TUESDAY, Feb. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Menstrual cramps are the
bane of many women, but new research suggests that a form of
vitamin D may one day be added to the meager list of pain relievers
for the sometimes disabling condition.
A small study in Italy found that a single, high dose of
cholecalciferol -- also known as vitamin D3 -- was linked to a
marked reduction in menstrual cramps, with the largest benefits
observed in women reporting the most pain at the beginning of the
U.S. experts cautioned that it's too early to recommend vitamin
D3 to those experiencing cramps -- estimated to occur in at least
half of all reproductive-age women -- because the study didn't
delve into possible long-term risks of taking high doses.
"It's provocative in the fact that the results are pretty amazing," said Dr. Robert Graham, an internist and vitamin D expert at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "But the dose [given] is a lot more than conventionally given for any condition."
The study was published Feb. 27 in the
Archives of Internal Medicine.
In the study, 40 Italian women were split into two groups: one
receiving a single oral dose of 300,000 IUs of vitamin D3 and the
other getting a placebo five days before the expected start of
their menstrual periods.
After two months, average pain scores dropped 41 percent for
women assigned vitamin D treatment, while no difference in pain was
reported in the placebo group.
Also, the women who took vitamin D reported no need to use
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as the pain
reliever ibuprofen, to manage their pain in the two-month study
period, while 40 percent of those assigned to placebo reported
using an NSAID at least once.
Menstrual cramps, known by the medical name dysmenorrhea,
typically begin just before or at the start of a woman's menstrual
period and can last several days. Experts attribute the pelvic pain
to prostaglandins, a hormone-like substance that contributes to the
contraction and relaxation of muscles and blood vessels.
Vitamin D3 apparently helped hamper prostaglandin production in
study participants, easing their pain, said Dr. Jill Rabin, chief
of obstetrics and gynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center
in New Hyde Park, N.Y. The vitamin is also known to have
anti-inflammatory effects, Rabin added.
"The bottom line is, it looked like it worked," said Rabin, also head of urogynecology at the hospital. "It was a very well-done study, but my comment is, it was one study. It asks more questions than it answers, which is the sign of a good trial."
The 300,000 IU dose of vitamin D3 given in the study also far
exceeds the daily intake of 600 IUs recommended for American women
of reproductive age, both Graham and Rabin said. And since the
study period lasted only two months, there was no way to tell
whether such a high dose produced any toxic long-term effects.
Currently used methods of controlling menstrual cramps include
NSAIDs and -- among those with severe pain -- birth control pills.
But both have potential risks: NSAID users can experience stomach
or kidney troubles, for example, while birth control pills are
linked to blood clots in certain women. The cost of vitamin D
supplements would be roughly comparable with both of these
Vitamin D use has also been widely studied as a possible
preventive for many other conditions, including heart disease,
certain cancers and autoimmune disorders.
The Italian study participants all had blood levels of vitamin D
measuring in the lowest 25 percent of normal at the study's outset,
although the researchers didn't report the womens' blood levels
afterward. Experts wondered if women with higher blood levels would
experience such dramatic cramp relief as observed in the study.
Graham and Rabin agreed that much larger trials should be done
before they would recommend vitamin D3 use to any of their patients
for cramp relief.
"From a symptomatic standpoint, it's something to be considered, but more studies are needed to see the risks and benefits," Graham said. "Studies like this are starting to show that vitamin D is ubiquitous in receptors in our bodies . . . but it needs further explanation."
To find out more about painful menstrual periods, head to the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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