For MENSTRUAL CRAMPS, consuming a fish oil concentrate effectively lowers cramps due to inflammation-causing prostaglandins, increases blood flow to the uterus, and relieves pelvic muscle spasm. Omega-3 oils promote the biochemical pathway that creates the beneficial prostaglandin 2 series and the anti-inflammatory leukotrienes. Taking a fish oil concentrate can boost these inflammation-calming mediators and series 2 prostaglandins, which can ease menstrual cramping. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are building blocks for helpful prostaglandins, which ease dysmenorrhea or menstrual pain.
Clinical research shows that for menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea, omega-3 fats alone or in combination with vitamin B12, can decrease pain, reduce nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) consumption, and help adolescent girls and women with dysmenorrhea resume normal levels of daily activity. Blood flow to the uterus is improved with omega-3 fats, which help to relax tiny muscles in the walls of blood vessels and discourage platelet stickiness. Menstrual pain can also benefit from the mood-elevating effect of omega-3 oils.
The key fact is that our bodies cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, so they are essential nutrients that we must consume to reap wide-ranging health benefits for many body systems. The term ‘omega-3’ refers to the chemical structure of the long-chain fat and the location of its double bonds. The main food sources of omega-3 fats include oily fish in the animal kingdom such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines, and organic cold-pressed flaxseed oil in the vegetable kingdom.
Omega-3 fats are an integral part of every cell membrane throughout the body, and required for membrane cell receptors to function. All cells are wrapped in a membrane that acts as a selective barrier to regulate passage of nutrients and waste in and out of the cell. The membrane is made of fatty acid phospholipids and cholesterol. Each new cell will try its best to form its membrane with generous and optimal amounts of omega-3 fats. If these are lacking, the cell membrane will include saturated or other fats. But cell membranes deficient in omega-3 lipids are impaired: they are less fluid, and less able to function as a vital barrier. They fail at keeping electrolytes, water and vital nutrients within the cell; and they cannot efficiently communicate with other cells or fully receive regulating hormones such as insulin. Homeostasis, the process that should maintain stable conditions within tissues, is then compromised.
Clinically, our female patients are encouraged to maintain good levels of omega-3 fatty acids as this has proven to reduce both the psychological and somatic symptoms of menstrual cramping and this is well-supported in scientific literature. A recent 2017 placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial of 95 women suffering from dysmenorrhea that interfered in their daily activities found that fish oil consumption significantly reduced symptoms. The longer use of omega-3 supplement provided continual improvement of symptoms and reported quality of life.1
A 2012 study of 95 women aged 18–22 years with primary dysmenorrhea were enrolled in a double‐blind crossover study. A marked reduction in pain intensity was observed after three months of treatment with omega‐3 fatty acids as opposed to placebo.3
In 2018 a study published in the Journal of Gynecological Endocrinology investigated the effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplements and vitamin E, separately or in combination, on pain in the treatment of primary dysmenorrhea. One hundred women were randomly assigned to receive either the supplements or placebo: Both omega-3 helpful oils and vitamin E supplements effectively relieved menstrual pain compared with the placebos.4
Fish oil also performed better than ibuprofen in a clinical trial 2010 study of 120 women who had moderate or severe pain from dysmenorrhea. Although both Ibuprofen and fish oil eased pain with a significant difference before and after treatment, researchers concluded that pain improvement and recovery percentage were much greater with fish oil treatment compared to Ibuprofen.6
We prefer to use a pure fish oil concentrate in our clinic that gives higher absorption of omega-3 fats, compared to standard fish oil pills which are often poorly assimilated. With a concentrate, more of the essential omega-3’s pass through the gut and into the bloodstream than with regular whole fish oil, and the concentrate has no fishy after-taste. Because of its ultra-high absorption, fewer capsules are needed to obtain good tissue levels of omega-3 fats. Two or three pure fish oil concentrate capsules daily are as effective as two tablespoons of whole fish oil, which equates to eight to ten regular fish oil capsules.
Recommendation: Fish oil omega-3 concentrate, 1,000-2,000mg daily in a ratio of DHA 8 parts: EPA 5 parts, taken with any meals, or as directed by your healthcare provider.
- Behboudi-Gandevani S et al. The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on premenstrual syndrome and health-related quality of life: a randomized clinical trial. Journal Psychosomatic Obstet Gyn. 2017 Jul 14:1-7.
- Hansen SO et al. Endometriosis, dysmenorrhea and diet. European Journal Obstetrics Gynecology. 2013.
- Rahbar N et al. Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on intensity of primary dysmenorrhea. International journal of gynaecological obstetrics. 2012.
- Sadeghi N et al. Vitamin E and fish oil, separately or in combination, on treatment of primary dysmenorrhea: a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. Gynecological endocrinology. 2018 Mar 15:1-5.
- Sohrabi N et al. Complementary Therapeutic Medicine. 2013 Jun;21(3):141-6. Epub 2013 Jan 16.
- Zafari M, Behmanesh F, Agha Mohammadi A. Comparison of the effect of fish oil and ibuprofen on treatment of severe pain in primary dysmenorrhea. Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine. 2011;2(3):279-282.