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Natural Remedies for Dysmenorrhea

From the dawn of recorded time, ancient women suffered from many gynecological complaints. According to James V. Ricci, M.D., who wrote The Genealogy of Gynaecology: History of the Development of Gynaecology throughout the Ages 2000 B.C.-1800 A.D., it is plausible to speculate women through the ages experienced dysmenorrhea, painful menstruation typically involving cramps 

Remnants of poppy seed cakes found among the remains of prehistoric Swiss Lake dwellers suggest such a theory. Poppy seeds are opiates and may have been used for pain relief. Ancient Egyptian and Hindu physicians noted women frequently suffered from menstrual pain. The pain appears to have been so severe that these physicians were sympathetic to the needs of women and treated dysmenorrhea as a routine malady. 

A First century Roman physician textbook, Gynecology of Celsus, De Mediciná Book V, Chapter XX, No. 6, provides herbal remedies using saffron, anise, equal parts myrrh, poppy and hemlock seed mixed with wine. This protocol was used when menstrual pain was so severe sleep was impossible. Second century Roman physicians thought menstrual pain must have something to do with inflammation; they believed that women diagnosed with dysmenorrhea were not in good health. 

During the Renaissance period, women’s menstrual health appeared to be of little consequence to physicians. Ricci extrapolated from the Renaissance period only one reference for the treatment of dysmenorrhea. It was not until the 17th century that dysmenorrhea clearly referenced. Perhaps women tended to each other and did not go to the doctor.  

Eighteenth century women did take care of one another, according to Alice Cooke Brown’s Early American Herb Recipes. Other early American cookbooks show recipes for menstrual pain relief using herbs such as horehound, motherwort, penny royal, rue, St. John’s wort, shepherd’s purse, valerian and yarrow. 

Women’s reproductive health during the 19th century leaves much to the imagination. According to Judith Walzer-Leavitt author of Women and Health in America, social mores dictated how women reacted to their monthly menses. Historians have very little, if any, records of how physicians treated women’s painful menstrual cramping. 

Modern women also suffer from menstrual cramping the same as their ancient sisters. An article written by Chantay Banikarim, M.D., Mariam R. Chacko, M.D. and Steve H. Kelder, Ph.D., Prevalence and Impact of Dysmenorrhea on Hispanic Female Adolescents, states that dysmenorrhea is the leading cause of short-term school absenteeism.  

Throughout the ages there is sufficient evidence showing the liberal use of sugar, even for medicinal purposes. Ricci’s research revealed that sugar was used as a medicine by ancient Egyptian physicians. Recorded on papyrus scrolls found among the Edwin Smith Papyrus is a prescription for menstrual discharge using sweet beer, cooked and drunk for four days.  

Food historian Dave Dewitt, author of DaVinci’s Kitchen: A Secret History of Italian Cuisine, proves sugar was used in the production of Italian wines. During the Renaissance, sugar had five uses: medicine, spice condiment, decorative material, sweetener and preservative. Consequently, sugar intake may be a linked to dysmenorrhea. 

A poor diet consisting of an overabundance of processed sugar is detrimental to good health. British Physician, Dr. John Yudkinphysiologist and nutritionist, cited by Annemarie Colbin in her book, Food and Our Bones, refers to sugar as “pure, white, and deadly.” Sugar depletes B vitamins and minerals, which can worsen muscle and nervous tension, says author, Susan Lark, M.D. in her bookTreating Menstrual Cramps Naturally. Even though sugar was used judiciously as medicine in the pastcurrent research shows sugar makes cramps worse. 

Learning from the past and incorporating a nutritive diet specifically designed to reduce inflammation in the body can go a long way in the prevention and treatment of dysmenorrhea.  

Stephanie Jack, Ph.D. is a holistic health coach and natural health consultant. To schedule a consultation or class, call 717-881-3962 or email SBJack2011@gmail.com. For more information, visit SBJack2011.wix.com/NutritionUnwrapped. 

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