For MENSTRUAL CRAMPS, the mineral magnesium reduces pain and muscular tension in up to 80-90% of women suffering from menstrual cramps because it has a relaxing effect on muscle, and calming effect on nerve transmission and the brain.
Several studies have confirmed that sufferers of menstrual cramps often have low levels of magnesium within their cells. Magnesium is a well-known muscle relaxant that is successfully used to increase relaxation and reduce the pain and muscular spasm associated with female hormone conditions including cramping, even with a modest supplemental dose. Muscle tissue relies on sufficient magnesium levels to relax after a contraction; whereas calcium is required to initiate and maintain muscle contraction. Magnesium then stimulates the re-uptake of the calcium by muscle cells and competes for its binding sites, allowing muscle fibers to relax. If the body’s magnesium levels are depleted, muscles are less able to relax, and spasm or cramping, which can contribute to pain, will remain.
Primary dysmenorrhea is a condition of painful menstrual cramps without any underlying cause or evident pathology to account for them. It occurs in up to 50% of menstruating females, and for some it causes significant disruption in quality of life with cramping severe enough to interfere with quality of life for a few days every month.
There are several ways in which low magnesium levels can lead to muscle tension and uterine cramping: Low magnesium levels can prevent relaxation of the uterine muscle itself, after it has been naturally contracting to slough off old layers of its lining during a period, leaving the uterus tight and painful. Also, low magnesium levels can impede relaxation of the smooth muscle of uterine blood vessels. If the vessels remain contracted and narrow, then the supply of nutrients to the uterus is lessened, and the transportation of metabolic waste products away from the uterus is slowed. Poor nutrition status and build-up of waste products at the cellular level can exacerbate muscular cramping.
Magnesium deficiency is very common in the U.S. population: Research shows that the magnesium content of food sources is declining, although magnesium is found in many foods like seeds, nuts, dark leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, and dark chocolate. Deficiency is especially likely in women during the premenstrual phase of their cycles, and in the elderly. Studies estimate that 75 percent of Americans do not meet the recommended dietary allowance of magnesium.1 Magnesium depletion may result from low dietary intake or poor absorption, or loss of magnesium due to excessive calcium intake, alcohol, diuretic drugs, oral contraceptives, or kidney or liver disorders.
Magnesium is the second-most ubiquitous mineral within cells of the body, after potassium. Its many health benefits arise from its role in activating a wide variety of enzymes, for numerous metabolic processes. Magnesium is especially concentrated in the brain, heart, liver and kidneys, where it has a critical role in energy production.
Supplementation of magnesium orally has regularly been shown to be of benefit clinically, and scientific literature supports its value for relieving menstrual cramps. In randomized, double-blind controlled trials, magnesium was found to be more effective than placebo for menstrual pain relief.3 One randomized double-blind study investigated the therapeutic effect of magnesium in women 16 to 42 years old who had been diagnosed with primary dysmenorrhea. At the end of the study which covered six cycles, researchers noted that magnesium had a therapeutic effect on both low abdominal pain and back pain on the second and the third days of the cycle. Parallel to this therapeutic benefit on the symptoms of dysmenorrhea, a marked reduction in absences from work due to menstrual pain was also noted.4
A 2007 systematic review of 34 observational studies of treatments for dysmenorrhea listed magnesium as both effective and safe when used as an intervention for painful cramping.5 A recent 2017 review delved more deeply into the pharmacological mechanism of magnesium by analyzing the available evidence about the use of oral magnesium supplementation and concluded that “The picture that emerges indicates that magnesium supplementation is effective in the prevention of dysmenorrhea, premenstrual syndrome, and menstrual migraine and in the prevention of climacteric symptoms.” 6
Common dosing can range from 150mg to 450mg of magnesium daily. Depending on the form of magnesium used, large doses over 500mg may cause loose stools, which is harmless but easily avoided. Incidentally, magnesium is actually used as a treatment for constipation. We have found that magnesium citrate is an organic form which is particularly well-recognized by body tissues for superior absorption.
Recommendation: 150-450mg of magnesium citrate or chelate daily, taken with or between meals, or as directed by your healthcare provider.
- Guerrera, Mary P., Stella Lucia Volpe, and Jun James Mao. “Therapeutic uses of magnesium.” American family physician 80.2 (2009).
- Doty, Elizabeth, and Marjan Attaran. “Managing primary dysmenorrhea.” Journal of pediatric and adolescent gynecology 19.5 (2006): 341-344.
- Hudson, Tori. “Using nutrition to relieve primary dysmenorrhea.” Alternative & Complementary Therapies 13.3 (2007): 125-128.
- Fontana-Klaiber, H., and B. Hogg. “Therapeutic effects of magnesium in dysmenorrhea.” Schweizerische Rundschau fur Medizin Praxis= Revue suisse de medecine Praxis 79.16 (1990): 491-494.
- Dawood, M. Yusoff. “Primary dysmenorrhea: advances in pathogenesis and management.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 108.2 (2006): 428-441.
- Farquhar C, Proctor M. Dysmenorrhea. BMJ Clin Evid. Published online 2007 Mar 1. PMID: 19454059.
- Parazzini F, Di Martino M, Pellegrino P. “Magnesium in the gynecological practice: a literature review.” Magnes Res. 2017 Feb 1;30(1):1-7.