woman with period pain dysmenorrhea painful periods

Dysmenorrhea or Period Pain

by Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND

Painful periods do not have to be a fact of life every month.  In fact, you shouldn’t need to take painkillers or any medications because of period pain.  Really, you should be pretty unaware that your period is coming or that you have it other than the obvious flow.

Common causes of painful periods include:

  • The uterus spasms because the blood supply to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) is reduced
  • Low levels of physical activity – there is abundant research that shows that moderate exercise helps reduce menstrual cramping
  • Emotional stress
  • Growth of uterine tissue outside the uterus (endometriosis).  This tissue enlarges in response to hormonal changes and presses on nearby nerves causing intense pain
  • Hormone imbalances – usually an estrogen dominance situation where there is either a relative increase in estrogen over progesterone, or there are circulating chemicals (xenoestrogens like BPA) that are behaving like estrogen in your body causing too much estrogen-like activity
  • Imbalance of calcium and magnesium – Calcium is important in normal muscle contraction and magnesium is vital for normal muscle relaxation.  Signs of muscle tension like cramping can often be relieved by rebalancing the two minerals.

Painful periods often lead to chronic use of painkillers and anti-inflammatories.  These pose potential health risks such as liver toxicity, stomach ulcers and increased risk of clotting, heart attack or stroke.

Naturopathic Medicine Treatment for Period Pain

Improve Blood Flow

Castor oil packs, stress reduction, exercise and acupuncture can all be used to improve blood flow to the uterus.

Physical Activity

Lifestyle counselling can help you incorporate regular physical exercise into your daily routine.

Emotional Stress

Adaptogenic herbs, vitamins and minerals and regular exercise can all help your body cope with stress better


Castor oil packs, acupuncture, elimination of dairy and wheat and liver detoxification can help resolve endometriosis tissue and remove the associated pain.  For more information on endometriosis click here.

Hormone Imbalances

The liver is responsible for making building blocks for new hormones and breaking down and clearing out the old.  If the liver is congested hormone imbalances can occur.  Proper liver detoxification (not through the kits found in health food stores!) can help.

Calcium and Magnesium Imbalances

Supplementation with a properly balanced calcium and magnesium product can help relieve muscle cramping and spasms that cause period pain.

All of the above approaches have no inherent health risks, only health benefits and can also help prevent hormone related diseases such as breast cancer.

Period Pain/Dysmenorrhea & Natural Medicine Research


Daily JW, Zhang X, Kim DS, Park S. Efficacy of ginger for alleviating the symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Pain Med .
2015; 16(12):2243-55.
● Meta-analyses of multiple studies finds ginger had a significant effect in reducing the pain visual analogue score (PVAS) in subjects with primary dysmenorrhea. Ginger powder was used during the first 3-4 days of the menstrual cycle

Achillea Millefolium:

Jenabi E, Fereidoony B. Effect of Achillea millefolium on relief of primary dysmenorrhea: a double-blind randomized clinical trial. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol . 2015: 28(5):402-4.


Xu Y, Zhao W, Li T, Bu H, Zhao Z, Zhao Y, Song S. Effects of acupoint-stimulation for the treatment of primary dysmenorrhea compared with NSAIDs: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 19 RCTs. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine . 2017; 17:436.
● Acupoint stimulation is superior to NSAIDs in the treatment of primary dysmenorrhea in terms of clinical effectiveness rate and symptom improvement and reducing the concentration of PGF2alpha in peripheral blood.

Pine Bark Significantly Reduces Menstrual Pain

A new study reveals dysmenorrhea, a condition that causes extremely painful menstrual periods affecting millions of women each year, can be reduced naturally by taking pine bark extract from the French maritime pine tree.


Treatment with ginger root for moderate to severe dysmenorrhea showed a significant difference in the severity of pain compared to placebo.

Source: BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Jul 10;12(1):92. [Epub ahead of print]


Acupuncture treatments for a period of one month were found to lead to a greater reduction in pain (69.5%) than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (52.2%).

Source: Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Bios, 2013 March 19

Fish oil:

Supplementation with fish oil was found to improve disease severity, reduce low back pain, abdominal pain and frequency of ibuprofen use in girls aged 18-22 with dysmenorrhea.  Source: East Mediterr Health J, 2010; 16(4): 408-13.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided here may not apply precisely to your individual situation. Diagnostic and therapeutic choices must always be tailored to the individual patient’s circumstances, and consultation with a licensed naturopathic physician should be undertaken before following any of the treatment strategies suggested in this web site.