Vitamin E Relieves Menstrual Cramps
Vitamin E may be helpful for alleviating menstrual cramps and decreasing blood loss during menstruation, according to the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2005;112:466–9).
Dysmenorrhea, or painful menstruation, affects up to 50% of women. Dysmenorrhea is recognized as primary or secondary: In primary dysmenorrhea, symptoms usually start at or shortly after the first menstrual period and are not associated with any other pelvic abnormality. Secondary dysmenorrhea begins sometime later and is related to other underlying conditions such as endometriosis (growth of uterine tissue outside the uterus), uterine fibroids (growths in or on the uterus), or ovarian cysts.
The pain of dysmenorrhea can be incapacitating, starting around the beginning of a menstrual period and lasting for one to three days. It usually is located in the lower abdomen and can radiate to the lower back and inner thighs. Women with dysmenorrhea may also experience diarrhea, headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, and bloating.
Primary dysmenorrhea is thought to be related to the production of prostaglandins, substances that cause the uterus to contract, decreasing blood flow and causing pain. In a normal menstrual cycle, prostaglandin levels rise just before the menstrual period begins. Circulating levels of prostaglandins are much higher, however, in women with dysmenorrhea than they are in women without it.
Treatment for dysmenorrhea is targeted at decreasing prostaglandin levels. Oral contraceptive pills inhibit ovulation and prevent a sharp rise in prostaglandin levels, lessening menstrual pain. Oral contraceptive pills also decrease the amount of blood lost during menstruation; more blood loss is associated with worsened dysmenorrhea. Using oral contraceptives to relieve dysmenorrhea should be weighed against the potential side effects, including blood clots and increased risk of breast cancer. Other prostaglandin inhibitors such as ibuprofen (Advil™) can offer relief from painful menstrual periods, though ibuprofen may cause gastrointestinal discomfort and damage, and therefore cannot be taken by all people.
As an inhibitor of prostaglandin synthesis, vitamin E has been studied for dysmenorrhea treatment. Previous studies have shown that 500 IU of vitamin E taken daily during the menstrual period can significantly reduce dysmenorrhea. The new study examined the effect of a lower dose of vitamin E on dysmenorrhea in 278 young women aged 15 to 17. Over four months, participants received either 200 IU of vitamin E two times per day or placebo, beginning two days before the expected start of the menstrual period, and continuing through the first three days of bleeding. The amount of menstrual blood loss and changes in the severity and duration of pain were assessed at two and four months.
Pain was significantly less and of shorter duration among the women in the vitamin E group at two and four months than among the women in the placebo group. Women in the vitamin E group also lost significantly less blood than did women in the placebo group. There were no significant side effects associated with vitamin E treatment.
The results of this study suggest that treatment with low-dose vitamin E is an effective means of reducing menstrual pain and blood loss among women with primary dysmenorrhea.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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