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Treating Menstrual Pain With Diet

April 17, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 9 Comments

Treating Menstrual Pain with Diet

Almost half of menstruating women experience painful, crampy periods, also known as dysmenorrhea. According to Dr. Linda French from Michigan State University College of Medicine, “despite the substantial effect on quality of life and general well-being, few women seek treatment, thinking it won’t help.” Treatments are available, though–modern medicine to the rescue! There are surgical options such as neuroablation, where surgeons go in and attempt to cut or destroy the nerves leading to the uterus, or doctors can just take out the uterus completely. There are of course a bunch of hormones in pills and shots that can suppress the menstrual cycle as well.

Since the pain is caused by inflammation, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen are the most commonly used, achieving symptomatic pain relief in about two thirds of women. While effective, women using them need to be aware of the significant risk as they may cause adverse side effects. Though there are a bunch of non-drug, non-surgical treatments like acupuncture, “the evidence for the effectiveness of these treatments is generally weak.”

One of the latest advances in treatment involves the use of a single high dose of vitamin D. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study the placebo did nothing–in fact, most women got worse. But the women who got the vitamin D all felt better. For more on vitamin D, see my series justifying my vitamin D recommendations, starting with Vitamin D Recommendations Changed and ending with Resolving the Vitamin D-Bate.

But wait a second. If it’s pain caused by inflammation, how about putting women on an anti-inflammatory diet? A study outlined in my video, Dietary Treatment for Painful Menstrual Periods, placed 33 women suffering from painful periods on a plant-based diet for two cycles. They experienced significant reductions in menstrual pain duration from four days down to three days and a significant reduction in pain intensity. Women also experienced improvement of PMS symptoms such as bloating.

This was a crossover study, so after two months eating vegan, the women were supposed to go back to their regular diets to see if the pain would return. But the women felt so much better that when the researchers asked them to go back to their regular diet to test before and after, several women refused, even though they were required to by the study.

 Doctors too often patronizingly think that patients simply won’t adhere to therapeutic diets, but when the women were surveyed, they reported having fewer cramps and were losing weight. They also reported increased energy, better digestion, and better sleep. This showed that we don’t have to be in some Ornish or Esselstyn study facing certain death after a heart attack to stick to a plant-based diet. It’s well accepted that even when testing more benign conditions. (For those unfamiliar with the work of Drs. Ornish and Esselstyn, see, for example, my video Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped or my blog post Heart Disease: There Is A Cure).

I’ve touched on this body of work briefly in Plant-Based Diets for Breast Pain. Plants that may be especially helpful include flax seeds (Flax Seeds for Breast Pain) and the spice saffron (Saffron for the Treatment of PMS and Wake Up and Smell the Saffron).

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: sportpictures / Flickr

Cayenne for Irritable Bowel

April 15, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 7 Comments

Cayenne Pepper for IBS & Chronic Indigestion

Nearly 50 million Americans come down with food poisoning every year. Over a hundred thousand are hospitalized and thousands die every year just because of something they ate. If they had ordered something different on the menu or chosen something else at the grocery store, they or their loved one might be alive today. But in the vast majority of cases, food poisoning manifests itself as little more than a case of “stomach flu”—a few days of pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and then it’s gone. So what’s the big deal?

Well, as described in this recent editorial in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, in many cases, that acute infection can trigger a chronic “postinfectious functional gastrointestinal disorder” that can last for years or even forever. The two most common of which are irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia (chronic indigestion).

Up to 10% of people stricken with Salmonella, E. coli, or Campylobacter are left with irritable bowel syndrome. The thought is that the “transitory inflammation during the infection leads to subtle but permanent changes in the structure and function of the digestive system,” causing the lining of the gut to become hyper-sensitized. How do they determine if someone’s rectum is hypersensitive?

Innovative Japanese researchers developed a device to deliver “repetitive painful rectal distention.” Basically, the researchers hooked up a half-quart balloon to a fancy bicycle pump that was lubricated with olive oil, inserted it into the rectum and inflated it until the patients couldn’t stand the pain anymore. As you can see in my video, Cayenne Pepper for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Indigestion, those with IBS had a significantly lower pain threshold, significantly less “rectal compliance.”

Healthy people felt the pain where we’d expect to feel the pain with, effectively, a balloon animal up their tush. But many with IBS also experienced abdominal pain, indicating a hypersensitivity of the entire gut wall. Well, if that’s the problem, how can we desensitize the gut?

In my video, Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches?, we learned about the ability of hot pepper compounds to deplete pain fibers of substance P, a neurotransmitter used for transmitting pain. It’s bad enough to have to rub hot peppers up our nose, where do we have to stick them for irritable bowel? Thankfully researchers chose the oral route.

The researchers concluded that “the chronic administration of red pepper powder in IBS patients with enteric-coated pills was significantly more effective than placebo in decreasing the intensity of abdominal pain and bloating, and was considered by the patients more effective than placebo,” suggesting a “novel way of dealing with this frequent and distressing functional disease.”

After 48 million cases of annual food poisoning, 10% may end up with IBS. Even more may end up with chronic indigestion. How do peppers work against that? We can’t use whole peppers because then we couldn’t blind a placebo, but if we give capsules of red pepper powder to folks suffering from chronic indigestion—about one and a half teaspoons a day worth—and compare that to an identical-looking sugar pill, within a month their overall symptoms improved, including their stomach pain and their feelings of being bloated. They had less nausea, too. The frequently prescribed drug, Propulsid (cisapride), worked almost as well as the red pepper powder, and was considered generally well tolerated… that is, until it killed people. Propulsid was pulled from the market after causing dozens of deaths.

I explore another natural treatment for IBS in Kiwi Fruit for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

I’ve covered some of the long-term consequences of food poisoning in videos such as Poultry and Paralysis, Fecal Bacteria Survey, and Amnesic Seafood Poisoning. The meat industry is all over it, though: Check out my videos  Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray. Why is it legal to sell meat tainted with our leading foodborne killer? Find out in Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly But Not Illegal and

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Jennifer C. / Flickr

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