The Beginner's Guide to Natural Living
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Menstrual Cramps
Naturopathic Medicine Treatment
Interview with Dr. Maggie Ney, ND

Menstrual Cramps Symptoms
Menstrual cramps are spasmatic cramps that occur in the lower abdomen and low back that can radiate down the thighs of the legs in women during their menstrual cycle. Women often experience nauseousness, vomiting, diarrhea, as part of menstrual cramps. They tend to occur right before, or with the onset of, the menstrual cycle and tend to go away within twelve to seventy-two hours.

Menstrual Cramps Medications
The conventional treatment for menstrual cramps are drug therapy: NSAIDs are often recommended, like ibuprofen, and this helps to decrease inflammation; birth control pills; and also painkillers, all of which don’t really get to the root cause of the menstrual cramps, and all of which have side effects.

Menstrual Cramps Causes and Inflammation
The cause of menstrual cramps is really inflammation. There is a normal inflammatory response during the menstrual cycle: as estrogen and progesterone build up during the cycle, arachidonic acid—which is an omega-6 fatty acid—is stored within the uterine muscles. And this omega-6 fatty acid is a precursor to a lot of inflammation. So that normally occurs, but our lifestyle—such as our diet, our stress—can really contribute to that process. So an inflammatory diet is a diet that includes foods that are really high in red meat, and chicken, and egg yolk, and certain oils. Those foods can contribute to the cramping. Also, tension, stress can exacerbate cramping as well.

Naturopathic Medicine Menstrual Treatment - Diet
It’s important in looking and evaluating someone who has menstrual cramps that you take a really thorough history, looking at diet and lifestyle factors that could be contributing to the cramps. So when I treat menstrual cramps, I’m going to address the root cause but also give symptom relief. So an easy thing a woman can do for pain relief is just applying a heat pack when they’re feeling cramps. I’m also going to prescribe a whole-foods diet that emphasizes anti-inflammatory foods—so those are foods high in the omega-3 fatty acids like coldwater fish, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and minimize the omega-6 fatty acids that are naturally found in chicken, red meat, egg yolk, and palm oil.

Naturopathic Medicine Menstrual Treatment - Supplements
I’m also going to encourage exercise because women who exercise experience less cramps than women who don’t exercise, and there are a number of vitamins that can be very helpful for women with menstrual cramps. I might prescribe calcium and magnesium and vitamin D. Vitamin E is also very helpful in addition to some of the B vitamins—specifically niacin. I might recommend some vitamin C and rutin, which is a bioflavonoid, all of which has been shown to be helpful for menstrual cramps.

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Naturopathic Medicine Menstrual Treatment - Herbs
Some herbs that I might recommend or prescribe are ginger or valerian root, cramp bark, or black cohash, all of which either have anti-spasms or anti-inflammatory components. I might also recommend a homeopathic remedy that mimics a patient’s symptoms: so for example, just the other day I saw a woman who described her menstrual cramps as if her uterus was falling out of her, twisting and cramping, and so sepia was the homeopathic remedy I recommended for her. I also recommend just wearing loose-fitting clothing and just being mindful of that, and paying attention to posture. I might recommend for some women biofeedback, which is a way to—it changes how a woman might interpret the pain.

Naturopathic Medicine Menstrual Treatment Success
When a woman follows my protocol, my success rate is pretty high. In fact, most women are symptom-free within three to four months. For the women who aren’t completely symptom-free, they do experience a significant reduction in their cramps, and if they do need to take pain medications, they take less than they did before. If someone wants to get rid of their menstrual cramps, I recommend adopting a natural living lifestyle, which includes a healthy, whole-foods, organic diet that eliminates processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and emphasizes anti-inflammatory foods such as coldwater fish like wild salmon, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and minimizing the pro-inflammatory foods like red meat, chicken, palm oil. I also strongly encourage exercise—at least 30-60 minutes, 5 days a week. And I also recommend seeing a naturopathic doctor who can create an individualized treatment plan.

Interview with Dr. Maggie Ney, ND

Also See: Dr. Angela Agrios, ND Naturopathic Doctor Health Series