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UJ study reviews evidence on medicinal plants as alternative treatment for menstrual pain

Primary dysmenorrhea, or menstrual pain, refers to cyclic pain of uterine origin without pelvic pathology. Primary dysmenorrhoea affects 45-90% of women worldwide, producing a significant negative impact on their quality of life, however only a small percentage of affected women consult a physician about their condition, and many choose to self-medicate. Dysmenorrhoea is more common in young nulliparous females with a family history of dysmenorrhoea; however psychological stress and lifestyle factors such as cigarette smoking, and poor diet also increases the risk of developing this condition. Pharmacological treatments include the oral contraceptive pill and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, however these medications may produce numerous side effects. The use of medicinal plants as an alternative treatment for dysmenorrhoea is of growing interest amongst many women.

UJ researchers Dr Chantelle Nienhuis and Dr Janice Pellow, from the Department of Complementary Medicine, evaluated the recent evidence on the effectiveness of medicinal plants in the treatment of primary dysmenorrhoea. The findings of this systematic review, published directly in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, included 22 RCTs published between 2008 and 2016; nine of these studies were placebo-controlled trials and 13 were comparative studies to pharmacological treatment or nutritional supplements. Studies relating to the following medicinal plants were included: ginger, fennel, fenugreek, cinnamon, peppermint, dill, damask rose, lemon balm, yarrow, valerian, thyme, rhubarb, felty germander, noni and wheat germ. Most of the evaluated medicinal plants showed evidence of efficacy in relieving menstrual pain in at least one RCT.

Some medicinal plants are reported to bring relief of menstrual symptoms through their analgesic, anti-spasmodic, prostaglandin inhibiting or anti-inflammatory actions; these may therefore potentially be a suitable alternative to conventional medicines for treating dysmenorrhoea, particularly in cases where these medicines are contraindicated or not well tolerated.

The researchers concluded that: “this study provides information regarding the recent clinical evidence on the use of medicinal plants for the treatment of primary dysmenorrhoea. Promising evidence was found for the efficacy of certain medicinal plants, however the results from these studies needs to be interpreted with caution. This current evidence, together with their long-standing historical use, adds to the knowledge-base on the use of these medicinal plants, and further large-scale studies are necessary to confirm their beneficial effects, therapeutic dosages, and long-term safety.”

dr janice pellow
Dr Janice Pellow


dr chantelle nienhuis
Dr Chantelle Nienhuis
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