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.
- Linus Pauling Institute. (2014). Essential Fatty Acids. Retrieved from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/essential-fatty-acids
- Tokuyama, S., & Nakamoto, K. (2011). Unsaturated fatty acids and pain. Biol Pharm Bull, Feb; 34(8): 1174-1178.
- 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.