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Fish Oil, Vitamin B-12 May Offer Relief During That Time of the Month

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"Omega-3 decreases inflammation, and omega-6 increases inflammation, so there has to be a balance there," Schaefer says.

Zeev Harel, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Brown University, has done his own studies on menstrual cramps in adolescents and omega-3 intake. He says an ideal diet should be made up of 50% carbohydrates, 20% protein, and about 30% fat, which includes saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.

"Among the polyunsaturated fat, we have two families: omega-3 and omega-6," he tells WebMD. "There is a competition in the body between omega-3 and omega-6: They use the same enzymes and everything. We have more omega-6 in our Western diet; unfortunately, the ratio is almost 25:1. Ideally, it should be should be 5:1 in favor of omega-6. If we supply the diet with more omega-3, we incorporate more of those in every tissue of the body," Harel says.

Why is that important? Because these fats affect the body's production of chemicals called prostaglandins, Harel says. Prostaglandins can cause inflammation and also affect uterine contractions and blood flow, both of which are involved in cramps.

"The findings don't surprise me," he says.

So, should women of childbearing age stock up on vitamin B-12 and fish oil to foil menstrual cramps? While some studies have shown that as your consumption of fish or fish oil and/or B-12 goes up, that menstrual pain goes down, you're unlikely to find a doctor to prescribe them just yet.

But Schaefer says fish oil supplements can't hurt. "Fish oil is certainly innocuous, and people can buy it over the counter," says Schaefer, adding that fish oil has been shown to be beneficial for a number of other conditions as well. "People have used [fish oil] for a variety of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, for example. Also, it has been reported in a large prospective study that two fish oil capsules a day reduces the risk of heart disease."

"At this point, we just recommend encouraging fish intake, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acid, such as salmon, herring, tuna, mackerel, and sardines," Harel says. "For those who don't like fish, they may consider fish supplements."

Vital Information:

  • New research has shown that women who suffer menstrual pain may get some relief by taking fish oil supplement and vitamin B-12.
  • Researchers suspect that these two supplements work because they decrease inflammation.
  • It is too soon to prescribe fish oil supplements as a treatment, but women can buy them over the counter or eat more fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acid, such as salmon, herring, tuna, mackerel, and sardines.
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