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Menstrual Cramps Natural Treatments

Reviewed & edited by Dr. Jeffrey C. Lederman, DO, MPH and Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAP

Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for painful menstruation and is a common problem experienced by women in their reproductive years. It can interfere with daily activities and may contribute greatly to absenteeism at school and work for those affected.

Dysmenorrhea may be characterized as two types, primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is the presence of cramps lower abdominal pain that occurs during a female’s menstrual cycle when there is no other cause for those symptoms. Secondary dysmenorrhea is the presence of the same symptoms but is caused by another medical problem such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids. For both types, hormone- like substances released during a woman’s menstrual cycle called prostaglandins are thought to play an active role. This information here for menstrual cramps natural treatments focuses on primary dysmenorrhea, lower abdominal cramps.

Overview

Who Dysmenorrhea Affects

The prevalence of dysmenorrhea in women of reproductive age is between 16 % and 91% and severe symptoms occur in 2%-29%.1 High stress and a family history of dysmenorrhea have each been associated with a worsening of dysmenorrhea. In contrast, age, an increased number of pregnancies, and the use of oral contraceptives have shown to correlate with a decrease, or improvement of dysmenorrhea. Although some research indicates that cigarette smoking, diet, obesity, depression, and abuse may be risk factors for worsening of dysmenorrhea, the evidence is inconclusive.

How Dysmenorrhea Feels

The pain associated with dysmenorrhea is classically considered as “cramps,” however it is often accompanied by back pain, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, bloating, sluggish digestion, constipation, breast tenderness, lower leg aches and/or headaches. Although some suffers may feel symptoms as periodically intense, many may present with constant, uncomfortable dull aches, exhaustion and malaise. Dysmenorrhea cramps usually occur in the lower abdomen and in the area above the pubic bone. Dysmenorrhea tends to begin one to two days prior to menstrual bleeding or with the onset of menstrual bleeding and then gradually diminishes over 12 to 72 hours.

How Dysmenorrhea is Conventionally Treated

In conventional medicine, a woman’s gynecologist will typically assist in diagnosing and treating an individual’s dysmenorrhea.

Conventional medical treatment of dysmenorrhea aims to reduce the pain associated with discomfort. Initially, the primary treatment is supportive and includes methods to bring heat to the lower abdomen, increase exercise, and reduce stress. However, as the severity of the pain increases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) medication may be used to help alleviate the symptoms. Commonly used NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and Aspirin. Prescription strength NSAIDs like diclofenac, etodolac, and celecoxib (Celebrex) are sometimes given when symptoms worsen and can be obtained from a physician.

Hormonal birth control is often the next line of pharmaceutical treatment for dysmenorrhea. This may include birth control pills, vaginal rings, contraceptive implants, hormonal releasing intrauterine devices ( IUDs), injections, or hormonal patches. These agents work by reducing the uterine lining where prostaglandins are produced and, in turn, decreases uterine bleeding or contractions responsible for menstrual pain and cramps. Hormonal birth control has traditionally been a frequent pharmaceutical choice for women not trying to get pregnant. The combination of using NSAIDS and hormonal birth control is also a very common medical plan for reducing dysmenorrhea.

Other potential conventional treatments for dysmenorrhea include medications used to reduce uterine contractions (tocolytics), however there is inconclusive evidence for their overall effectiveness. Examples of these medications include Nitric Oxide, magnesium, calcium channel blockers (i.e., nifedipine), and nitroglycerin. There is also limited evidence to support the use of phosphodiesterase inhibitors like sildenafil (Viagra) and procedures that disrupt pelvic nerves.

After 3-6 months of treatment failure with NSAIDs and hormonal birth control a surgical procedure, often a laparoscopy, may be indicated to look for pelvic pathology like endometriosis in secondary dysmenorrhea. However, many holistic approaches are also available that complement a clinicians’ active and important role in the treatment of dysmenorrhea.

Holistic Healing for Menstrual Cramps

The menstrual discomfort of dysmenorrhea is a significant distraction from normalcy for many women on a monthly basis, interfering with routine activities. Plagued by severe abdominal cramps confounded by migraines, fatigue, bloating and nausea, women often feel incapacitated and unable to function. Many women turn to conventional treatments such as over the counter pain relievers or progress to prescription medication, but there are numerous holistic remedies available to help alleviate symptoms naturally and alternative healing modalities to rectify the underlying cause. Homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Reflexology, Ayurveda, Yoga, Meditation, Aromatherapy, Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and Holistic Diet and Lifestyle modifications each offer beneficial therapies for treating dysmenorrhea.

Homeopathy
Natural Holistic Homeopathy

Homeopathic remedies are natural, chemically minute dilutions of various substances used to stimulate the body’s immune system at a low level. This smaller reaction conditions the body to create a gentler reaction to future exposure of the substance. Several homeopathic formulas are available for treating dysmenorrhea and associated menstrual symptoms.

According to Dr. Yukova’s Guide to Homeopathy 2, some homeopathic medicines have a localized action and may provide rapid pain relief such as a reduction in dysmenorrhea cramps. Other remedies, known as constitutional (chronic) homeopathic medicines, target the root of the condition and are focused on eliminating the cause of the dysmenorrhea. Dr. Yukova cites the following formulas as the most common for rapid pain relief of primary dysmenorrhea.

  • Belladonna – for relief from sudden onset of intense throbbing pain that worsens from light touch or sudden movements
  • Chamomilla – for relief from unbearable pain accompanied by anger or irritation
  • Cimicifuga – for relief from pain that is proportional to the flow; ie. whereby increased bleeding results in increased pain; also indicated for shoulder and neck stiffness
  • Colocynthis – for relief from intolerable cramps
  • Magnesia phosphorica – for relief from cramps relieved by pressure or warmth
  • Veratrum album – for relief from severe menstrual cramps accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sweating; heavy flow; fatigue or chills

Two classic constitutional homeopathic remedies for dysmenorrhea include Pulsatilla and Sepia. According to Dr. Nancy Gahles, DC, CCH, RSHom(NA), President of the National Center for Homeopathy (NCH), the plant remedy Pulsatilla has an affinity for the genito-urinary organs, stomach and bowels and may be well-suited for women who suffer from chronic headaches, sinus infections, allergies, discharges, bladder infections, digestive disturbances, ovarian cysts or anxiety. 3

Sepia is derived from cuttlefish ink, and according to Miriam McCrea Malevris, DS Hom. Med., may be useful to treat PMS for women characterized by indifference, irritability or fatigue prior to menses. 4

Treating dysmenorrhea with homeopathic remedies may be a powerful way to improve a woman’s monthly quality of life. As always, please consult a certified homeopathic provider for a proper evaluation and treatment advice.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that after years of stress, insufficient nutrition and irregular lifestyle habits, the body’s natural elements fall out of balance with one another and Nature. TCM supports the notion that order can be restored to the elements by removing energy blockages and redirecting its flow using therapeutic modalities such as acupuncture, acupressure, cupping and herbal treatments.

TCM Herbal Medicine

According to Wei Liu, TCMD, MPH, LAC and Changzhen Gond PhD, MS of the American Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAOM) 5, pain associated with dysmenorrhea is similar to other forms of pain and can originate from one or the combination of the following: a deficiency of Qi and blood; the retention of heat, dampness or Wind; or an imbalance of the kidney and liver. TCM acknowledges that the pain is only a symptom reflecting a deeper condition, and like most holistic modalities, a practitioner will seek to alleviate the root cause.

TCM treatment of dysmenorrhea, whether via herbal or via hands-on means, ie. acupuncture or acupressure, requires the identification of the type and timing of the pain. Pain may occur days prior to menses, during menses, after menses or a combination of these. In addition, blood color, flow and blood clotting help indicate the specific elemental imbalance.

Two of the most common TCM herbal treatments for dysmenorrhea pain are angelica (Dang Gui) and corydalis tuber (Yan Hu Suo).

  • Dang Gui is beneficial for tonifying and harmonizing the blood as it regulates menses and reduces abdominal pain and cramping. Studies with Dang Gui have shown that it interferes with prostaglandin regulating mechanisms, which may account for its successful treatment of dysmenorrhea6
  • Yan Hu Suo is thought to invigorate the blood and enhance the flow of Qi through the body. Yan Hu Suo contains the alkaloid tetrahydropalmatine (THP), a known sedative and analgesic that may be responsible for alleviating dysmenorrhea pain. 7

According to TCM practitioners from the Yin Yang House Chattanooga Acupuncture and Wellness Center, several formulas are available to treat dysmenorrhea and associated menstrual symptoms. 8

  • Ba Zhen Wan – Anemia, Heavy Menstruation, Dysmenorrhea (Cramps), Dizziness, Weakness
  • Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan -PMS, Menstrual Pain, Irregular Menstruation, Emotional Stress, Depression, Irritability
  • Xiao Yao Wan – Stress, Depression, Anxiety, PMS
  • Si Wu Tang Wan- Tonifies and Regulates the Blood, Regulates the Liver
  • Fu Fang Dang Gui Wan (Dong Quai Tablet) – Syndromes of qi and blood deficiency; Irregular Menstruation, PMS, Menstrual Pain, Infertility, Fatigue, Memory
  • Shao Fu Zhu Yu Wan – Treats Stagnant Qi, Blood Clotting, Abdominal Pain, Dysmenorrhea (Cramps), Fatigue, Weak digestion, Gas, Bloating, Loose stools/Diarrhea, vomiting, gastritis, edem
  • Wen Jing Tang Wan- Warms Meridians, Dispels Cold, Nourishes blood to Remove blood stasis

Acupuncture & Acupressure
Acupressure Neck

Two of TCM’s most effective therapeutic modalities for treating dysmenorrhea include acupuncture and self-acupressure. Acupuncture accesses sensitive points on the skin’s surface that channel energetic pathways called meridians running throughout the body. The nervous system is particularly accessible to these points and studies have shown that acupuncture drives neurological stimulation of the brain when trying to reduce pain. 9

Acupuncture has been shown as an effective modality for reducing dysmenorrhea pain. 10

Acupressure works with the same system of meridians as acupuncture but does not use needles to stimulate the points. Instead, self-application with fingers or hands may be used to activate the energy at the points and promote self-healing.

Some common Acupuncture or Acupressure points used to treat symptoms of dysmenorrhea include:

GB20 –Headaches, anxiety, insomnia
GB34 – Inflammation, anger, irritation, edema
TW 5 – Migraines, neck stiffness, nausea, diarrhea, constipation
P6- Dizziness, nausea, acid reflux, constipation, headache
SP 6 – Cramps, edema, bloating, menstrual clots, back pain, anxiety and dizziness
SP8 & 9 – Cramps, edema, bloating, menstrual clots
CV4 – Cramps, kidney pain, menstrual clotting/flow

Reflexology
Natural Holistic Reflexology

Similar to the TCM modalities of acupuncture and acupressure, the system of reflexology developed by Dr. William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. is based on the Zone Theory that specific points in the hands and feet correspond to areas of the body and can relieve pain when stimulated and massaged. 11 Reflexology has been used successfully to treat dysmenorrhea and was shown to be equally effective as ibuprofen in a trial with 68 university students. 12  Women may choose to get regular reflexology sessions to relieve symptoms during menses and/or have regular sessions prior to their menstrual cycle to prevent pain.

Ayurveda

The 5,000 year old medicinal wisdom of Ayurveda from India provides much insight into the treatment of dysmenorrhea. According to the sacred medicine text called the Charaka, imbalances in a woman’s lower abdominal energy, governed by Vata, create pain and discomfort in menstruation. Most often, this imbalance is preceded by faulty dietary and lifestyle habits such as poor nutrition, lack of sleep, stress, fear or anxiety, which build slowly and heighten during menses.

The severe discomfort women experience with dysmenorrhea stems from the pain-inducing hormone-like substances called prostaglandins that are produced by the endometrial cells of the uterine lining shortly prior to menses. During the breakdown of these cells in menstruation, prostaglandins are released locally, constrict the blood vessels, and cause the muscle layer of the uterus to contract, resulting in painful cramps. Some prostaglandins may also enter the bloodstream and cause associated symptoms such as headache, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting. 13

Women who experience dysmenorrhea have been shown to produce higher levels of prostaglandins than those without menses pain. 14 Ayurveda aims to balance these cellular processes responsible for excess prostaglandin synthesis by targeting the misdirected energy, improving digestion and calming the nervous system.

Diet, lifestyle modifications, herbal treatments and body therapies recommended by Ayurveda can be used to identify the root of the woman’s specific energetic imbalance and help restore it. With respect to diet, Ayurveda treats the mind and body by synchronizing both with Nature’s rhythms and emphasizing fresh, whole, seasonal foods.

Fall and Winter seasons particularly upset uterine Vata energy, but can be improved by avoiding certain foods. The energetic Vata imbalance associated with dysmenorrhea is worsened by foods that are cold, dry and rough such as:

  • Crackers
  • Chips
  • Bread
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Raw Fruits
  • Raw Vegetables

According to Ayurveda, the properties of these foods aggravate the nervous system and create excess gas and dryness in digestion and throughout the body that disturbs the lower abdominal energy. This energy is then free to disrupt other energies including the fire force of Pitta and result in nausea, acid reflux, vomiting and diarrhea. Emotionally, both aggravated Vata and Pitta energy can create additional symptoms associated with dysmenorrhea such as restlessness, sluggishness or fatigue, spaciness, frustration, anger and pain.

Vegatable SoupTo further balance both energies with diet, focus on warm, cooked, wet food that are in season and high fiber foods such as:

  • Soups
  • Cooked Vegetables
  • Stewed Fruits – Apples, Pears, Prunes
  • Brown or Basmati Rice
  • Legumes – Kidney beans, Chickpeas, Lentils (up until the last week prior to menses)

Ayurveda also teaches that reducing or avoiding pungent, sour, inflammatory foods and fatty, fried foods will also help pacify the Vata and Pitta energies.

  • Nightshades – Tomatoes, Potatoes, Peppers, Eggplant
  • Hot Sauces
  • Pungent Spices – Chili Powder, Cajun, Paprika
  • Meats- Beef, Lamb, Goat, Pork
  • Fried Foods: French Fries, Potato/Tortilla Chips, Tempura, Samosas etc.

Lifestyle-wise, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of structure and even-pacing in daily routines to keep Vata and Pitta energies balanced. Women who experience dysmenorrhea often have busy, hectic, stressful days filled with multi-tasking at work and home. This constant juggling of career and family creates great variability in the daily routine and often leads to missed or late meals, poor nutrition, loss of sleep and challenges in relationships. Ayurveda suggests creating stability through “anchors” in the day such as:

  • Regular Meal Times
  • Meal Plates that Include all 6 Tastes
  • Morning Self-Care Routine
  • Evening Bed Time Routine
  • Family, Significant Other or Friend Connection Time
  • Self-Reflection Time

In addition to diet and lifestyle modifications, several herbal therapies and body treatments are recommended by Ayurveda. Women may not be aware that everyday kitchen spices are herbs that can help improve digestion, relieve constipation or diarrhea and ease pain associated with dysmenorrhea. These include:

  • Turmeric
  • Garlic Powder/Garlic
  • Hing (Asafoetida)
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Fennel

Herbal formulas provided by Ayurvedic Practitioners may also help with dysmenorrhea by targeting the urogenital and reproductive systems.

  • Some Ayurvedic herbal formulas recommended include:
  • Goksura – Restores Energy and Vitality to the Kidneys and Reproductive Organs; Alleviates Menstrual Cramps
  • Shatavari- Revitalizes the Reproductive Organs and Balances Hormones
  • Amalaki- Removes Excess Heat and Balances Pitta Fire Energy

Balancing the root disturbances of the Vata and Pitta energies with herbs will often target the nervous system and include:

  • Shilajit – Draws Out and Removes Deep Toxins from Cells
  • Brahmi – Calms Nervous System and Reduces Anxiety
  • Shankapushpi – Calms Nervous System and Reduces Anxiety

Soothing Ayurvedic body treatments are available for self-care and at wellness spas/centers to help treat dysmenorrhea and include:

  • Abyhanga- Herbal Oil Body Massage
  • Shirodhara- Herbal Oil Streaming onto the Forehead
  • Svedhana- Steam Box to Eliminate Toxins

Visiting a skilled Ayurvedic Practitioner and an Ayurvedic Wellness Center will significantly assist with reducing or eliminating symptoms of dysmenorrhea.

Yoga & Meditation

YogaYoga

Yoga is an incredible physical modality that reaches both body and mind when treating numerous conditions and may be especially useful for alleviating dysmenorrhea. A recent study of 113 female medical students with primary dysmenorrhea showed that after just 3 months of yoga postures, 88% reported complete pain relief and 12% reported mild pain,15 supporting this holistic modality as a viable therapy for painful menses.

Women who experience dysmenorrhea may wish to consider a regular, gentle yoga practice to bring stability, calm and comfort to an otherwise stressful life. More specifically, when treating anxiety throughout the month prior to menses, practice yoga poses (asanas) that enhance digestion and elimination, stretch abdominal, hip and back muscles, stimulate the kidney and reduce stress.

Other yogic therapy for anxiety and stress includes restorative poses. Restorative poses are fixed postures that are held for several minutes while adding yogic breath. They are beneficial for reducing stress and pain because they activate the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxing the body while passively stretching tight muscles and facia. These and other yogic asanas also provide significant relief from excess lymphatic fluid/edema in the body’s detoxification system from hormonal fluctuations and menstrual-related swelling.

According to Certified Yoga Teacher Laura Waite 16, the following poses may be used to reduce dysmenorrhea and associated menstrual symptoms:

  • Janu Sirsasana (Head-To-Knee Forward Bend) – Stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings and groin; calms the brain; reduces anxiety, fatigue, headache and menstrual discomfort
  • Ustrasana (Camel Pose) – Stretches the torso, ankles, thighs, deep hip flexors, back and groin; relieves fatigue, anxiety and menstrual discomfort; stimulates the kidneys
  • Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose) -Stretches the hips, thighs, hamstrings, groin and calves; strengthens knees; relieves back pain, sciatica and menstrual discomfort

In addition to these asanas, Spinal Twists such as Marichyasana III, improve digestion, reduce abdominal gas and bloat and stimulate new blood flow to the principal abdominal organs. Yogic poses that elongate and stretch the spine such as Marjaryasana (Cat Pose), rotate the pelvis and may also alleviate dysmenorrhea cramps. Virasana (Hero Pose) uses the heels of the feet to stimulate two marma points near the sacrum and relieves menstrual cramps.

Leading up to and during menstruation, women may also choose to practice restorative asanas. Restorative yoga postures such as Supta Badha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) 17 assist with freeing energy from the pelvic area and stretch the inner thigh and groin areas.

Meditation
Yoga Meditation

One of the most powerful natural methods shown to reduce pain from dysmenorrhea is the practice of meditation18  Centering the mind and aligning it with the body’s needs is thought to create a bridge whereby calming signals can be sent to throughout the nervous system to reduce pain. Several forms of meditation are available to try and include Yogic breathing meditation (pranayama), guided meditation and the Chinese energy meditative practices of Tai Chi and Chi Gong.

Pranayama- Yogic breath meditation focuses on controlling the breath while activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This activation results in a “calm and relax” process that has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, increase respiration and reduce pain. 19 20 21

Two types of pranayama are particularly useful for reducing pain and symptoms associated with dysmenorrhea, Brahmari (Bee Buzzing Breath) and Nadis Shodona (Alternate Nostril Breath).

  • Brahmari 22 can be performed to reduce anxiety, treat headaches and quiet the mind
  • Nadis Shodona 23 is amazing for balancing the left and right sides of the brain, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and increasing the flow of energy

Guided Meditation

Many women may benefit from following a relaxation sequence offered by guided meditation. This form of relaxation uses a voice, often accompanied by music or nature sounds, to walk the woman through a stress-reducing process. A popular guided meditation is the Body Scan method, which consciously identifies certain parts of they body and sends a message for it to relax.

Several meditation phone apps are available to help reduce stress and painful menses such as:

  • Simply Being from Meditation Oasis
  • The Mindfulness App
  • Get Some Head Space
  • Meditate (Tibetan Bells)
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Calm
  • Breath2Relax
  • Omvana

Tai ChiChinese Energy Practices

  • Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that has evolved into a modern practice of gracefully balancing and promoting the flow of energy known as “Chi.” According to the Mayo Clinic, this gentler form of tai chi is safe for all ages; pregnant women should consult a physician prior to practice. 24  Tai Chi has been shown to relieve back pain in conditions like fibromyalgia and may be beneficial for back pain associated with dysmenorrhea. 25
  • Qi Gong translates to “cultivating vital energy” and can be classified as a martial art, medical therapy or spiritual modality. The gentler forms of Qi Gong practice rhythmic movements that reduce stress, enhance immunity and increase vitality. Qi Gong has also been shown to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions and according to several independent case studies, may be beneficial for alleviating dysmenorrhea. 26 27 

Aromatherapy
aromatherapy

Aromatherapy harnesses the medicinal properties of essential oils extracted from plants and herbs. Many essential oils are available to treat the symptoms of dysmenorrhea and can be applied using various methods such as direct or steam inhalation, oil or lotion massage, shower or baths and aromatic spritzers.* Research has shown that essential oils are effective in reducing dysmenorrhea. 28  The following oils have been known to relieve dysmenorrhea or associated symptoms and are classified according to their therapeutic properties.

Antispasmodic Essential Oils – Relieve smooth muscle menstrual cramps and lower back pain from the uterus during dysmenorrhea 29

  • Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum syn. graveolens)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Nerve Tonic Essential Oils – Relieves anxiety, stress, anger and fear that precedes dysmenorrhea 29

  • Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
  • Patchouli (Pogostemom cablin)
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium x asperum syn. graveolens)
  • Mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
  • Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
  • Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum)

Stimulating & Uplifting Essential Oils – Treats headaches, fogginess, sluggishness and mood 29

  • Lemon (Citrus limon)
  • Grapefruit (Citrus Paradisi)
  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
  • Spearmint oil (Mentha spicata)

Digestive Aid Essential Oils – Treats constipation, gas, bloat and diarrhea 29

  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Tangerine Citrus reticulata var tangerine) – Constipation
  • Lemon (Citrus limon)
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)

Application of essential oils requires knowledge of appropriate dilutions in a base lotion or carrier oil such as almond, sunflower, grape seed or jojoba. Oils may also be directly inhaled via adding a few drops to a tissue, bath or shower and breathing the aroma. For safe application of these oils to treat dysmenorrhea, consult an aromatherapist and/or a physician.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
TENS Unit

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, known as TENS, uses low voltage electric current to relieve pain. A TENS device is thought to work by either the gate control theory of pain whereby stimulating nerves closes a “gate” mechanism in the spinal cord to reduce the sensation of pain and/or by stimulating the production of endorphins that block pain.

TENS units have been used extensively to treat back pain and may work well for women with menstrual cramps and lower back pain. The unit is easy to use, portable, and functions with a small battery-operated device that can be hooked to a belt. Two electrodes that extend from the device attach to the skin and deliver the low voltage electrical current.

TENS treatment may be particularly effective for women suffering from severe dysmenorrhea and can be used alone or in combination with conventional or holistic therapies. A crossover study where women used the TENS unit alone or took ibuprofen for dysmenorrhea showed that the TENS unit itself significantly reduced menstrual pain and also delayed the need for supportive ibuprofen medication by an average of 5.9 hours. 30 To acquire a TENS unit, see a physician as they require a prescription and are contraindicated for women in their first trimester of those with a pacemaker. 31

Holistic Lifestyle Suggestions for Menstrual Cramps

Relaxation & Routine

Both conventional and holistic providers recognize that stress has a large impact on women and greatly contributes to painful menses. According to the Mayo Clinic, mental stress can temporarily alter the function of the hypothalamus, which controls hormones that regulate menses. 32 Moreover, a large study of 388 women examined the link between stress and dysmenorrhea and found that women who reported high stress had twice the risk for dysmenorrhea compared to those who reported low stress. 33 

When under continuous stress, women should take time for personal self-care and relief in their everyday lifestyle. Women are often play multiple roles in balancing home, work and family life and place others’ needs above their own. Whether finding time in the day to take a mentally clearing walk, read a book, workout at the gym, visit a spa, meditate or meet with friends and family, a daily stress outlet is paramount for balancing a women’s menstrual cycle.

In addition to a daily stress outlet, consistent morning and night routines and regular meal times are critical for providing stability. Irregular eating habits can disrupt hormone regulation.

Get Warm

Uterine, abdominal and back pain are all difficult conditions associated with dysmenorrhea. The application of heat to the abdomen has been shown to diminish this pain and provide relief and was equally effective as the conventional pain killer ibuprofen. 34 Women may choose to apply heat safely via a hot water bottle, heating pad or take a warm bath or shower.

Abdominal & Body Massage
 Massage

One of the most powerful holistic lifestyle additions includes regular massage. Massage is an excellent way to move stagnant lymphatic fluid throughout the body which eliminates toxins and inflammatory compounds responsible for pain and congestion.

Conventional, Chinese and Ayurvedic abdominal massage work the belly muscles while moving in the direction of the colon to assist with digestion. Beginning at the lower right quadrant of the abdomen, gently rub in circles upwards to the navel, across the abdomen and down the left side of the abdomen. Combining abdominal massage with heat and essential oils greatly assists in dysmenorrhea pain relief.

Full body massage of any form is a well-known technique for reducing stress and alleviating pain. Since the impact of dysmenorrhea extends beyond abdominal pain, with many women experiencing back and leg pain, headaches and eye tension and overall bloating, massage is an excellent holistic modality for relief.

Holistic Diet and Nutrition for Menstrual Cramps

Diet and nutrition play a significant role in managing dysmenorrhea. Eating healthily can reduce excess toxins stored in fat cells and may dramatically improve menstrual cycles. To balance hormonal changes and inflammatory prostaglandin release during menstruation, women can improve their diets prior to and during menses.

Alkaline Diet
Alkaline diet

The Alkaline diet suggests that when foods are digested, they have a specific effect on the pH of bodily fluids such as urine. Certain foods are classified as acidic and reduce this pH and others are alkaline and maintain or increase this pH. Acidic foods are considered inflammatory and minerals like calcium are often needed to buffer them. Calcium excreted in the urine as a result of digesting acidic foods is a concern since losing valuable minerals may deplete the body of its stores. Acid-forming foods may be particularly disruptive to a normal menses cycle and avoiding or greatly reducing them may alleviate dysmenorrhea pain.

Highly Acidic Foods to Reduce or Avoid for Dysmenorrhea 35

  • Alcohol, Tobacco
  • Artificial Sweeteners, White Sugar
  • Beef, Lamb, Pork, Veal
  • Breads, Biscuits, Crackers, Refined Cereals, Pasta, Flour, White Rice
  • Coffee, Soda, Juices
  • Pastries, Cookies, Cakes, Ice Cream, Jams, Jellies
  • Fermented Foods- pickles, white vinegar, miso
  • Processed Vegetable Oils, Salad Dressings, Margarine
  • Fatty, Fried Foods- French Fries, Burgers, Chips, Doughnuts, etc.

When dealing with hormone fluctuations and inflammation associated with uterine lining shedding, women may choose to adopt an alkaline diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes while reducing fatty and sugary foods. In addition, foods low in fat and rich in soluble and insoluble fiber have been shown to significantly reduce estrogen levels 36 and can help prevent digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea that often accompany menses.

Alkaline Foods to Increase for Dysmenorrhea 37

  • Fresh & Cooked Vegetables: Alfalfa Grass, Barley Grass, Artichokes, Asparagus, Bok Choy, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Celery, Cilantro, Cucumber, Dandelion, Jicama, Kale, Lamb’s Lettuce, Leeks, Mustard Greens, Peas, Sea Vegetables, Spinach, Zucchini, Broccoli, Beets, Carrots, Rutabaga, Sweet Potatoes, Squash Pumpkins, Turnips, Kohlrabi
  • All Fruit, Especially Avocados
  • Lima Beans, Green Beans
  • Lentils, Navy Beans
  • Buckwheat, Kamut, Spelt, Millet, Barley
  • Fennel Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Flax Seeds
  • Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, Hazelnuts, Macadamia, Pine Nuts, Pistachios, Walnuts

Aggravating Foods & Allergens

Certain foods may increase mucous and congestion in the body that may cause sluggish digestion, bloating, fatigue and heavy periods. Others may induce inflammation or an allergic reaction in the gut or skin.

  • Fatty, fried foods are culprits for several medical conditions and are highly inflammatory. Damaging blood vessels, increasing cholesterol and regulating estrogen are just some of the ways these foods can result in painful menses. Avoid or significantly reduce these foods in the diet to help alleviate dysmenorrhea.
  • Refined sugar is another well-known inflammatory food that should be avoided on a daily basis and especially during menses. Women may wish to have natural sweeteners such as raw honey, unprocessed maple syrup or small amounts of unrefined sugar called sucanat to avoid exacerbation of menstrual symptoms.
  • Dairy is considered a congestive food and may worsen dysmenorrhea. Calcium, however is beneficial for reducing muscle cramps. Adding non-dairy sources of calcium such as fresh leafy greens like kale, collards and turnip greens, broccoli and cabbage like bok choy, legumes like white beans and black-eyed peas, nuts like almonds, seeds like sesame and ocean seaweed may greatly reduce dysmenorrhea and associated digestive problems such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
  • Red Meat and egg yolks are foods that may exacerbate dysmenorrhea. Both are high in an inflammatory compound called arachidonic acid (AA), activated by a decline of progesterone. 38 A diet low in AA and high in omega-3 foods may significantly reduce dysmenorrhea.

Natural SupplementsNatural Holistic Supplements 39 40

  • Magnesium is vital mineral that has been shown to reduce key cell compounds in the body’s inflammatory processes. Preliminary research with magnesium supplements has shown some efficacy in reducing dysmenorrhea by decreasing prostaglandin F 2 alpha. 41 Sufferers of dysmenorrhea may wish to speak with a physician about whether magnesium supplements are appropriate for them. *
  • Vitamin E. A study from 2005 using vitamin E supplementation for women with dysmenorrhea showed a reduction in severity and duration of pain and the amount of menstrual blood loss, making it a potential pain-relief treatment. 42
  • Omega-3s, commonly present in fish and flax seed oils, are anti-inflammatory compounds capable of reducing pain. Studies using omega-3 supplements to treat dysmenorrhea have shown a reduction in symptoms and the ability to decrease pain medication such as ibuprofen. 43
  • Calcium supplements are thought to help reduce menstrual pain. Early studies showed that calcium channel blockers helped free calcium and relieve uterine contractions, thus lessening menstrual pain. 44 According to the University of Maryland, more recent research indicates that calcium citrate supplements may work by helping to maintain muscle tone and may be more useful when consistently taken prior to menses.
  • Ginger Root has been used in TCM and Ayurveda for thousands of years for its anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties. Recent evidence showed that ginger root was as effective as mefenamic acid and ibuprofen on treating pain in women with primary dysmenorrhea. 45
  • Chamomile or Mint Tea are both home remedies that have been used to reduce menstrual pain, but may become part of the mainstream treatment for dysmenorrhea. Peppermint contains antispasmodic compounds and its essential oil has proven effective in reducing spasms during colonoscopy and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy procedures. 46 And,recent research with chamomile reveals that drinking chamomile tea led to high levels of glycine, a chemical that relieves muscle spasms and may relax the uterus. 47
  • Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus) and Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) are two well-known antispasmodic herbs that may be extremely useful for treating dysmenorrhea. The first is native to Europe and Asia and the latter is found in North America. Both have the ability to relax smooth muscle and are recommended by doulas like Dalene Barton to treat uterine menstrual cramps. 48

Products for Relieving Menstrual Cramps
TENS Unit

TENS Unit

 

Heating Pad

Heating Pad

 

Hot Water Bottle

Hot Water Bottle

 

Massagers

Back Massager

Community Resources

Updated: November 2014


 

  1. Hong Ju, Mark Jones, and Gita Mishra. The Prevalence and Risk Factors of Dysmenorrhea. Epidemiol Rev (2014) 36 (1): 104-113 first published online November 26, 2013 doi:10.1093/epirev/mxt009
  2. http://www.homeopathytoday.net/spip.php?article80
  3. http://www.integrativepractitioner.com/article_ektid9502.aspx
  4. http://vitalitymagazine.com/news-articles/sepia-homeopathys-wise-woman/
  5. http://www.tcmpage.com/hpdysmen.html
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18707853
  7. http://acupuncturetoday.com/herbcentral/corydalis.php
  8. http://www.yinyanghouse.com/conditions-treated/alternative-natural-options-for-dysmenorrhea-menstrual-paincramps
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4051855/pdf/pone.0099538.pdf
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3540764?dopt=Abstract
  11. http://www.reflexology-usa.net/history.htm
  12. http://www.reflexology-usa.net/history.htm
  13. Proctor M, Farquhar C. Diagnosis and Management of Dysmenorrhoea. BMJ. 2006; 332:1134-1138.
  14. Durain D. Primary dysmenorrhea: assessment and management update. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2004;49:520-528.
  15. http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jdms/papers/Vol4-issue1/P0416973.pdf
  16. http://www.active.com/yoga/articles/4-yoga-poses-to-ease-menstrual-cramps?page=4
  17. http://www.gaiamtv.com/pose/reclining-bound-angle-pose-supta-baddha-konasana
  18. http://www.scopemed.org/?jft=47&ft=47-1362735925
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19249921
  20. http://yogauonline.com/yogatherapy/yoga-for-back-pain/yoga-for-back-pain-practice/310030310-new-study%E2%80%94yogic-breathing-helps
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2936076/?report=printable
  22. http://www.yogajournal.com/news-articles/practice-section/buzz-away-the-buzzing-mind/
  23. http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/channel-cleaning-breath/
  24. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/tai-chi/art-20045184
  25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22609642
  26. http://www.qigong.org.nz/news-articles/treating-dysmenorrheaacupuncture-case-study
  27. http://www.taichiqigongseattle.com/2012/03/secrets-to-pms-energy-medicine-yi-ren-qigong-taichi/
  28. http://www.integrativehealthcare.org/mt/archives/2014/01/essential-oils-ease-menstrual-cramps.html
  29. http://www.naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/most-commonly-used-essential-oils/
  30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2179780?dopt=Abstract
  31. Thomas M, Lunden T, Bjork J, Lundstrom- Lindsbedt V. Pain and discomfort in primary dysmenorrhea is reduced by pre-emptive acupuncture or low frequency TENS. Eur J Phys Med Rehabil 1995; 5: 71–6.
  32. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amenorrhea/basics/causes/con-20031561.
  33. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1740691/pdf/v061p01021.pdf
  34. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11239634
  35. http://www.acidalkalinediet.com/Alkaline-Foods-Chart.htm
  36. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/54/3/520.full.pdf
  37. http://www.acidalkalinediet.com/Alkaline-Foods-Chart.htm
  38. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3935015/
  39. http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21602
  40. http://www.ghc.org/kbase/topic.jhtml?docId=hn-1206000
  41. Penland J, Johnson P, et al. Dietary calcium and manganese effects on menstrual cycle symptoms. Am J Obstet Gynecol . 1993;168:1417-1424.
  42. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15777446
  43. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22261128
  44. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/485222
  45. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19216660
  46. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1440-1746.2006.04307.x/abstract;jsessionid=34C30EF27E7DF487CF5A76FAA8D11155.f03t03
  47. http://www.webmd.com/women/news/20050107/chamomile-tea-may-fight-colds-menstrual-cramps
  48. http://natural-fertility-info.com/menstruation-cramps-benefits-of-cramp-bark-and-black-haw.html
Categories
Condition

Rheumatoid Arthritis Natural Treatments

Reviewed & edited by Dr. Jeffrey C. Lederman, DO, MPH and Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAP

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a painful and chronic autoimmune disease that causes persistent inflammation of the joints in the body. For a variety of reasons found in individuals that suffer from RA, the immune system begins to attack the thin tissue lining that covers the joints, known as the synovium. Because of the immune system’s attack, white blood cells travel to the synovium and cause the recruitment of cell chemical signals, called cytokines and initiate a painful inflammatory response.

Whether Rheumatoid Arthritis impact joints locally or all over the body, it is a painful condition that most often progresses into a debilitating, chronic disease.

Overview

Rheumatoid Arthritis, KneeHow RA Feels

RA typically sets in after the age of 40, although it is not uncommon for teens and young adults like Maya to suffer from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA or JIA); historically impacts women more often than men. Common symptoms of RA include pain, swelling, morning stiffness, and limited movement of the affected joints. The severity of pain and longevity of symptoms can vary, as RA is a chronic condition, which means there is no true “cure” and symptoms come and go frequently. Symptoms of RA are most often experienced at joint extremities such as the fingers and toes, but can affect larger joints such as the wrist, elbows, knee, ankle and hips.1

While the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis appear to be strictly physical, RA has the potential to have a further reaching impact on the RA sufferer. Since RA is part of a collection of autoimmune inflammatory diseases, it shares symptoms with other inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis. Symptoms of these diseases expand to have an emotional and energetic effect whereby individuals with RA may experience anxiety or depression or become discouraged over the excruciating pain that seems to dictate their life.

How RA is Conventionally Treated

RA sufferers often visit with their primary care physician (PCP) when experiencing initial symptoms of arthritis, including joint pain, morning stiffness, redness, inflammation and fatigue. PCPs will often suggest a preliminary panel of labs to assess inflammatory markers associated with RA and refer individuals to a Rheumatologist for evaluation and treatment.

NSAIDsThe conventional course of RA treatment involves the use of prescription drugs. Popular first line medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but often the disease progresses, requiring the use of more powerful anti-inflammatory agents such as disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). DMARDs can slow the progression of RA via various mechanisms and help prevent joint damage. DMARDs typically prescribed by rheumatologists include methotrexate (Trexall), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) and leflunomide (Arava). Both DMARDs and NSAIDs have mild to moderate side effects, and NSAIDs are often not tolerated by individuals due to stomach irritation and kidney.2

Steroidal medications are often adjunct medications to DMARDS prescribed early on in the disease. Steroids may be used to temporarily to relieve extreme swelling and inflammation, but are not a permanent solution since they can cause significant liver damage.

Perhaps the most effective, yet potentially risky, anti-rheumatic drugs to date are the biologic DMARDs. Most common are the tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-α) inhibitors. These are injectable medications that specifically target the initial inflammatory cascade occurring in and around the synovium of RA patients. TNF-α inhibitors have greatly improved the quality of life of countless RA suffers, however because they suppress the immune system, individuals are at risk for serious infections like tuberculosis (TB) and, in rare cases, may develop cancer. Examples include adalimumab (Humira), etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade), certolizumab (Cimzia), and golimumab (Simponi). Additional drugs that target specific cells of the immune system to fight RA include rituxamab (Rituxan), tocilizumab (Actemra), abatacept (Orencia) an danakinra (Kineret).3

Rheumatoid Arthritis complicates daily life for individuals with this chronic disease. While traditional prescription drugs are effective in modulating the immune system to reduce inflammation and the symptoms and pain associated with RA, it is encouraging to know that there is an abundance of holistic treatments, dietary and lifestyle changes, and products and equipment that can help reduce and manage RA’s worst symptoms.

Holistic Healing for RA Sufferers

Rheumatoid Arthritis affects an estimated 1.5 million people nationwide, and 68% to 94% of RA patients use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies to treat their symptoms. As a malady of the immune system, RA can be treated through various holistic forms of healing. Rheumatoid arthritis natural treatments include the use of herbal supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, yoga, and apitherapy.4

Herbal Supplements

Herbal supplements are natural sources of medication that can be derived from flowers, plants, and tree bark. Whether taken as a tea, daily capsule, or tincture, herbal supplements deliver natural pain relief, but some may interfere with medication. RA sufferers should consult with their physician first along with a certified herbal practitioner prior to using any herbal supplements.

Because of their great potential to reduce pain and combat inflammation, feverfew and willow bark are two wonderful herbal supplements that can aid in treating RA.

  • feverfew.jpgFeverfew5, also known as Tanacetum parthenium, has an anti-inflammatory effect that may ease joint inflammation associated with RA. Traditional treatment includes 1-2 supplements taken daily. As always, consult your physician before taking Feverfew or any other supplement.
  • Willow bark6 is the bark from several varieties of willow trees, and actually acts as a natural aspirin. Willow bark contains salicin, the active ingredient that delivers pain-relieving properties. Willow bark is available dried for herbal teas and decoctions, in capsules, or as a tincture. Willow bark is considered a natural blood thinner and may be unsafe for individuals already taking anticoagulants. As always, consult your physician before taking any supplements.7

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) follows the thousands’ of years old Chinese practice of striving for a balance to bring about good health. Where illness or sickness comes in, there is an imbalance in the Ying and Yang, the opposing yet complementary forces in the universe. TCM utilizes herbal medicines and mind-body practices such as acupuncture as its main source of treatment in bringing about a balance and harmony to the body.8 TCM practitioners create highly specialized formulas to treat RA with a combination of herbs that are unique to the individual’s condition.

Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese Medicine

TCM relies on herbal medicines to treat a variety of ailments. This holistic approach utilizes medicinal effects already found in natural sources such as trees, plants, roots, flowers, and bark to reduce painful inflammation. In TCM, a doctor prepares a specific herbal medicine based on symptom severity, duration, and location. These herbal medicines are specially formulated dependent on each individual RA sufferer. Before taking any herbal supplements, consult your physician.

  • According to TCM theory, arthritis is considered a disease of blood stagnation and many herbal treatments are focused on relieving energetic and blood blockages and increasing circulation. The popular, potent Chinese herb Tienchi Ginseng is often used to move and vitalize the blood for RA sufferers. Ginseng can be very heating to the body and should be balanced with additional herbs. Be sure to consult a certified TCM practitioner before taking herbal remedies.
  • Another TCM approach for RA includes the use of anti-inflammatory herbs. Thunder God Vine is derived from the root of a plant that is indigenous to Asia and can help reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Due to the highly poisonous nature of the plant’s leaves and flowers, only the skinned root can be used for medicinal purposes. When taken under the care of a TCM professional, Thunder God Vine helps to reduce RA pain and inflammation due to its effect on the immune system.9

Acupuncture
Acupuncture

The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture10 is the science and art of restoring the balance of natural energy to the body. Developed within Traditional Chinese Medicine, this form of therapy has proven useful in alleviating numerous conditions and disorders. Acupuncture uses very thin needles inserted into specific reflex points of the body to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues associate with a host of disorders. This stimulation sends a signal to the brain, which works to produce endorphins. Acupuncture can help ease RA symptoms by its’ ability to release endorphins,the body’s natural pain medicine, and quell aches and pains.

A trained Acupuncturist may focus on specific points where chi (energy) is blocked or may use a broader systemic approach to meridian (energy channel) support. Arthritis conditions in TCM theory are often known as bi-syndromes and associated with disturbances in heat, wind and cold. Some acupuncture points uses to relieve inflammation and joint pain include:

Spleen 4          Small Intestine 3
Galbladder 40          Triple Warmer 5
Kidney 3          Stomach 34
Gallbladder 30          Large Intestine 11
Small Intestine 10           Central Vessel 6

Ayurveda
Natural Holistic Ayurvedic

The 5,000 year old system of medicine from India called Ayurveda offers significant holistic therapeutic options for RA sufferers. Ayurveda focuses on restoring the balance of physical, mental and spiritual energies, bodily humors known as doshas, with nature to heal disease. According to rheumatologist and national thought leader Dan Furst, the use of Ayurvedic medicine to treat RA involves “a holistic, multifaceted system of treatment which includes complex herbal mineral combinations, dietary and lifestyle modification, oil therapies, and detoxification routines.”11

Ayurveda provides both dietary and lifestyle modifications to help reduce inflammation associated with the autoimmune disease of RA. Eliminating nightshade vegetables and fruit such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, and goji berries is recommended, along with the reduction of spicy foods and the inclusion of cooling herbs such as fennel, mint, cilantro, and dill to the diet.12

Ayurveda also offers bodily detoxification therapies that use physical manipulation of the muscles and lymphatic system to remove inflammatory cells and toxins. Various massage oil therapies such as Abhyanga use heated herbal oils to draw out impurities from affected RA joints and muscles, thus reducing inflammation and promoting self-healing. This therapeutic practice Is followed by Svedana, the Ayurvedic practice of using a sweat box or warm shower in short intervals, to detoxify the system and relax muscles. This practice induces sweating from the neck down and is a useful form of heat therapy that can ease painful RA symptoms.13

Similar to TCM, certain Ayurvedic herbs and supplements have proven effective for reducing inflammation and detoxifiying RA affected joints and muscles.

  • The tree resin Boswellia known by its more familiar name frankincense, is extracted from the gum of Boswellia trees and used to treat rheumatic arthritis. Due to its anti-inflammatory action, Boswellia makes a great form of treatment for RA sufferers. The inclusion of daily Boswellia dosages or topical application can reduce pain and inflammation over time. As always, consult with your physician before beginning any supplements.14
  • Another powerful Ayurvedic supplement includes the use of a mineral pitch called guggulu. Often used with a combination of herbs in a collective formula, guggulu provides “strong detoxification and relieve from inflammatory toxins residing in the synovium,” according to Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, AP, CYT, CAT.

Aromatherapy
aromatherapy

Painful RA inflammation can be reduced with the use of massage oils. There are many essential oils that can help reduce inflammation and pain due to RA. These oils include:

  • Rosemary (ie. Rosmarinus Officinalis)
    Rosemary essential oil is particularly powerful for relieving muscle stiffness, cramping, aches and pain associated with RA and by stimulating blood flow and tissue regeneration, may help eliminate toxins.
  • Lemon (Citrus Limomum)
    Lemon essential oil can be used to treat physical exhaustion, general fatigue, and depression that often accompanies RA.
  • Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)
    This essential oil provides a calming effect on the body and is used to treat insomnia, burns, colds, and muscle aches and pains.
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus Globulus)
    This form ofEucalyptus essential oil is most commonly used because of its high eucalyptol content (70-85%) and anti-inflammatory compounds. It can be used as an expectorant, antibiotic, anti-fungal treatment, as well as providing relief from muscle pain.
  • Peppermint (Mentha Piperita)
    This invigorating essential oil is refreshing to the senses and nervous system. It can be used to treat headaches, cough and sinus congestion, muscle pains and motion sickness.

Each of the essential oils listed contain potent antioxidants that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.The essential oils can be inhaled via a diffuser or tissue, applied topically to the skin using a carrier oil or lotion, or added to a warm bath. It is always recommended to dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil or lotion before applying directly to the skin as sensitivity may occur.15

Yoga
Yoga

The mind-body practices of Restorative Yoga, or gentle Hatha yogic postures called asanas, can help to reduce pain, inflammation, and relax the muscles. Yoga works by holding and releasing different positions to focus on mind-body integration. While originally used for meditation purposes, yoga has become an increasingly popular way to manage stress and acquire physical activity.

The connection between yoga and a reduction in RA symptoms has been documented through eleven different studies. According to some research, “evidence was strongest for reduction in disease symptoms (tender/swollen joints, pain) and disability, as well as improved self-efficacy and mental health.”16

Yoga provides a wonderful physical outlet for RA sufferers to focus on flexibility, stretching, balance, and posture. By following a gentle yoga routine regularly, individuals with Rheumatoid Arthritis may be able to better limit the length and severity of their RA symptoms. Poses to include in a yoga routine are designed to alleviate RA symptoms and strengthen supportive muscles.

Some asanas that are beneficial for RA sufferers include:

  • Virabhaddrasana I (Warrior 1) – Try this position facing a wall with palms reaching and touching the wall for support. Be gentle and hold for only a few breaths.
  • Virabhaddrasana II (Warrior ) – Try this position slowly, with lots of breath and hold for only a few seconds at a time.
  • Utkatasana (chair pose) – Try this position parallel to a wall so arms can reach the wall for balance and support; hold for a few seconds at at time.
  • Matsyendrasana (seated spinal twist) – Be sure to place a bolster or blanked under knees and/or hips if they are far off the ground to align the spine properly and take pressure off the knees.
  • Bhujangasana (cobra pose) – Keep a gentle bend in the knees when lifting the chest.
  • Balasana (child’s pose.17) – Use a blanked or bolster when leaning back into the pose to prevent knee strain.

In addition to performing these poses slowly and gently, restorative yogic poses may provide additional myofacial relief for RA sufferers and also alleviate stress experiences when living with the condition. As a more static form of yoga, restorative or Yin Yoga offers poses that use props to specifically position the body in a comfortable and supportive way to allow for muscle and mental relaxation. Often, the poses are held for a few minutes at a time to promote complete relaxation.

Apitherapy

Apitherapy, the medicinal use of products made by honeybees such as honey, bee venom, pollen, royal jelly, propolis and beeswax18 is another holistic form of treatment for RA.

Apitherapy has been recognized as a powerful way to treat a wide spectrum of disorders and diseases for hundreds of years. For example, bee venom therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis involves using targeted bee stings at localized sites of joint pain and inflammation to trigger the release of anti-inflammatory and pain-blocking agents present in the bee venom. According to Dr. Wong, MD of Grace Life Medical Center, at least 18 active components exist in bee venom and following a sting, the adrenal glands may be stimulated to release cortisol in the body.19 The release of several therapeutic components in the venom, including histamine and cortisol, help alleviate pain and inflammation associated with RA.20 However, Apitherapy does not only involve the use of venom. All aspects of hive products are involved in Apitherapy, from the medicinal use of honey to pollen to beeswax.

Preliminary research exists that examines the effects of apitherapy for RA patients. In a randomized trial of 100 RA patients, 50 of them treated with Apitherapy and 50 patients treated through traditional medication, the findings revealed that Apitherapy is indeed an effective and cost-friendly form of treatment with relatively low side effects. The results indicated that the 50 RA patients treated with Apitherapy experienced greater significant improvement in joint swelling, pain, and stiffness than the medically treated group. Additionally, the group treated with Apitherapy had a lower relapse rate (12% to 32%).21

Holistic Lifestyle Changes

Holistic lifestyle changes are simple, yet effective, daily decisions that can reduce and help manage the painful side effects of RA. While RA is a chronic condition without a true cure, there are several holistic lifestyle changes RA sufferers can make.

Balance of Sleep/Exercise
Sleep

A good balance of rest and exercise is vital for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing RA symptoms. A regular exercise routine will help increase blood flow, circulation, and improve overall health and mood. However, physical activity may be impossible during the height of RA pain and swelling. It is during times like this that rest becomes vital. A balance of resting when the RA symptoms are strongest and exercise for when they are more manageable will introduce a happy medium of physical activity and much-needed rest.22

Tai-Chi

Tai Chi is an ancient martial art form that has been heralded in China for its’ effective treatment of RA symptoms. Studies reveal that the regular practice of Tai Chi produces “statistically significant benefits on lower extremity range of motion, in particular ankle range of motion, for people with RA.”23 This low impact form of exercise helps to bring a sense of balance and strength while alleviating RA symptoms.

Meditation

Meditation and other mind-body practices provide a cost-effective way to control RA pain from the comfort of home. To follow meditative techniques for pain, find a quiet, dark space in which to sit. Focus on deep, slow breaths while clearing the mind. Mindfulness meditation practices can help to reduce sensations of pain, stress, and anxiety and increase activity levels24

Healing Breath Techniques
Pranayama

Pranayama, the practice of controlled breathing, helps to relieve chronic pain associated with RA. This yogic style of breathing focuses on the deep inhalation and slow release of each breath, which increases oxygen inhalation and delivery throughout the body. This type of breathing can be an especially important pain relieving technique for RA.

Nadi shodhona, also known as alternate nostril breathing, is a powerful, calming pranayama that has been shown to have a physiological effect on the parasympathetic nervous system and to lower stress and blood pressure. Nadi shodhona involves right and left isolated nostril breathing to activate distinct parts of the nervous system and provide soothing relief. This pranayama, and others, have been utilized for treating various chronic pain disorders and may prove very beneficial for relieving RA symptoms.

Holistic Diet & Nutrition

Diet and nutrition play a large role in virtually every health condition. Rheumatoid Arthritis can be treated by specific dietary changes and a holistic approach to nutrition. An anti-inflammatory diet, specific supplements, supplements, and foods can all help to reduce inflammation and boost the immune system.

Anti-inflammatory diet

You can greatly reduce the severity of your RA symptoms by following an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in Omega -3’s and low in Omega-6’s. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the system and are in short supply in most of our modern day diets. Omega-3 food sources include flax seeds, walnuts, fish, grass fed meat and eggs, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and fish oil.

Reducing or eliminate inflammatory nightshades such as peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes and foods with high levels of arginine such as chocolate, nuts, red meat, seafood and eggs.25

Anti-inflammatory Foods

The addition of several foods to an anti-rheumatic diet have proven effective in reducing inflammation.

Cherries

Cherries contain significant anti-inflammatory properties. Eating just 12 cherries a day can be very helpful in reducing inflammation. According to a 2003 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eating Bing cherries may help reduce inflammation associated with RA. The study showed that blood markers for inflammation were significantly reduced from consuming cherries.26

Ginger, Turmeric, Green Tea
Turmeric

Ginger, turmeric, and green tea are all delicious foods that contain natural anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin, the main ingredient in turmeric, is what gives the spice its yellow color and is a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Recent studies conducted by the CCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines) have determined that ginger, turmeric, and green tea are all powerful anti-inflammatory agents that may be beneficial to those suffering with RA. These spices can be added to your favorite meals or taken as supplements. As always, consult your physician before taking any supplements.27

Alkaline Foods

RA sufferers frequently find that their digestive systems are out of balance and overly acidic. This is caused by a traditional modern diet of heavily processed, sugar-rich foods. The solution to changing gut health includes the adoption of a more alkaline diet. This includes the consumption of alkalinizing foods like many fruits and vegetables. Raisins, carrots, spinach, bananas, lemons, and apricots are a few examples of strongly alkalinizing foods.28

Joint Lubricating Foods

Fish oil is a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids and can be obtained by eating fish or by taking supplements. A daily dose of fish oil can help to reduce inflammation in the body, and in turn, inflammation caused by RA.

Mediterranean dietAn additional dietary change that will have an important impact on your allergy symptoms is to reduce your Omega-6 intake. This kind of fatty acid is found inmost processed foods and will wreak havoc on inflammation levels. The intake of Omega-6 fats can be significantly reduced by cutting out processed foods and vegetable oils.

Eliminate Caffeine

The elimination of caffeine may play an active role in the reduction of RA symptoms. Painful RA inflammation can be caused by food allergens, and caffeine often is a culprit. Following an elimination diet is the only true way to determine what food source could be causing inflammation in the system. Removing caffeine as a potential allergen could mean significant reduction in the severity and duration of arthritis symptoms.29

Products & Equipment

There are a host of supportive devices to improve and assist with daily activities. Wrist splints, zipper pullers, and shoehorns are all available to aid with activities that may prove painful. There are a also some specialized splints available30 that keep fingers and toes in pain-free positions. Additionally, there are many products available that assist with movements such as getting in and out of bed easier.

Community Resources

Rehabilitation may be helpful when treating painful RA symptoms. A physical or occupational therapist will be able to address pain, increase mobility, and ensure there is no loss of daily functioning due to RA.

A physical therapist will provide helpful exercises, education, and instruction as to which assistive devices are best. Seeing a physical therapist to treat RA includes working to maintain a certain level of physical function and mobility. A physical therapist can also provide relief for RA symptoms through techniques such as hot/cold applications and ultrasound.

An occupational therapist is committed to assisting RA sufferers with maintaining their independence and ability to properly work, take care of their personal hygiene, and participates in meaningful activities. Occupational therapists will often assess a home/work environment and provide helpful tips, information, and resources that will work to accommodate RA symptoms.31

Updated: September 2019


References

  1. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp.
  2. http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/understanding-rheumatoid-arthritis-treatment
  3. http://www.enbrel.com/prescribing-information.jspx
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