, we can’t turn to researchers to tell us how much dong quai to take. Instead we rely on the guidance of trained natural healers. Most herbalists recommend a dose between 2 and 4g of dried herb per day.
This is where De Lune’s Pain Tonic comes into play – all of these healing herbs and vitamins (plus iodine, calendula flowers, magnesium, cramp bark, motherwort, and fenugreek) are brewed in organic apple cider vinegar, creating an easy-to-use liquid formula that can be added to tea or water.
How to use? Simply add 6 full droppers into a cup of water or your favorite tea. Dose one to two times per day during days of cramping, and ideally, take the first dose the day before you expect cramps to begin! A single bottle contains 6 doses and will last one or two cycles depending on the severity of your symptoms.
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