If you’re a woman it can sometimes seem as if there are a million and one things that can affect your health. Luckily, the modern woman now has access to a wide range of natural supplements that may help.
Pre-Menstrual Syndrome and Breast Tenderness
Evening primrose oil - This oil has been used for years as a treatment for various conditions including inflammation, eczema and PMS. It contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that the body needs for normal development. This fatty acid is usually obtained through your diet.
Some scientific studies have found that evening primrose oil reduced symptoms of PMS, but there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that it is beneficial for other conditions. Evening primrose oil is generally safe to take, but in some people may cause headache or mild gastrointestinal symptoms.
Ginger and brown sugar – According to Dr. Hicks, a family doctor in the UK, fresh ginger and brown sugar added to warm water and drunk twice a day can help PMS because both ginger and sugar are natural painkillers.
Hicks said, “Even if science hasn't proved a remedy works, if it won't harm you and you understand that positive effects may be due to placebo, they could be worth a try.”
He also said putting chilled cabbage leaves in your bra may relieve breast tenderness.
B vitamins have been shown to be beneficial to women with period pain. One study in the Nutritional Research journal found that menstrual pain was reduced when women were given supplements of vitamin B12 with omega-3 oils.
After three months of treatment they found a significant reduction in the number of menstrual symptoms and they concluded that fish oil enriched with B12 substantially reduced menstrual discomfort.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) - The Cochrane review found that vitamin B1 taken at 100mgs daily was found to be an effective treatment for period pain.
Magnesium – The same review paper found that magnesium supplements were more effective than the placebo for pain relief and that the need for pain-relieving medications was reduced. This may be because magnesium is a muscle relaxant and so may ease painful cramping.
According to medical doctor and nutritionalist, Dr. Dean, magnesium is responsible for the function of 325 enzymes, helps calcium be absorbed into bones, keeps toxic chemicals out of the brain and keeps muscles relaxed and functioning correctly.
Vitamin E – Research in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology studied just under 280 teenage girls and found that the girls who took vitamin E showed the greatest decrease in pain.
The researchers wrote: ‘The use of vitamin E for dysmenorrhoea in adolescent women is attractive because of the marked effect we have demonstrated, coupled with the absence of significant side effects from vitamin E in therapeutic doses.’
Vitamin B6 – Supplementation with vitamin B6 has been shown to reduce nausea in pregnant women without harming the fetus. A typical daily dose is 75mgs taken as three 25mgs tablets per day.
Vitamin B12 and folic acid combination – The same research found that vitamin B12 and folic acid reduced vomiting in pregnant women and even had the added benefit of reducing the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Soy products – Symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and night sweats may be alleviated by eating soy foods such as tofu and soybeans. This is because they contain phytoestrogens (estrogen-like substances) that may counteract the effects of lowered estrogen levels in menopausal women.
Black Cohosh – This herbal remedy has been used traditionally to treat symptoms of menopause. The North American Menopause Society say that it may help if used for less than six months (safety has not been determined beyond that time). Rarely, black cohosh may cause gastrointestinal upset.
Wild Yam – 24 healthy post-menopausal women were invited to replace their staple food (usually rice) with 390g of wild yam in two meals every day for a month. 22 women completed the study and it was found that ingesting wild yam improved the status of sex hormones and antioxidants.
In addition to treating menopause, the researchers felt it would be useful to reduce the risk of breast cancer and heart disease in post-menopausal women.
1. Evening Primrose Oil, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Web. 12 April 2012.
2. Cabbage can beat period pain... and other home remedies that really work, Daily Mail. Web. 12 April 2012.
3. Herbal and dietary therapies for primary and secondary dysmenorrhoea, Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2001;(3):CD002124. Abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11687013
4. Menstrual discomfort in Danish women reduced by dietary supplements of omega-3 pufa and B12 (fish oil or seal oil capsules), 2000, vol. 20, no5, pp. 621-631. Abstract:
5. Vitamin E 'relieves period pain', BBC News. Web. 12 April 2012. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4433059.stm
6. The Magnesium Miracle, Carolyn Dean MD. Web. 12 April 2012. http://drcarolyndean.com/magnesium_miracle
7. Vitamins B6 and B12 for Morning Sickness, Health Information. Web. 12 April 2012.
8. Menopause and Alternative Therapy, WebMD. Web. 12 April 2012. http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-alternative-therapy
9. Estrogenic effect of yam ingestion in healthy postmenopausal women. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Aug;24(4):235-43. Abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16093400?dopt=Abstract
Reviewed April 12, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith