Dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful menstruation, is a common problem experienced by women in their reproductive years. Symptoms of pain can interfere with daily activities so much so that they may also be a factor in absenteeism at school and at work.
The condition of dysmenorrhea may be characterized into two types: primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea. While primary dysmenorrhea is the presence of cramps and lower abdominal pain that occurs during a female’s menstrual cycle when no other cause for those symptoms exists, secondary dysmenorrhea is the presence of the same symptoms, but is caused by other medical problems such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids. It is thought that for both primary and secondary dysmenorrhea, hormone-like substances released during a woman’s menstrual cycle called prostaglandins play an active role. The information in this article focuses on primary dysmenorrhea and resulting lower abdominal cramps.
Common treatment for primary dysmenorrhea involves nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) or oral contraceptive pills (OCPs), both of which work to reduce myometrial activity (contractions of the uterus). While these treatments have the potential to be effective, the failure rate is still often 20-25%.1 Research into the menstrual cycle shows that nutritional intake and metabolism can have an impact on the cause and treatment of menstrual disorders. That being said, herbal and dietary therapies now rate among the most common complementary medicines to be used by sufferers of dysmenorrhea, and supplementation with magnesium for menstrual cramps is gaining popularity.
To begin, magnesium is a 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 2, a hormone-like substance involved in pain and inflammation 3. In general, prostaglandins are chemicals in the body involved in inflammation and pain, and higher levels of these tend to create more menstrual pain.
But magnesium has the potential to reduce menstrual cramps in women who take it. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, to use magnesium as a complementary therapy, take 360 mg daily for three days starting on the day before menstruation begins. 4
Keep in mind that excess magnesium can induce diarrhea and lower blood pressure, so if suffering from digestive problems or heart disease, consult a physician first. Furthermore, magnesium can interact with many medications such as antibiotics like ciprofloxacin (Cipro), levofloxacin (Levaquin), and tetracycline; bone-building drugs such as alendronate (Fosamax), and risedronate (Actonel); diuretics (water pills); and other drugs. 4
As always, consult a healthcare provider before taking any supplements, including magnesium. When used with care, magnesium has the potential of decreasing symptoms of dysmenorrhea and working as a preventative agent.
Written by Nicole Kagan
- Penland J, Johnson P, et al. Dietary calcium and manganese effects on menstrual cycle symptoms. Am J Obstet Gynecol . 1993;168:1417-1424.