Three of my daughters suffer with moderate to severe menstrual cramping. What are some good herbs for both internal and external use. Trying to keep them from reaching for the Motrin! Thank you.
grace and peace!
First let me say thank you for your participation in Ask the Herbalist! I pray that my answer can give you and your girls some insight into this painful condition. I commend you for reaching for holistic herbal alternatives first instead of medications. One thing to keep in mind is that God created us all as individuals and therefore what works for one person may not be the correct herb for another. Even your three girls may be experiencing symptoms that vary slightly and have differing root causes. Unlike much of modern medicine in herbalism we do not take this herb for that symptom or illness. Instead an important aspect of herbalism is looking at each persons details, history, illnesses, symptoms, medications, constitution, lifestyle and so much more to make accurate individualized herbal decisions. While I can not give you specific herbal advise for your girls I can share with you some general information on painful menstruation and herbs that may be of benefit.
Learning About Dysmenorrhea
Dysmenorrhea is pain and cramping associated with menstruation. Menstrual pain is the most common menstrual disorder effecting more than half of menstruating women. Cramping pain commonly begins at the onset of or just before menses. There are two forms of dysmenorrhea.
Primary dysmenorrhea is the common disorder for women under 20 to experience. Often times it begins with the first menstrual cycle. It is not associated with a specific pelvic lesion or disease. The main symptom is cramping lower abdominal pain however other common symptoms are nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, and leg pain. Prostaglandin levels in the lining of the uterus are thought to be the cause. Painful symptoms can begin shortly before the menstrual flow starts when prostaglandin levels are highest and improves as the cycle progresses and levels lower. Progesterone imbalance may be a contributing factor. The good news is that these painful periods often decrease with age.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is more common in women after childbirth. It is associated with a pelvic lesion or disease such as endometriosis, fibroids, and pelvic inflammatory disease. This type of pain may be only on one side and can last for the entire menstrual cycle or longer. symptoms usually become worse over time until diagnosis and treatment is obtained. Because the cause is so varied in this form will mainly focus on primary dysmenorrhea in this article.
Lifestyle Alterations That May Improve Symptoms
Good nutrition and hydration throughout the month as well as during your cycle are important to ensure optimum health during times of stress. The best diet is a balanced biblical whole foods diet. Avoidance of refined carbohydrates, flours, and sugars may help reduce inflammation. High fiber foods including flax, chia, and leafy vegetables can help assist with elimination as well as help flush hormones out of the body. Caffeine is best avoided so as to not tax the adrenal glands. While I normally do not recommend a lot of vitamin supplementation when I do I encourage whole food based vitamins whenever possible. B vitamins may be beneficial to assist with energy and magnesium may help with pain as well as moods. Omega 3 fatty acids may also be beneficial to help reduce any inflammation.
Regular exercise can help reduce stress and keep you at a healthy weight. During your cycle gentle low impact exercise may actually improve symptoms. Take some of this exercise outdoors to help regulate hormones, absorb vitamin D, and balance sleep.
Stress reduction, rest and proper sleep are all part of keeping your body healthy so it can heal itself, and allow your liver to work better to balance your hormones.
Herbal Categories to Provide Pain Relief and Healing
There are several herbal actions and categories that may be beneficial during painful menstruation. Most people will want to look at what herbal actions may bring immediate relief and benefit, however there are also herbs that can assist long term to help balance and provide long term relief. It is important to remember the individuals situation before choosing specific herbs. I encourage women with moderate to severe or frequent dysmenorrhea to seek assistance form a qualified herbalist via a consultation. The herbs mentioned below are only examples of the many herbs to choose from. It is important with any supplement addition to ensure that there are not any contraindications specific to you.
Antispasmodics– For immediate relief of cramping and spasms. A few herbs to consider are cramp bark, wild yam, black cohosh, black haw, and chamomile.
Analgesics– Most herbal analgesics are fairly mild however meadowsweat, or white willow bark may be considered for mild pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects. Stronger herbal analgesics are best left used under the guidance of a trained herbalist.
Uterine Tonics- Some herbs are tonic to help support the female reproductive system. Examples are black cohosh, and red raspberry.
Relaxing or Tonic Nervines- Herbs to help calm the nervous system. Examples black Haw, black cohosh, motherwort. A mild herb like chamomile may be of benefit as well as for its antispasmodic and anti inflammatory effects. .
Diuretics- If fluid or uterine congestion is a problem diuretic herbs such as dandelion or nettles may help eliminate fluids. Yarrow may also provide some benefit for uterine congestion.
Liver Support- The liver helps process hormones out of the body therefore supporting it can assist in relieving symptoms long term. Some herbs that may benefit the liver are, milk thistle, burdock, dandelion root, yarrow.
Hormonal Normalizers- Some herbs help balance and regulate hormones in general or specific hormones. Some of these herbs are chaste tree berry, black cohosh, blue cohosh, wild Yam, and red clover. Some herbs like ginger and turmeric may specifically inhibit prostaglandins. As you can see these hormone normalizers can be very specific to the individual situation and thus assistance from a qualified practitioner is recommended.
Topical Pain Relief
Oil massage as well as herbal compresses or fomentations, or warm scented baths may bring some relief to pain and cramping. When choosing an herb to add to your oil consider something soothing as well as pleasant smelling. Calming essential oils may be properly diluted and added to an abdominal massage oil. Chamomile and lavender are a great options for calming, anti inflammatory, and antispasmodic effects. Warm castor oil packs to the abdomen may also provide relief. A warm ginger poultice or compress placed over the abdomen may ease cramps.
I pray that this information has been a blessing to you. There are varied options in relieving painful menstruation and this is truly just a starting point in seeking out individualized herbal relief.
Always remember that all information is provided for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, or prescribe. Nor is it meant to replace regular medical care.
What natural options have you tried to relieve menstrual cramps?
Do you have other questions you would like answered?
Get your questions in for next months Ask the Herbalist posted the second Monday of each month.
Chanchal Cabrera, Clinical Phytotherapy for Women’s Health
David Hoffman, Herbal Medicine: Dysmenorrhea
Paul Bergner, Female – Herbs and Dysmenorrhea
Chanchal Cabrera, Pre Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) – What it is and How to Minimize It
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods