For MENSTRUAL CRAMPS, cramp bark quickly and effectively alleviates uterine muscular tension, pain, and the inflammation from which cramps originate. As its name implies, cramp bark is known for relaxing muscle fibers and easing spasms, including those associated with monthly periods. Research from in vitro studies reveals that cramp bark can ease contractions of smooth muscle.1 Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) is considered the most potent uterine antispasmodic of the various Viburnum species because it contains more of the antispasmodic constituent scopoletin and also has viopudial.
Scopoletin is a derivative of coumarin. Coumarins are known to ease muscle tension, and have also been found to reduce pain, inflammation, and uric acid levels. The bark also contains methyl salicylate, a weak-acting precursor to the salicylic acid found in aspirin for pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. Methyl salicylate is much less irritating to the gastric mucosa although milder in action. Other compounds that contribute to cramp bark’s effectiveness are tannins and flavonoids. Studies have shown these compounds to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity in vitro.
Historically used by Native Americans, midwives, and herbalists for muscle spasms, prolapsed uterus after childbirth, and for reducing swollen glands and fluid retention, cramp bark remains a popular herb in the modern botanical medicine formulary. Due to its antispasmodic action, the Eclectic medical movement in the 19th century adopted cramp bark for dysmenorrhea and to prevent miscarriage. The bark was made official in the U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1894 and was included in the National Formulary in 1916.
Cramp bark is also astringent, meaning it has a drying effect and reduces excess fluid engorgement, which further helps to reduce pain and inflammation. It is also a nervine or nerve tonic, further helping to ease pain. All of these actions contribute to its effectiveness for menstrual cramps. And importantly, because of its ability to relax tension in smooth muscle, it can help to open up blood vessels: This improves blood flow and reduces pressure that results from cramps and exacerbates pain.
Sometimes a condition known as endometriosis, where endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, can contribute to menstrual cramping. Cramp bark has been shown in animal studies to reduce overgrowth of endometrial tissue, including endometrium in its natural place within the uterus. This could happen because the reduced muscle tension in the uterus and its blood vessels allows for improved circulation to the uterine wall, which not only means better blood flow but also better removal of metabolic waste products, allowing the uterus to function more efficiently.5 A healthy endometrium supports fewer cramps.
Cramp bark is safe to take orally for multiple days before and during menstruation, without the risks other pain medications carry such as gastrointestinal bleeding. Cramp bark should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation. A physician should be consulted if you are on blood pressure medication as it could contribute to lowered blood pressure.
While cramp bark can be taken medicinally in many forms, including tincture or capsule forms, we have found that cramp bark in a standardized concentrate capsule provides excellent pain relief. The benefits of the potent muscle-relaxing herb cramp bark can be magnified by synergistic vitamins, minerals, and botanicals. It is enhanced by the bioflavonoid Rutin that strengthens blood vessels to further reduce bleeding. Ginger root is an anti-inflammatory and it reduces prostaglandins that mediate inflammation, which in turn lessens menstrual cramps.
In addition, Vitamin C is a tonic for the circulatory system and blood flow, and it gently lowers blood pressure typically by 5-10 points. Vitamin B3, niacin, has been found in studies to relieve severe menstrual cramping in up to 90% of subjects. Magnesium is a classic smooth muscle relaxant, that encourages ample blood flow to the uterine muscle, and also relaxes the uterus itself. Vitamin E has been studied since the 1950s for menstrual cramps as it complements the blood-pressure lowering effect of cramp bark. Valerian root is also an effective antispasmodic that relaxes smooth muscle. Vitamin B6 is necessary for detoxification processes of the liver which assists in lowering inflammation levels and improved hormone function. Black cohosh root is a classic herb for cramping known for reducing pain and boosting mood by increasing dopamine.
Recommendation: Cramp bark 300mg three times daily, preferably enhanced by Ginger root, Rutin, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Magnesium citrate or chelate, Valerian root, or Black cohosh root. Best taken between meals; or as directed by your healthcare provider.
- Nicholson, John A., Thomas D. Darby, and Charles H. Jarboe. “Viopudial, a hypotensive and smooth muscle antispasmodic from Viburnum opulus.” Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and medicine 140.2 (1972): 457-461.
- Jarboe CH, Schmidt CM, Nicholson JA, Zirvi KA. Uterine relaxant properties of Viburnum. Nature. 1966;212:837.
- Dietz BM, Hajirahimkhan A, Dunlap TL et al. Botanicals and Their Bioactive Phytochemicals for Women’s Health. Pharmacol Rev. 2016 Oct.
- Youngken HW. The pharmacognosy, chemistry and pharmacology of Viburnum . III. History, botany and pharmacognosy of Viburnum opulus L. Var. americanum . (Miller) Aiton. J Am Pharm Assoc . 1932;21:444-462.
- Saltan G, Suntar I, Ozbilgin S, et al. Viburnum opulus L.: A remedy for the treatment of endometriosis demonstrated by rat model of surgically-induced endometriosis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec.