This condition is more commonly known as menstrual cramps and is experienced by millions of women around the world.  However, women do not have to accept painful periods as an inescapable part of the female menstrual cycle.  Most can be alleviated by adhering to several simple, basic guidelines. 

Causes of Dysmenorrhea

Dysmenorrhea usually occurs when contractions within the uterus become distorted.  Receptors within the uterine lining govern the contractions, after receiving stimulation from psychological and hormonal factors.  Those women who are more likely to experience painful cramps have an excess of prostaglandins, the chemical messengers that signal the uterine receptors.  Prostaglandin production can become exaggerated in a few different ways, but one is by consuming foods that the body is allergic to.  Some women are more prone to yeast reactions, and thus eating baked foods, pastries, breads and processed fruit juices can augment the onset of menstrual cramps.

Poor nutrition is another factor that is associated with dysmenorrhea.  Many people consume diets which are lacking in nutritional value and contain hazardous toxins such as synthetic preservatives, caffeine and additives which undermine the body's ability for optimum functioning.  Also, proteins that are obtained through dairy products and red meat contain potentially dangerous hormones that can adversely affect the body.  Oily and fried foods can often have the same results.


Dysmenorrhea is typically characterized by spasmodic cramps,  but other symptoms can include pain in the lower back or thighs, achiness, and sensations of heaviness in the lower abdomen.  Other symptoms of severe dysmenorrhea include nausea, vomiting, headaches, loss of appetite, dizziness, anxiety, depression, lethargy and diarrhea. 

In most women who experience dysmenorrhea, the condition begins at the start of menstruation and persists for just a few hours.  Some acute cases can manifest problems before menstruation and last for days.  Dysmenorrhea can sometimes be exacerbated by stress.

Many women find giving birth to a child lessens the problems associated with painful periods.


For most cases of dysmenorrhea, physicians will suggest treating the symptoms with ibuprofen, a drug which hinders the production of prostaglandins and eliminate many of the painful side effects of menstruation.  Although this treatment initially alleviates cramps and other symptoms, prolonged use can cause a dependence on the drug and precipitate several adverse side effects.  Two of these side effects are diminished blood flow to the kidneys and gastrointestinal bleeding.  Another possible side effect of ibuprofen use is leaky gut syndrome, a condition which is characterized by assimilation of undigested food particles into the bloodstream.

A number of natural treatments can be effectively used to treat dysmenorrhea, as shown below.


Because poor nutrition and eating habits can contribute to the production of prostaglandins, positive changes to the diet can have a pronounced effect in curbing menstrual cramps.  Cool, green foods are especially effective in helping to abate inflammation and hot stabbing pains, while legumes, oatmeal, organic grains, flaxseed oil and steamed green vegetables also provide relief.  Also recommended are deep-sea fish such as mackerel, tuna and salmon.

Some nutritionists believe menstrual cramps triggered by emotions can be alleviated by consuming tofu.  Cooking tofu with sweet spices (such as nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice) can be very helpful in soothing the nerves and helping to promote overall relaxation.


Because a deficiency of magnesium can encourage the release of prostaglandins and the onset of spasms, daily consumption of magnesium citrate supplements can serve as a good preventative agent.  Start with 300 to 500 mg daily and gradually augment the dose until attaining bowel tolerance.

Evening primrose oil is a supplement that can be consumed on a daily basis for the headaches and blemishes due to menstruation.


A wide variety of herbs can be used to mitigate menstrual problems.  They include:

  • Corn silk - Can be effectively used to eliminate bloating caused by excessive hormones in the bloodstream.

  • Xiao Yao Wan - This product can be found in Chinese ethnic pharmacies and aids in the digestive process, soothes angry emotions and reduces the pain of menstruation.

  • Green tea - Tea can enhance energy by stimulating the digestive system.  Green tea can help alleviate sharp, stabbing pains associated with dysmenorrhea.  Tea can be sipped all day to help with menstrual symptoms.

  • Yunnann Pai Yao - This blend of herbs can be used to stabilize profuse bleeding, reduce swelling, and mitigate stabbing pains.

  • Aloe vera - This product can be used to treat several different symptoms common to menstruation.  They include cramps, headaches, stabbing pains, blemishes, fever, irritability and bad breath.  Aloe vera can also be very effective in decreasing acidic levels in the stomach and liver.  Aloe can be consumed in a water mixture or in juice or tea.

  • Dandelion - This herb can aid the body in eliminating impurities.  Dandelion is available as a tea or in capsules.

  • Sarsaparilla - This herb is a diuretic and can be used for alleviating hot, stabbing pains.

Homeopathic Treatments

Several homeopathic treatments are available for treating dysmenorrhea.  They include:

  • Aromatherapy - Lavender, marjoram, and clary sage all possess analgesic qualities that can be used to treat menstrual problems.  Put 18 to 20 drops of any of these essential oils into a lotion or oil and massage onto the abdomen and lower back.  Inhaling cooling fragrances such as lavender, rose or sandalwood can also be helpful in reducing menstrual pain.

  • Exercise - Menstrual problems can be alleviated by exercise, particularly exercise which stretches the body.  A yoga class can be a valuable tool for teaching helpful moves to dysmenorrhea sufferers.

  • Stress reduction - Stress can have many adverse effects on the body, just one of which is exacerbating dysmenorrhea.  Engaging in a stress reduction routine can help in both the short run and the long run for alleviating dysmenorrhea.  Deep abdominal breathing, tai chi and meditation are suggested for eliminating stress.


  1. Canas, M. et al. (2006). Women's health. Barcelona, Spain : Rebo
  2. Glenville, M. (2010).The natural health bible for women : the complete guide for women of all ages.London : Duncan Baird Publishers
  3. Jarvis, S.(2009).Women's health for life : medical advice you can trust : symptoms, treatment, prevention. London : Dorling Kindersley
  4. Northrup,C.(2009). Women's bodies, women's wisdom : the complete guide to women's health and wellbeing. London : Piatkus
  5. Timyan, J. et al. (1993).The Health of women : a global perspective. Boulder : Westview Press

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