Omega-3 Supplements May Help Relieve Menstrual Cramps
Alicia Armeli

Auntie Flow is making her monthly visit again and for some women this means painful cramping. But hold on before you start popping those pain meds. There’s an alternative remedy for natural period pain relief you may want to try—omega-3 supplements.

Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that are essential for things like healthy vision, brain function, and can even reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases like heart disease.1 They’re now getting attention for their potential to relieve many types of pain, including the cramping experienced during menstruation.2

A study published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics investigated just that.3 Ninety-five women aged 18-22 years were broken up into two groups. One group (47 women) was given an omega-3 capsule daily for 3 months, followed by a placebo for 3 months. The other group was given a placebo for 3 months, followed by a daily omega-3 capsule for 3 months. Throughout the study the women had the option of taking 400 mg of ibuprofen as a rescue dose if menstrual cramps became too painful.

Results showed a significant reduction in pain after 3 months of omega-3 treatment.3 The authors of the study observed that when women received omega-3 supplements, they required fewer rescue ibuprofen doses than when given the placebo.

What makes omega-3s so successful when it comes to period pain relief? In addition to the health benefits we already noted, omega-3s also help to lower inflammation, which is believed to play a role in pain suppression.2

Omega-3s like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be made inside the human body from a dietary omega-6 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), but the amount produced is small, so it’s recommended to get EPA and DHA in other ways.1 Omega-3 rich foods like fatty fish and supplements like fish oil, algae oil, and krill oil all contain EPA and DHA.1 The omega-3 supplements given to the women participating in the aforementioned study contained both EPA and DHA.3

If you’re considering omega-3s to help with your menstrual cramps, talk to your doctor to first rule out other causes of period pain like uterine fibroids or endometriosis. Given your medical history, your doctor can also help you decide if taking an omega-3 supplement is right for you and determine an appropriate dosage.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Alicia Armeli is a Freelance Writer and Editor, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad, and volunteering in her community.

REFERENCES

  1. Linus Pauling Institute. (2014). Essential Fatty Acids. Retrieved from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/essential-fatty-acids
  2. Tokuyama, S., & Nakamoto, K. (2011). Unsaturated fatty acids and pain. Biol Pharm Bull, Feb; 34(8): 1174-1178.
  3. Rahbar, N., Asgharzadeh, N, & Ghorbani, R. (2012). Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on intensity of primary dysmenorrhea. Int J Gynaecol Obstet, Apr; 117(1): 45-57.
Could Uterine Fibroids Affect My Kidney Health?
Alicia Armeli

Uterine fibroids are most commonly known for symptoms like heavy periods and pelvic pain. But these noncancerous growths can also be the cause of a kidney condition called hydronephrosis, according to a study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.1

“While most women with fibroids don’t get hydronephrosis, a small percentage of women with very large fibroids develop the condition,” explains Dr. Alex Shteynshlyuger, Board-Certified Urologist, Urological Surgeon, and Director of Urology at New York Urology Specialists in New York City, NY, who was not involved in the study. “Hydronephrosis is caused by blockage of the ureters—or the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder—due to pressure exerted by fibroids. When urine can’t drain properly, this causes the kidneys to swell. Hydronephrosis caused by fibroids requires prompt treatment, as it can cause damage to the kidneys.”

Just how common is uterine fibroid-related hydronephrosis? A team of researchers at the University of West Indies Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, conducted a retrospective study that looked into the causes and severity of kidney impairment.1 In a group of 1,274 women with impaired kidney function, case notes for 160 of these women were analyzed and 8.1% (13 women) were found to have uterine fibroids.

The researchers then looked at a second group of 216 women who all had fibroids diagnosed by ultrasound.1 Of these women, 14% (31 women) had hydronephrosis, caused by fibroids. In comparison to those in the group without hydronephrosis, kidney function was similar except for blood urea levels (a type of waste that’s passed from the body in the urine) were significantly worse in women with fibroid-related hydronephrosis. It was concluded that fibroids can cause kidney damage, but the prognosis appeared to be good.

But in order for a woman with fibroid-related hydronephrosis to have a positive outcome, she needs swift and adequate medical attention. “When it comes to hydronephrosis caused by fibroids, urologists and gynecologists are involved in treatment,” Dr. Shteynshlyuger says. “Short-term treatment involves putting a small plastic tube called a ‘stent’ in the ureter to allow urine to pass from the kidneys to the bladder. Long term, the fibroids require treatment.”

Symptoms of hydronephrosis may be slow and insidious and can manifest as flank or back pain and discomfort—or there may be no symptoms at all. Dr. Shteynshlyuger explains that the disease can develop slowly. As it progresses, other symptoms can include visible blood in the urine, frequent urination or difficulty urinating. If these symptoms appear, visiting your doctor is advised. Urine tests can also show if microscopic blood is in the urine. Kidney function can be checked by a blood test that looks at levels of serum creatinine or Cystatin C.

“Most women with small fibroids need not worry, as small fibroids are unlikely to cause any significant problems,” Dr. Shteynshlyuger continues. “Women with large fibroids especially those that cause other symptoms such as pain, abdominal distension or discomfort need to be checked annually. Usually pelvic ultrasound can detect large fibroids. And kidney ultrasound can be performed if there is a concern about hydronephrosis.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Alicia Armeli is a Health Freelance Writer and Editor, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach, and a paid consultant of Merit Medical. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering in her community.

ABOUT THE DOCTOR Alex Shteynshlyuger, MD is a board-certified urologist, urological surgeon, and Director of Urology at New York Urology Specialists in New York City, NY. Providing both surgical and urological care, Dr. Shteynshlyuger is one of the few fellowship-trained urologists in the US. He also has had sub-specialty training in Minimally Invasive Urologic Oncology. Leading a versatile practice, Dr. Shteynshlyuger sees patients in his office, as well as major hospitals in the area and accredited ambulatory surgical centers. Treating both men and women with complex urological conditions, he provides care management tailored to each patient.

REFERENCES

  1. Fletcher, H., Wharfe, G., Williams, N., et al. (2013). Renal impairment as a complication of uterine fibroids: a retrospective hospital-based study. J Obstet Gynaecol, May; 33(4): 394-398.