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Complementary Treatments: Nutrition, Exercise, Heat, and Touch

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I’m not telling you to go jogging when you’re having bad cramps. But I am saying that a regular exercise routine incorporating thirty to forty-five minutes of aerobic exercise three to five times a week may help ease your symptoms over the long haul. I can’t promise it will help. So far conclusive scientific evidence is lacking. But regular physical exercise also happens to be one of the single most powerful things you can do to stay fit for the rest of your life. So what have you got to lose?

Vitamins and Supplements. According to the latest research, some dietary supplements might help with period pain. You can find these at any good vitamin store. Specifically:

Magnesium. Lots of studies have shown that magnesium can help lower levels of a certain type of prostaglandin and ease period pain for some patients. I recommended that Olivia try 500 to 1000 milligrams of magnesium. But I also warned her not to take more, since magnesium can be dangerous in higher doses. If you try magnesium, take it starting on Day 15 of your cycle until your period stops. And take it in magnesium glycinate form (other forms might cause diarrhea, or loose poops). And never take more than 1000 milligrams per day.

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements. I also suggested that Olivia might try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement—specifically, fish oil. One study showed that adolescents who took a fish oil supplement for two months had less period pain. But high doses of fish oil may also have high doses of vitamin E, which can cause heavy bleeding when combined with NSAIDs. So don’t try omega-3 fatty acid supplements (or vitamin E supplements) and ibuprofen or similar NSAID drugs. It’s either/or. If you try this, take 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids per day, dividing it into four doses a day of 250 milligrams, and take it with food, since that helps you absorb it and helps keep your stomach from getting upset. Check the milligram amount on the label carefully before taking it—otherwise you won’t know how much is in each dose.

Heat Therapy. The good old-fashioned hot water bottle ain’t just for Grandma. Reports of heat therapy for pain date as far back as the second century A.D. from as far away as China and India. Although there aren’t a lot of modern medical studies on the topic, researchers think heat reduces menstrual pain by stimulating heat receptors that lie just beneath the skin. This may keep some types of nerve cells from sending pain signals to the brain. The heat also increases blood flow to your abdomen, which might dilute pain-causing compounds. And more blood flow brings more oxygen to the uterus, which could help, too.

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