Flax seed contains substances that help ease menstrual pain safely and naturally.
By Lisa James
Many women have experienced the crampy achiness associated with menstruation. For some, the distress is bad enough to interfere with work, school, exercise and other daily activities. These women often resort to over-the-counter painkillers for several days every month.
Fortunately, there are nutrients and herbs that can help ease a woman’s monthly discomfort. And one of traditional medicine’s mainstays in dealing with menstrual problems is flax seed, particularly a component known as flax lignans.
Menstrual pain, known in medical circles as dysmenorrhea, occurs when hormones prompt the uterus to contract so it can shed its lining, called the endometrium. For some women this process is relatively painless. But others are more sensitive to the hormones involved or produce higher-than-normal amounts. Besides pain, which may radiate to the thighs or lower back, these women may experience urinary frequency, headaches, nausea and either diarrhea or constipation.
Flax lignans help reduce monthly problems by promoting better hormone balance, allowing a woman’s cycle to proceed normally with greater comfort. Flax lignans also provide benefits that go beyond easing menstrual pain. “Lignans have antioxidant properties, which means they help prevent free-radical damage to tissues,” says Christiane Northrup, MD, noted woman’s health authority best known as the author of The Wisdom of Menopause (Bantam). What’s more, eating a diet rich in lignans has been linked to lower breast cancer rates.
Painful periods are best dealt with by using other natural healing agents in combination with flax lignans.
The minerals calcium and magnesium are valued for their ability to ease painful spasms. Yam extract is another natural antispasmodic that also helps soothe frazzled nerves. Ginger root is an anti-inflammatory used by herbal practitioners for centuries to calm a touchy stomach, a role played by guava leaf in Guatemalan traditional medicine. St. John’s wort helps keep mood on an even keel, while green tea fights fatigue.
Flax contains other useful substances besides its lignan content. “Flax seed is an excellent source of fiber,” says Northrup. “When combined with fluid, flax fiber forms a mucilage in the body that can significantly help reduce the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.” Flax fiber also tends to normalize bowel function.
In addition, flax contains oil with a high percentage of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), one of the health-promoting omega-3 fats. Researchers have found an association between ALA intake and reduced risk of diabetes (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 5/18/11 online). A long-term study of more than 20,000 people found a link between ALA and reduced stroke risk (Clinical Lipidology 9/12/11 online). Flax seed oil may also help protect against high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Evidence suggests that ALA helps fight inflammation, particularly that associated with fibrocystic breasts, gout and lupus, in addition to supporting healthy nerve function. Flax also promotes skin, hair and nail health; in one German study, flax oil helped reduce the appearance of rough, scaly skin (British Journal of Nutrition 2/09).
Menstrual problems don’t have to interfere with a woman’s busy life. Flax can not only help ease her monthly discomfort but also support her overall health.