Menstrual pain is a dynamic process that occurs with a whole slew of different symptoms. Period pain can be best described on a spectrum with every individual needing something different than the other .
That being said, menstrual pain relief has historically been more focused on immediate relief with standardized processes. Common methods of treating period pain include taking pain medication (Midol, Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen), applying heat, and/or dietary restrictions . However, recent studies have investigated more long-term preventative treatment methods for period pain. One new concept is the application of taking vitamins.
Vitamins have been commonly used as a way for many to get their daily needed nutrition. Vitamin B, Iron, Magnesium, and other vitamins are taken regularly as a long-term method for improving health . So why not apply this to period pain management?
Period pain is biologically caused by the release of the hormone prostaglandin. This hormone is responsible for the uterine contractions that push out the lining of your uterine cavity at the end of a menstrual cycle (normally described as period blood) . These contractions are typically the direct reason for period pain. The more this hormone is released, the stronger and longer your contractions are, leading to more pain. While there are other parts of the menstrual cycle process that can cause pain, the research on how vitamins can directly or indirectly lower the period pain is focused on addressing pain specifically caused by menstrual contractions.
There are generally four areas of how long-term vitamin use can alleviate period pain:
- Increasing trace metals in the body
- Increasing release of “happy” hormones
- Directly decreasing contractions
- Increasing antioxidant chemicals in the body
Trace metals in the body are things like magnesium, calcium, and iron. These metals are essential for life, and there has been some research that has shown evidence that they do help with period pain, particularly magnesium. Magnesium helps muscle contractions to be smoother. So, in uterine contractions magnesium is said to make these contractions less intense . Therefore, it is believed taking magnesium can help with menstrual cramps.
Other ways vitamins can potentially help with period pain are through promoting the release of “feel good” hormones. Your body produces natural hormones that promote happy feelings. These are serotonin and dopamine. Vitamin B6 is known to help boost serotonin and dopamine levels and is thought to improve period pain if taken by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine production in the body . This is still being tested and further researched, but studies show promising potential of increasing these “happy” hormones as a way to treat period pain long term.
Finally, there have been studies on how vitamin D — a vitamin commonly found in milk and produced by your body from sun exposure — helps with PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps . Although studies with patients have reported that vitamin D has improved menstrual pain, there is still not enough research into how vitamin D alleviates this pain . The possible biological reason has not yet been understood. But there is the hypothesis that because the body has lower levels of vitamin D during the luteal phase of menstruation, increasing vitamin D may influence processes during the luteal phase that lower pain.
Overall, the studies of how daily consumption of certain vitamins indicate that new ways of approaching period pain management can be effective, beyond pain relief medication that treat immediate pain symptoms. Menstrual pain is dynamic and while immediate relief can offer a “quick fix” to this pain, it does not address underlying or long-term solutions. By approaching pain reduction and management as more of a preventative measure, there is an opportunity for innovation and improved options to better period related symptoms.
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