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Acupuncture and Herbs Can Play a Huge Role in Treating Dysmenorrhea

Acupuncture and Herbs Can Play a Huge Role in Treating Dysmenorrhea

Painful menstruation is called dysmenorrhea and this condition has two types: primary or secondary dysmenorrhea. Dysmenorrhea that is usually experienced within two years of your first menstruation is called primary dysmenorrhea. This type of dysmenorrhea causes pain that usually decreases as the sufferer ages and, more often than not, permanently goes away after childbirth. Menstrual pain that is the result of another condition such as endometriosis is called secondary dysmenorrhea. This type of dysmenorrhea occurs later in life and usually turns more painful over time.

In the United States, more than 50% of women who are menstruating experience dysmenorrheas with about 10% of these cases suffering from severe dysmenorrhea that significantly affects their lifestyle and activities each month for a few days. Symptoms associated with dysmenorrhea includes a dull ache traveling to the legs or lower back, pain below the waist, severe and frequent cramping, and stomach bloating. Other symptoms may include occasional vomiting, frequent urination, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, and headache. The symptoms typically happen just prior to or during menstruation.

Dietary changes that may be helpful

There are doctors that advice against the intake and use of alcohol for those suffering from menstrual pain. The reason for this is that alcohol exhausts the amount of certain nutrients and changes the metabolism of carbohydrates which can lead to or exacerbate muscle spasms. The ability of the liver to metabolize hormones can also be affected by alcohol. This can increase the amount of estrogen in the body as well as increase salt and fluid retention that may result in heavier menstruation.

Lifestyle changes that may be helpful

A lot of women usually need to lie still while they are experiencing menstrual cramping; some women take to exercising to relieve their dysmenorrhea although there are also some women who tend to worsen their dysmenorrhea symptoms when they exercise.

There are practitioners who found that applying topical progesterone cream can alleviate the symptoms although this has so far not been backed up by adequate research.

Herbs that may be helpful

Cordyalis – An alkaloid known as THP (tetrahydropalmatine) found in the herb cordyalis is deemed as very effective in neutralizing dysmenorrhea pain. In certain lab studies, THP has shown to manifest a wide range of pharmacological effects on the central nervous system. These effects include sedative and pain-relieving ones. Based on a secondary reference, the dysmenorrhea was relieved when THP had been administered to women suffering from dysmenorrhea pain. The recommended dosage for dried rhizome is 5 grams to 10 grams a day. A dosage of 10 ml to 20 ml a day (1:2 extract) can also be effective.

Viburnum opulus (Cramp bark) – This is another helpful herb to treat menstrual cramping, which is the reason for its name. It is good for alleviating sweaty chills, and vomiting associated with severe cramping. Cramp bark is prepared by adding two teaspoons of dried cramp bark into a cup of water and boiling the mixture. Allow it to simmer for around 10 to 15 minutes. You can drink the tea 3X a day or use the preparation as a tincture using about 4 ml to 8 ml of it a day.

Dong quai – This is an herb used by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners and often combined with other TCM herbal preparations to alleviate severe menstrual cramping. Most sufferers take 3 gm to 4 gm a day. Toki-shakuyaku-san is a Japanese herbal formula that is composed of dong quai, peony root and four other herbs that is used to decrease pain and cramping symptoms related to dysmenorrhea.

Black cohosh – This herb has long been used to alleviate dysmenorrheal cramping. It can be used as rhizome (300 mg to 2 gm a day), dried root or as crude plant. Standardized extracts of Black Cohosh are available although they often target hot flashes. Extracts can be taken 20 mg to 40 mg two times a day. The best studied form gives about a milligram of deoxyactein/20 mg of extract. About 2 ml to 4 ml of tincture of this herb can also be used. Black cohosh can be used for up to half a year after which it should be discontinued.

Blue cohosh – This herb is not related at all to black cohosh but is as effective in relieving menstrual pain. Usually used as a tincture, blue cohosh needs to be taken not more than 1 ml to 2ml thrice a day. About 300 mg to 1 gm of a single application of the whole herb can also be taken. This herb is usually taken along with other herbs. Women who use this herb and are of childbearing age should immediately stop taking it as soon as they become pregnant; there have been instances in which heart problems have developed in babies born to women who have been using blue cohosh during their pregnancy.

Açaí – Açaí contains anthocyanins, which is also found in billberry that is extremely helpful in relieving a lot of the symptoms related to dysmenorrhea. No clinical trials have yet been done though on this herb’s effectiveness in treating dysmenorrhea.

Holistic approaches that may be helpful

Acupuncture is an extremely effective therapy for dysmenorrhea. A clinical trial has shown that more than 85% of dysmennorhea-afflicted women who were given acupuncture manifested a 100% stoppage of pain for three consecutive cycles of menstruation. Other trials also posted more or less similar outcomes. The first clinical trial mentioned showed a 91% efficacy rate for real acupuncture and a less than 37% rate of success for sham acupuncture, which is acupuncture treatment that treats fake acupuncture points, as well as an 18% effectiveness for the untreated control group. A small trial involving the use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy and a placebo pill for women with dysmenorrhea revealed that over several hours after treatment, pain relief was not as significant for the treatment group as that of the group given placebo. Added controlled studies are recommended to truly ascertain whether dysmenorrhea can significantly be resolved by acupuncture although most acupuncturists would attest to the potency of acupuncture in treating dysmenorrhea pain and symptoms.

Danielle DeVivo is a board certified and licensed acupuncturist in Saratoga Springs, NY.

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