Donna Easto, C.H., H.C., M.H., Certified Herbal Educator
The most common complaints associated with primary dysmenorrhea in adolescent girls are cramping and pain in the lower abdomen. Young women who experience severe symptoms should see their health care practitioner for assessment. It’s wise to rule out endometriosis, pelvic infection, uterine fibroids and other possible causes.
Generally, botanical medicine employs antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory herbs to reduce pain and improve pelvic circulation in primary dysmenorrhea. Rarely used singly, the herbs are combined into a customized prescription for the young woman. A typical formula may include Cramp Bark, Chamomile, Motherwort and Ginger.
Black Cohosh root: A uterine antispasmodic and mild sedative. It has a long history of use for uterine pain among indigenous North Americans. (not for use in pregnancy, lactation or ER-sensitive cancers)
Cramp Bark/Black Haw root: Two herbs close enough in their actions to be used interchangeably as antispasmodics and analgesics. Containing salicylates, they are effective uterine muscle relaxants. For dragging pressure in the groin and drawing pain in the legs, these herbs are beneficial. Like Black Cohosh, they are mildly sedating and useful in treating mild to moderate headaches. A Cannabis-Cramp Bark tincture is a classic for menstrual pain relief.
Wild Yam root: Another herb from traditional indigenous medicine, Wild Yam was used in treating dysmenorrhea by Native Americans and Eclectic physicians. Today, it is considered a reliable antispasmodic for uterine cramping and urinary tract infection when used in combination combined with other herbs. (possible interaction with hormonal contraceptives, contraindicated in hormone-dependent cancers, be alert to progesterone adulterated products)
Ginger root: If irritable bowel-type complaints accompany period pain, anti-inflammatory Ginger taken in capsule or tincture form will help. It’s often included in formulas with other herbs. (avoid if you have gallstones, peptic ulcer disease or GERD)
Cinnamon bark: We don’t often think of cinnamon as anything other than a tasty addition to drinks and desserts. However, a recent study with women taking two 420mg capsules of dried cinnamon bark powder three times daily during the first three days of their period reported significantly reduced pain, heavy bleeding, nausea and vomiting in primary dysmenorrhea. (possible hypoglycemic action, caution if diabetic)
Hemp Seeds: Women with period pain caused by inflammation may be low in GLA (gamma-linolenic acid.) A daily dose of 5 mL of hemp seed oil over 12 weeks significantly improved symptoms in one study.
Motherwort herb: It’s the mother of all herbs for uterine pain and pelvic congestion due to its ability to smooth and moderate uterine muscle activity. (not for use in pregnancy)
Reduction of red meat and dairy products may help reduce the severity and frequency of cramps. Eating cold-water fish such as Salmon, yoga poses that promote pelvic circulation, and the use of fomentations made with Ginger can also ease the discomfort of primary dysmenorrhea in adolescents. I must again highlight my favourite adaptogen, Ashwagandha, as a general restorative tonic for the nervous system. Among other actions, it helps with irritability, anxiety and insomnia.
Note: Vitex agnus castus is a common part of a treatment plan for menorrhagia (excessive menstrual bleeding.) However, it is not indicated when treating primary dysmenorrhea in adolescents, where the goal is to relieve symptoms.
Next: adaptogens and complementary herbs