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High Dose Vitamin D Reduces Menstrual Cramps

Vitamin D helps reduce menstrual cramps

If you are a woman who experiences severe menstrual cramps, then vitamin D may be a remedy for you. A University of Messina (Italy) study reports that 75 percent of women who took a single high dose of vitamin D five days before their period had significantly less pain from menstrual cramps.

Vitamin D may be an alternative to NSAIDs

Dysmenorrhea is another name for the painful cramps so many women experience immediately before or during their menstrual period. Although cramps are mild for some women, for others the pain can be severe and debilitating. Treatment options such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen [Motrin], naproxen [Aleve]) can provide some relief, as can oral contraceptives.

A number of natural supplements have been studied for relief from menstrual cramps. In this latest study, the researchers randomly assigned 40 women who had a history of severe menstrual cramps to take either a placebo or a single 300,000 dose of vitamin D3 dose five days before they expected their menstrual cycle to begin. All the women also had a baseline serum vitamin D (25[OH]D) of less than 45 ng/mL.

Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, is the same substance that the human skin produces when it is exposed to sunlight. This form of vitamin D is the one that most effectively treats people who have vitamin D deficiency.

Compared with the placebo group, women who took vitamin D experienced a significant reduction in pain over the two-month duration of the study. None of the women in the vitamin D group took NSAIDs during the study, while 40% of women in the placebo group took NSAIDs at least once.

More specifically, 15 of the 20 women who took vitamin D reported significant relief compared with only 4 of 20 women in the placebo group.

The study’s authors chose to evaluate the efficacy of vitamin D for severe menstrual cramps because the nutrient appears to have an impact on pathways that are involved in pain and the uterus, and because it has the ability to inhibit the synthesis of prostaglandins, substances produced in excess and associated with dysmenorrhea.

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Concern over the high dose of vitamin D
In a commentary published in the same issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, Elizabeth R. Bertone-Johnson, ScD, of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, expressed concern over the high dose of vitamin D used in the study because it was higher than the “tolerable upper limit” set by the Institute of Medicine.

Bertone-Johnson and Manson noted that such a high dose of vitamin D could present a problem if women need to keep taking the dose to enjoy the benefits. At 300,000 IU every two months, women would be exposed to about 5,000 IU daily, which is greater than the 4,000 IU/day recommended by the Institute of Medicine. High doses of vitamin D can result in excessively high levels of calcium in the blood as well as symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, and insomnia.

Other remedies for menstrual cramps

Women frequently turn to other natural remedies for menstrual cramps. Acupuncture, acupressure, yoga, and meditation have been shown to provide some relief in a limited number of studies. A small study in Australia, for example, found that acupuncture provided relief for women who received nine acupuncture treatments over a three-month period.

Herbs and supplements that have demonstrated some benefit in selected cases include black cohosh, krill oil, pycnogenol, and vitamin E.

This new study introduces the potential for a high dose of vitamin D to reduce menstrual cramps. Given the high dose of vitamin D used in the trial, however, Bertone-Johnson and Manson warned that “Follow-up of participants in clinical trials of vitamin D must be extended to evaluate adverse effects and compare risks and benefits.”

Bertone-Johnson E, Manson JoAnn. Vitamin D for menstrual and pain-related disorders in women. Archives of Internal Medicine 2012; 172: 367-69
Lasco A et al. Improvement of primary dysmenorrhea caused by a single oral dose of vitamin D: Results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Archives of Internal Medicine 2012; 172:366-67
Smith CA, Crowther CA et al. Acupuncture to treat primary dysmenorrheal in women: a randomized controlled trial. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011; 612464
University of Maryland Medical Center

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