Menstrual Cramps

Chinese medicine has both acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments for menstrual cramps.

Menstrual cramps occur due to stagnation of blood flow depriving the pelvic region of adequate oxygen, nutrients, and waste removal, causing local ischemia. Acupuncture, herbal, and dietary treatments focus on enhancing blood flow through the pelvic area.

Treatment will vary from person to person depending on diagnosis. The impairment of blood flow may occur as a result of cold, heat, dampness, deficiency of blood or qi, or some combination of these. Often people try an over-the counter herbal remedy for some problem and find no relief, because they didn't get one that treats the actual cause of the disorder.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture may be helpful in alleviating menstrual cramps, which affects up to half of all young women, an extensive review of past studies has found.

In February of 2010, Reuters news service reported on findings of a review of 27 studies involving nearly 3000 women with menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea). Yahoo News relayed the report, with the title

Acupuncture may relieve menstrual cramps:

In a review of 27 studies that involved nearly 3,000 women, researchers from the Oriental Hospital at Kyung Hee University Medical Center in South Korea found that acupuncture may be more effective than drugs or herbal medicines.

"There is convincing evidence on the effectiveness of using acupuncture to treat pain as it stimulates the production of endorphins and serotonin in the central nervous system," they wrote in a statement.

Endorphins are compounds produced naturally by the human body during exercise and excitement and they result in a feeling of well-being. Serotonin is a brain chemical.

"Compared with pharmacological treatment or herbal medicine, acupuncture was associated with a significant reduction in pain," they added in their paper, which was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

You can read the PubMed abstract

here.

For an example of studies reviewed, Witt et al published "Acupuncture in patients with dysmenorrhea: a randomized study on clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in usual care" [full text available here ] in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in February 2008. They treated 649 women with either acupuncture 15 times over 3 months, or usual care. They found that women who received acupuncture had less pain and a better quality of life than those who did not.

Herbal Medicine

The prestigious Cochrane Database Review published a review of studies of the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine for dysmenorrhea. The authors reviewed thirty-nine randomised controlled trials involving a total of 3475 women. They reported [Note: I removed the :

"Chinese herbal medicine resulted in significant improvements in pain relief (14 RCTs; RR 1.99, 95% CI 1.52 to 2.60), overall symptoms (6 RCTs; RR 2.17, 95% CI 1.73 to 2.73) and use of additional medication (2 RCTs; RR 1.58, 95% CI 1.30 to 1.93) when compared to use of pharmaceutical drugs. Self-designed Chinese herbal formulae resulted in significant improvements in pain relief (18 RCTs; RR 2.06, 95% CI 1.80 to 2.36), overall symptoms (14 RCTs; RR 1.99, 95% CI 1.65 to 2.40) and use of additional medication (5 RCTs; RR 1.58, 95% CI 1.34 to 1.87) after up to three months of follow-up when compared to commonly used Chinese herbal health products. Chinese herbal medicine also resulted in better pain relief than acupuncture (2 RCTs; RR 1.75, 95% CI 1.09 to 2.82) and heat compression (1 RCT; RR 2.08, 95% CI 2.06 to 499.18). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The review found promising evidence supporting the use of Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhoea; however, results are limited by the poor methodological quality of the included trials."

Translated, this means:

1. Compared to pharmaceutical drugs, Chinese herbal medicine was about twice as effective in reducing pain and overall symptoms, and 50% better at reducing use of other medications.
2. Compared to stock over-the-counter Chinese herbal medicines, custom designed formulas (the type I usually use in my practice) were about twice as effective in reducing pain and overall symptoms, and 50% better at reducing use of other medications.
3. When compared to acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine performed about 75% better for pain relief, and when compared to heat compression, herbs performed about twice as effectively.

Source: Zhu et al. Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Apr 16;(2):CD005288.

Read the PubMed abstract of this report

here.

I prefer to combine acupuncture and herbal medicine when treating my patients who have menstrual cramps.

Nutrition

Diets high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and refined vegetable oils make the blood more sluggish and enhance menstrual pain.

Dairy products contain significant amounts of naturally occurring hormones that can promote dysmenorrhea.

Vegetables and fruits supply salicin and other compounds that promote better blood circulation by reducing clotting.

Whole grains, potatoes, and green leafy vegetables supply magnesium that helps reduce menstrual discomfort.

Studies have shown that a low-fat, plant-based diet can relieve premenstrual discomfort and menstrual pain.



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