Vitamin D may help ease menstrual cramps, reduce need for painkillers, study finds

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Women plagued by menstrual cramps may find relief with vitamin D3, according to a new study.

The finding raises hopes that the dietary supplement could one day replace painkillers and birth control pills as the most-commonly recommended methods of relief, Reuters reported.

Menstrual cramping without underlying disease, or primary dysmenorrhea, affects almost a half of menstruating women, according to MedScape News

Women with a history of severe menstrual cramps reported significantly less pain when they took an ultra-high dose of vitamin D five days before their next expected period, the study conducted by researchers at Universita di Messina in Italy found.

Vitamin D is known to decrease the production of inflammation-provoking molecules called cytokines, Reuters wrote, as well as hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which scientists believe to be a main cause of the cramps.

Prostaglandins may also play a role in conditions like fibromyalgia and joint pain.

However, MedPage Today cited US researchers as pointing out that the vitamin D dose used in the study was higher than the "tolerable upper limit" established last year by the Institute of Medicine. 

And Reuters quoted Dr. JoAnn Manson, who heads the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, as saying: "This study does suggest (vitamin D) may have a role for menstrual cramps and menstrual pain, but I certainly would not recommend taking doses this high at the present time."

She also pointed to the randomized nature of the study.

However, in a commentary on the new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Manson wrote that while over-the-counter painkillers and oral contraceptives can help quell the pain of menstrual cramps, the drugs had side effects and so weren't ideal for long-term relief.

Regardless, "the jury is still out" on the vitamin D study, Manson told Reuters.

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