A few women have reported that their painful menstrual cycles stopped after beginning daily supplementation with vitamin D. Many tried several other remedies before turning to vitamin D, including:
- Prescription pain medications
- Over-the-counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Yoga poses
- Tart cherry extract
- Other natural pain relievers (boswellia, periwinkle)
Nothing helped. So I started thinking about how vitamin D was helping these women to feel better. Could it really be as simple as taking vitamin D?
What Causes Painful Menstrual Cycles?
Painful menses is called dysmenorrhea. It affects almost one-half of menstruating women. There are many different causes for this, like fibroids, hormonal surges or endometriosis. But the leading theory focuses on inflammation. Specifically, inflammatory signals that increase blood flow, swelling, and activate pain receptors.
The pelvic pain during menses is believed to be triggered by excessive uterine production of prostaglandins, synthesized from omega-6 fatty acids before menses, which control vasoconstriction and uterine contractions.
Vitamin D is well-known for its immune-modulating effects that are driven by its ability to control immune proteins, like prostaglandins.
A Recent Study Shows That Vitamin D Can Help With Painful Menses
According to a study that was recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, vitamin D may act as an anti-inflammatory and may down-regulate the prostaglandin pathway, causing decreased production and activity of prostaglandins.1
The study included 40 women between 18 to 40 years old who had experienced at least 4 consecutive painful menses or menstrual periods in the past 6 months. They also had to have a vitamin D blood level below 45 ng/mL.
They were not taking calcium, vitamin D, oral contraceptives or other medications, and they had not used an intrauterine contraceptive device during the previous 6 months (these devices can cause pain as well).
The Study Design & Results
The women were randomly assigned to receive one oral dose of 300,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D or a placebo 5 days before the time they expected to begin their next menstrual period.
The researchers were gauging the intensity of menstrual pain as measured by a visual analog scale (these scales are commonly used in pain studies). They also measured how often women in both groups had to take NSAIDs like ibuprofen to help with pain.
After 2 months, baseline pain scores decreased 41% among women in the vitamin D group; there was no difference in scores among women taking the placebo. The greatest reduction in pain was among women in the vitamin D group who had the most severe pain at baseline.
Lastly, women in the placebo group used NSAIDs at least once, whereas women taking vitamin D never had to use them.
Bottom line … The decrease in pain is attributed to vitamin D, not some powerful pain medication!
What Is the Right Dose of Vitamin D?
This is a common question. But the answer is really not about the dose you're taking; it's about your blood level.
Women should shoot for a vitamin D blood level of 50 to 80 ng/mL. For some people, this might require taking 2,000 units per day, but for others the dose could be as much as 5,000 units per day.
Now, remember, this study used a one-time large dose of 300,000 international units. This "bolus" of vitamin D would undoubtedly raise vitamin D blood levels fairly quickly. But don't worry. Most people are able to significantly raise their blood levels by taking a much lower daily dose.
Have you had your vitamin D blood level checked? If not, what are you waiting for? We believe that this should be a routine yearly test.
- Arch Intern Med. 2012 Feb 27;172(4):367-9.