Women: Aromatherapy Relieves Painful Cramps

Healthnotes Newswire (September 14, 2006)—In the first study of its kind, researchers have found that a mixture of essential oils can reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. If you’re one of the millions of women suffering from painful periods, massaging an aromatherapy blend of essential oils of lavender, clary sage, and rose onto your abdomen just before and during your period could give you some relief.

Each month, the uterus sheds its lining, causing the menstrual flow. In order to do this, the uterus has to contract. In some women, these contractions are intense enough to cause debilitating pain. Menstrual cramps are usually concentrated in the lower abdomen, but sometimes they can radiate to the back, or even down the insides of the thighs. Sometimes, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, and dizziness accompany the pain.

Many women find relief from their painful periods by taking naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), while others may opt for a low-dose oral contraceptive. These options aren’t for everyone, though, as they might cause stomach upset in the case of naproxen or ibuprofen, or increase the chance of breast cancer or blood clots in the case of oral contraceptives.

Michelle Palmer, a certified nurse midwife and “well-woman care” provider offers another approach. “I tend to look at lifestyle changes that can be modified. Decreasing white flour, sugar, processed foods, dairy, and caffeine are helpful for some women with painful periods,” Palmer says.

A new therapy enters the spotlight

Essential oils used in aromatherapy are highly concentrated extracts derived from plants, with a variety of historical uses.

Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) oil has relaxing properties and is reported to stimulate circulation and to alleviate menstrual cramps.

Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) is soothing, especially to the digestive system where it helps to rid the body of excess gas. It may also be helpful in cases of menstrual pain.

Essential oil of rose (Rosa centifolia) is said to improve circulation and to work as a sedative.

The research team put the traditional uses of these essential oils to the test in 67 women with painful periods. The women were divided into three groups: one group received 15 minutes per day of gentle abdominal massage using a mixture of lavender, clary sage, and rose essential oils in a base of sweet almond oil; another group also received abdominal massage using sweet almond oil, but without any essential oils; and a third group had no treatment. The treatments started one week before the women’s periods began and lasted until the first day of their menstrual cycle.

Results of the study, reported in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that the severity of menstrual pain decreased by more than 50% in the women who received aromatherapy massage, whereas the other groups did not improve.

The authors concluded that, “Aromatherapy can be regarded as a safe, simple, cost-effective, and viable method of care suitable for all [women].”

(J Altern Complement Med 2006;12:535–41)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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