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If you ask women the main reason why they miss work or school, many would say that it’s painful menstrual cramps. Today, at least half of women in their reproductive years experience menstrual cramps that begin at the start of their menstrual flow and last for a few days.
Menstrual cramps sometimes become so terrible that they affect daily activities. This is why women turn to over-the-counter medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or birth control pills to relieve the pain. However, Dr. Mercola does not recommend these pain relief options.
Dr. Joseph Mercola says: “Both of these ‘solutions’ carry significant risks of side effects while doing nothing to treat the underlying reasons why menstrual cramps occur.”
Instead of turning to medications to relieve painful menstrual cramps, Dr. Mercola encourages you to get sufficient vitamin D.
How Does the “Sunshine Vitamin” Relieve Menstrual Cramps?
Researchers observed women with low vitamin D levels (less than 45 nanograms per milliliter or ng/mL) and noted that when they were given a 300,000 IU mega-dose of vitamin D3, their menstrual pain significantly improved. Two months after taking the vitamin D3 supplement, the women said that, on a scale of one to 10, the pain significantly decreased by two points lower. (link)
Meanwhile, women who were given a placebo reported no pain reduction. Forty percent of them continued to take pain medication.
The pain-relieving effect of vitamin D may be attributed to its ability to decrease the production of the hormones prostaglandin and cytokine in your body. When you are menstruating, prostaglandins trigger your uterus to contract, so that its lining will be expelled.
Prostaglandin is associated with inflammation and pain, which is why having high levels of this substance results in severe menstrual cramps. On the other hand, cytokines are a type of hormone that promotes inflammation in your body.
However, Dr. Mercola cautions against taking excessive amounts of vitamin D similar to what the researchers used in the study mentioned.
“I would caution you against taking this massive dose of vitamin D, especially without medical supervision, as it is possible to overdose on vitamin D when taken in supplement form especially when your vitamin A (not beta carotene) and vitamin K2 are not properly balanced,” he advises.
Overdosing on vitamin D3 supplement may cause hypercalcemia (high blood calcium) over time. Calcium deposits may form in your lungs, heart, or kidneys. This condition may become permanent if your vitamin D levels stay elevated for too long.
The Best Way to Get Vitamin D
Dr. Mercola advises you to get a 25(OH)D test, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D test, to find out what your current vitamin D levels are.
“The point of vitamin D testing is, of course, to be sure you are maintaining a therapeutic level of vitamin D in your blood,” he says.
Before, the recommended vitamin D level was between 40 to 60 ng/mL. However, this has been raised to at least 50 ng/mL recently.
Optimizing your vitamin D levels through safe sun exposure is your best option, because you do not run any risk of vitamin D overdose. Expose a large amount of your skin to the sun, allowing it to turn the lightest shade of pink.
Do this as near to solar noon as possible to maximize your vitamin D production.
If sun exposure is not possible, then use a safe tanning bed. Oral vitamin D3 supplement should be your last resort.
Why Conventional Pain Relief Medications Are NOT Advisable
For many women, the “easiest” way to get rid of menstrual cramps is to use NSAIDs or oral contraceptives. The problem with these medications is that they do not heal the problem itself, only the symptoms. What’s worse is that long-term use of these medications exposes you to many health problems.
Prescription and over-the-counter NSAIDs are linked to gastrointestinal risks, kidney problems, and increased blood pressure. They are also bad for your heart. According to a study from the University of Bern in Switzerland, taking NSAIDs can increase your stroke and heart attack risk by two to four times.
Birth control pills, which contain the same synthetic progesterone and estrogen used in dangerous hormone replacement therapy, are linked to many health problems. It can put you at risk of cancer, blood clots, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and other health ailments.
How to Relieve Menstrual Cramps Naturally
Aside from ensuring optimal vitamin D levels, Dr. Mercola recommends these other natural pain relief options for menstrual cramps:
- Evening Primrose Oil – Its essential gamma linoleic fatty acid (GLA) helps relieve pain and restore abnormal hormone physiology, which also causes PMS symptoms.
- Diindolylmethane (DIM) – This natural phytochemical is found in broccoli, cabbage cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables. DIM’s unique properties help modify your estrogen metabolism. This promotes optimal estrogen balance and healthy progesterone and testosterone production.
- Chinese Herbs – A study found that Chinese herbs like those listed below are more effective than other treatment options in relieving menstrual cramp pain (link).
- Chinese angelica root
- Szechuan lovage root
- Red peony root, white peony root
- Chinese motherwort
- Cinnamon bark
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture stimulates the production of endorphins and serotonin in your central nervous system, helping relieve menstrual cramps.
- Dietary changes – You can relieve cramping and PMS symptoms if you:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks
- Reduce your sugar intake
- Avoid foods that increase your fluid retention, such as smoked cheeses, meats, and fish
- Get sufficient nutrients like manganese, vitamin B6, vitamins A and E, calcium, animal-based omega-3 fats, magnesium, and tryptophan.
- Exercise – It raises your endorphin levels, a brain chemical that is associated with pain relief.
- Heat – Put a hot compress on your lower abdomen or soak in a warm bath to temporarily relieve menstrual pain.
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