Archive for the ‘Periods and PMS’ Category

Natural pain relief for arthritis, back pain, PMS, headaches and more

Monday, June 1st, 2009

If you’ve ever suffered from arthritis, back pain, headaches, PMS, or a number of other conditions that cause pain, you may have reached for ibuprofen or over the counter medications to give you pain relief. In some cases this may offer temporary relief, but an increasing number of my patients have found that they don’t work and even if they do the relief is not permanent, not to mention unpleasant side effects such as stomach upsets. In short, over the counter pain relief medication simply doesn’t cut it.

If you’re wary of pain relief medication the good news is that there are plenty of alternatives – natural ones – that have science on their side. From herbs that attack inflammation to techniques that encourage the brain to release natural pain killers into your body, nature offers a number of remedies for painful conditions such as arthritis, headaches and muscle strain. Here are some natural remedies you may want to consider experimenting with; they can help ease pain and leave you feeling healthier and happier for the long term – without the side effects.


Fish Oil: for arthritis related joint pain or autoimmune disorders


Studies have shown that fish oil breaks down into a hormone-like substance called prostaglandins which can reduce inflammation. One study, from the University of Pittsburgh, showed that about 40 per cent of the arthritis sufferers who took fish oil every day were able to cut their use of pain relief medications up to a third. People with neck and back pain seemed to fare the best. After about 10 weeks nearly two thirds were able to stop taking pain relief medication altogether.


Taking Omega 3 fish oil every day has been shown to help the heart by boosting circulation, but for pain the dose needs to be higher. For osteoarthritis you should take 2,000mg daily and you may need even more for rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases associated with joint pain, such as lupus. It’s always best to consult your doctor before self –medicating, especially if you have high blood pressure and take heart medication because high doses of omega 3s can thin the blood. If you do want to take supplemental fish oils don’t be tempted to supplement with cod liver oil capsules. In the sea the fish can accumulate toxins and mercury which your body doesn’t want or need. If you don’t want to take fish oils consider supplementing with 1,000 mg daily of linseed oil. Linseed, also called flaxseed oil, contains both omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids, which offer natural pain relief.


Do make sure you look at the EPA and DHA content of the fish oil you’re using and don’t be swayed by how much total fish oil content there is. Take at least 700mg EPA and 500mg DHA a day. Ideally, you are aiming to do this in the smallest amount of capsules. The one I use in the clinic is called Omega 3 Plus, which contains that amount in just two capsules. 


Capsaicin: for arthritis and headaches


An active component of chilli pepper, capsaicin can desensitize pain prone skin nerve receptors called c-fibres; soreness is diminished for 3 to 5 weeks while they regain sensation. One study from Oxford University showed that nearly 40 percent of arthritis patients reduced their pain by half after using a topical capsaicin cream for one month and 60 percent of neuropathy patients achieve the same after two months. Patients at a New England Centre for Headaches decreased their migraine and cluster headaches intensity after applying capsaicin cream inside their nostrils.


For arthritis try 0.025 or 0.075 percent capsaicin cream, one to four times daily, for at least two weeks.


Magnesium: for PMS

Up to 90% of women will experience Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) related pain at some point during their reproductive years. While over-the-counter medications can help with bloating and pain, they do little for mood swings and depression and often have unpleasant side effects, such as poor digestion. In a study published recently (in the journal Clinical Drug Investigation) women with PMS were treated with 250mg of magnesium a day over a 3-month period. The study led to a reduction in symptoms by up to a third. Another study (in The Journal of Women’s Health) found that 200mg a day of magnesium reduced PMS fluid retention, breast tenderness and bloating by 40 percent. Magnesium is classed as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’ and women with PMS have been found to have lower levels of red blood cell magnesium than women who don’t have symptoms. Supplementing with magnesium may therefore be extremely useful in alleviating PMS related pain and even more effective when taken with vitamin B6 – another important nutrient that can ease PMS related symptoms.

In addition to magnesium, the herb Agnus Castus is also great for easing PMS related symptoms. Agnus Castus works on the pituitary gland and has a balancing effect on the hormones in the second half of the cycle. I recommend combining other herbs including black cohosh, dong quai, milk thistle and skullcap and take for three months. (See Agnus Castus Plus at

 (For more information on natural ways to relieve the misery of menstrual cramps see the article on them in this newsletter.)


Yoga and gentle exercise: for back pain


The worst thing you can do if you have back pain is take to your bed. Hull university researchers found patients who followed a programme of stretching and low impact aerobics made a faster recovery from back pain than those who did not exercise. So to keep back pain at bay try the following gentle stretching exercise four to five times a day – it will help to keep your back flexible: from a neutral standing position lean forward gently and then lean back and then move from side to side. Repeat.


You may also want to try the following yoga stretch, called a cat stretch, which can help keep your spine mobile and rid it of tension. To perform a cat stretch, kneel down and place your hands on the floor in front of you so that you are on all fours with your knees, feet and hands about a foot apart. Now slowly arch your back into a hump, dropping your head. Hold for a few moments and then gently and slowly lift your head and at the same time gently drop your lower back and stick your bottom out. Repeat this three times slowly and without strain. Just doing this part of the exercise is great for removing tension from your spine and can really help with an aching back. Then gently bend the elbows and place your chin on the floor between your hands.


In addition to gentle exercise and stretching, applying heat or ice can reduce pain, stimulate blood flow and speed the healing process by bringing blood cells to clear the damaged tissue site. Generally, heat should be applied on the first day of injury and ice is better for spasms. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel, for no longer than 15 minutes at a time though or the cold itself could trigger a muscle spasm. If cold doesn’t help try using a hot water bottle and applying for no more than 15 minutes at a time, up to four times a day. A bath with Epsom salts can also soothe pain, as can Bromelain or Devil’s claw tablets. Bromelain is an enzyme derivative of pineapple and research has found it can be as effective as ibuprofen in relieving back pain – without the side effects. Devil’s claw is an African herb and trials at the University of Reading have found it to be effective in treating pain relief if taken for a minimum of six weeks.

(For some lovely Epsom salts infused with essential oils go to and click on Natural Lifestyle Products.)


Arnica: for acute injury and post surgery swelling


Arnica is a herb that comes from a European flower and research has shown it has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Taking oral homeopathic arnica after a tonsillectomy decreases pain, according to British research, and one German study showed that it can reduce surgery related knee swelling.


If you want to give arnica a try for acute injuries, use homeopathic arnica as well as ice, herbs or conventional pain relief. Rub arnica ointment on bruises and strained muscles.


Count out loud: for needle stick pain


And finally, if you’re frightened of the pain from injections counting backward from 100 out loud during an injection can decrease pain, (according to a recent Japanese study from the Yokohama City University Medical Centre in Kanagawa). None of the 46 patients who counted backwards complained afterwards and only one of them could remember pain from the injection at all. Among the 46 who didn’t count, 19 said the injection hurt and 10 recalled what it felt like. Counting out loud might work by distracting the brain from processing the sensation of pain. The trick is probably only useful for short or acute periods and the degree of pain reduction really depends on how well the patient concentrates on counting.

Natural cures for menstrual cramps

Monday, June 1st, 2009

If you suffer from menstrual cramps you’ll know how miserable the clenching pain can be. Some women find them so painful that they have to take to their bed and miss work. To some extent menstrual cramps are part of the normal menstrual cycle, but the pain should not be dehabilitating.

Menstrual cramps are caused by the contraction of the smooth muscles of the womb as it tries to empty during the monthly bleed. Most women experience some cramping and this is entirely normal, but intense or prolonged cramps are not normal and often the result of too much stress and a poor diet. Stress-reducing practises, such as yoga and meditation, have been shown in studies to reduce the pain of menstrual cramping. A diet high in sugar and red meat, which produces arachidonic acid, is known to trigger inflammation and pain, so should be avoided and replaced with a whole food diet that is high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.


I also strongly advise you to avoid over the counter pain relief as these often have unpleasant side effects, such as headaches and digestive upsets. Instead choose natural treatments, such as the ones recommended below, to ease the pain without the side effects.


Acupuncture: many women find that acupuncture can be great for pain relief.


Aromatherapy: cramps often manifest as a dull ache in the pelvis and lower back. Self massaging is a good way to ease the pain, especially if combined with aromatherapy oils. A recent study in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative medicine found that women who used a topical formula containing the essential oils of clary sage, lavender and rose reduce menstrual pain by up to 50 per cent. Clary sage is a great hormone balancer and mood lifter. Lavender and rose are both calming scents with antispasmodic effects. To make your own blend add 10 drops of each essential oil to 4 ounces of a carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil, and then massage lightly onto your abdomen and lower back.


Ginger tea: cramping can be alleviated by boosting circulating according to Aryuvedic practitioners. Taking warm sitz baths before your period can increase circulation in the pelvis. Better yet, warm yourself from the inside out with a homemade tea of ginger, lemon and honey. Ginger will help dilate the blood vessels so that blood is shed more smoothly and honey and lemon are very calming and relaxing. Slice a section of fresh ginger root, about 2 inches long, and boil in four cups of water for 10 minutes. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and sweeten with honey or maple syrup.


Cramp bark: this herb, as the name implies, is a terrific muscle relaxant for the womb. I suggest taking the herb in tincture form as it is better absorbed by your body and acts more quickly. Try up to 5ml four times a day.

Ask Marilyn – Is a Hysterectomy necessary for heavy periods?

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Q: For the past two years I suffered from agonisingly heavy periods. My doctor has suggested a hysterectomy, should I go ahead with it?


A: A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure in which a woman’s womb and sometimes her ovaries are removed. Every year thousands of women undergo hysterectomies and the most common cause for this is heavy periods, but in my opinion the too-frequent removal of a fundamental part of a woman’s body is nothing short of scandalous. Of course, there are times when this surgery is necessary, e.g. cancer, but with other problems it is better to see whether there are other ways of managing the problem.


Doctors are trained to offer their patients solutions and a hysterectomy is an immediate solution to the problem of heavy periods, whereas less invasive treatments may take longer to be effective. It may well turn out that you do need a hysterectomy for legitimate medical reasons, but before you make this big decision I strongly urge you to investigate other options. The only time I feel a hysterectomy should be an option is if you have cancer and your life is at stake. In all other instances (including heavy periods, and fibroids – another common reason for a hysterectomy) ask yourself the following questions before you consider a hysterectomy:

  • Do I really need this procedure?
  • Are the symptoms affecting the quality of my life to the extent that I can’t do the things I want to do?
  • Have I tried all the alternative medical treatments?
  • Have I tried the natural approach?
  • Am I planning to start a family or to have more children?
  • Am I ready to deal with the symptoms of sudden early menopause?

A hysterectomy is not an easy option. It’s major surgery that requires a lengthy stay in hospital, incisions, general anaesthesia and painful days and weeks after. It can also trigger sudden and unexpected physical, sexual and psychological changes; and if the ovaries are also removed a woman will have to deal overnight with the symptoms of early menopause. Not to mention the irreversible fact that she will no longer be able to have children. And, even if you do not have your ovaries removed, a hysterectomy may still cause a woman to have an early menopause. Many women just want to have the surgery but they don’t take into account the hot flushes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, forgetfulness, headaches, muscle and joint pain and other symptoms of menopause that may result. Women who undergo hysterectomy can also experience urinary incontinence, as well as deepening of the voice and weight gain. All these physical changes are the result of declining oestrogen levels.


About 20 per cent of hysterectomies are for heavy bleeding, but in my opinion a hysterectomy should never be considered as a treatment for this condition as natural therapies can be highly effective – as can a less invasive procedure called endometrial ablation, in which the lining of the womb is removed but the womb is left intact.


In next month’s issue there’s a feature on natural ways to treat heavy periods so be sure to read that. In the meantime avoid coffee and alcohol, which can increase menstrual flow, and make sure you eat plenty of hormone-balancing phytoestrogens (found in soya, legumes and wholegrains) and essential fatty acids (found in oily fish, nuts and flaxseeds), which increase the amount of beneficial prostaglandins that can reduce blood flow. You also need to cut down on red meat and dairy produce because a diet rich in saturated fat can encourage the production of excess oestrogen, which increases menstrual flow.


Remember, a hysterectomy is often an overkill solution to problems that have other viable treatment options; so if your doctor has recommended it to you and you don’t feel right about it, ask what your alternatives are and if need be get a second, third or even a fourth opinion. Take all the time you need to make the decision. In the great majority of cases, especially when heavy periods are the case, there is no rush.