Menstrual pain sucks. Luckily, there are things that help. Here’s one.
In this article from a few weeks ago I wrote about how women all over the world hate having periods and we’ve discussed the reasons why women bleed every month.
Today, I would like us to look at one insightful study I recently found on the topic of menstrual discomfort, and also mention a few things that are scientifically proven to help.
Menstrual pain is caused by hormones called prostaglandins. The most prominent prostaglandin is called arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid belongs to a group of Omega-6 fatty acids, which are not necessarily mean substances in their nature, but this particular Omega-6 prostaglandin makes small blood vessels twitch and enables menstrual flow to start, which is often painful.
What adds to the discomfort is the fact that the intake of Omega-6 fatty acids has nowadays tremendously increased in general, as compared to any other time in human history.
In most western societies, the ratio between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids is something like 6:1 (or much worse, depending on your lifestyle and diet). As a comparison, most scientists agree that the relationship between Omega-6 to Omega-3 is ideally 1:1 and should not go beyond 3:1.
The fact is, we eat too much processed and unhealthy food.
There are two possible ways to counteract this:
1) To either eliminate all the bad sources of all fatty acids and Omega-6 taken with every meal, which is a very difficult thing to do, or
2) To add some extra Omega-3 to the diet, to cover up for its general deficiency.
Or to simply combine both approaches.
To anyone following research in women’s health, this is not really new (here you can read what the University of Maryland Schomeool of Medicine has to say about it). However, it is always refreshing to find a well-designed study which proves that nutritional supplements such as Omega-3 help relieve the effects associated with too much Omega-6 and prostaglandins, such as menstrual pain.
How fish oil and B12 help ease menstrual pain
In a double-blind placebo-controlled randomized study of 78 healthy Danish women who suffered from menstrual discomfort and pain, the combination of Omega-3 and vitamin B12 was given in a form of Bio-Marine supplement (produced by PharmaNord, you can order it here). After several months, it turned out that supplements could relieve menstrual pain to a significant extent.
Also the frequency and severity of other symptoms (nausea, headache, and general irritability – I personally suffer most from the last one) was much lower. Treatment with Omega-3 and vitamin B12 in combination worked best; however, also fish oil alone had positive effects in terms of soothing menstrual discomfort. What impresses me most is that the effects of the nutritional supplements were not “washed away” too quickly and remained three to four months after the study was over.
Omega-3 and menstrual pain: which supplement to take?
Capsules of Bio-Marine Plus, a new, further developed form of the Bio-Marine original supplement, contain Omega-3 fatty acids (190mg EPA, 110mg DHA), all extracted out of highest-quality fish oils. The fish oil contained in Bio-Marine Plus comes from mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring caught off the Peruvian coast.
What makes this supplement special and different from other Omega-3 supplements is:
1) Bio-Marine being tested to work in a clinical setting and bring real, measurable health benefits and
2) a unique combination with vitamin B12 and folic acid.
The recommended daily intake is 3-5 capsules a day. And I would add, if you are 35 and trying to get pregnant, stay on this dose throughout the year, because it will also help maximize your egg quality in addition to helping menstrual blood flow easier (depending on where you live, most of you will be able to find Bio-Marine here).
One particularly women- and fertility-friendly thing about Bio-Marine Plus is the inclusion of folic acid. The folic acid is in the form of folate monoglutamate which can be readily absorbed from the gut.
(Even if you’re not taking Bio-Marine, I hope that you’re thinking of taking at least 400-800µg folate daily, because of all the supplements that are important for a proper development of a fetus, this one may be the most important, especially during the three first weeks of pregnancy as the neural tube is formed).
The World Health Organization recommends women of childbearing age to take folic supplements every day in order to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in their babies. Countries like theUnited States and Canada fortify flour with folic acid, providing at least some folic acid to their female population in a passive way. In Germany where I live, you have to take the initiative and found out yourself what you need and how much of it.
Omega-3: how long, how much?
Woman in the Danish study consumed supplements for a period of three months or at least three menstrual periods. Their supplements contained either:
1) fish oil alone,
2) fish oil with vitamin B12, or
3) the placebo.
Then they were asked to report their menstrual symptoms in self-administered questionnaires before, during, and for three months after the intervention.
To this, women were asked about different physical symptoms they had suffered: pelvic pain, headache, dizziness, diarrhea, and others. Finally, women had to qualify the degree of pain as well as to qualify and quantify their use of painkillers (if they used any).
Woman from the study were also asked about their smoking and eating habits. The data were analyzed in a highly professional way, which integrated questionnaire answers with blood sample results.
One more nice thing about the study is that the fish oil was extremely well controlled and the fatty acid composition double determined by gas chromatography. To slow peroxidation, some vitamin E was added in each capsule.
Why am I telling you this?
Because these are very high standards of testing, typical of drugs and (unfortunately) NOT typical of testing nutritional supplements.
Take as many studies you like and you will realize that very few supplement producers bother with really serious quality controls. I’m just reading about a study in which over 50 different CoQ10-supplements were tested and you would be as surprised as I was about what was found in the capsules (please stay around as there will be an article about it in a few weeks).
To conclude: If you’re suffering from any menstrual discomfort, before taking pain medications on a regular basis, give nature a chance, and try the right dose of Omega-3 (best in combination with B12).
If you take any other natural and holistic approach, let me know what worked best for you.
See you next week!