The Role of Calcium in Alleviating Menstrual Cramps: A Comprehensive Review
Health LibrarySupplements and Menstrual Health
The Role of Calcium in Alleviating Menstrual Cramps: A Comprehensive Review

Introduction

Menstrual cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea, are a common symptom experienced by many women during their menstrual cycle. These cramps can range from mild to severe and can significantly impact a woman's quality of life. Over the years, various remedies have been suggested to alleviate menstrual cramps, one of which is the intake of calcium. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive review of the role of calcium in alleviating menstrual cramps, drawing on scientific research and evidence where available.

 

The Role of Calcium in Muscle Function

Calcium plays a crucial role in the body's muscle function. It is involved in the process of muscle contraction and relaxation. When a nerve stimulates a muscle, calcium is released; it helps the proteins in muscle carry out the work of contraction. After the muscle has done its work, calcium is then pumped out of the muscle to allow it to relax. Molecular diversity of the main proteins in the Calcium ion signaling apparatus (the calcium cycle) largely determines the contraction and relaxation properties of a muscle fiber.

 

Calcium and Menstrual Cramps

Calcium's role in muscle function extends to the muscles of the uterus, which contract during menstruation. These contractions, when too strong, can lead to the pain and discomfort commonly associated with menstrual cramps. As calcium aids in the regulation of muscle contractions, it is believed that adequate calcium intake can help manage the severity of these contractions and, in turn, alleviate menstrual cramps.

Several studies have explored this relationship. Many researchers believe that a woman may begin experience more cramping or a change in her menstrual flow if she is suffering from a calcium deficiency. Routine medical management has included analgesics and prostaglandin inhibitors. The use of a calcium channel blocker could be used in the management of treatment for severe dysmenorrhea. Of course, the role of calcium channel blockers in the management of refractory dysmenorrhea should be further studied to examine a future role.

Besides, calcium binding and regulation of molluscan myosins depend on the presence of regulatory light chains. It is proposed that the light chains function by sterically blocking myosin sites in the absence of calcium, and that the "off" state of myosin requires cooperation between the two myosin heads.

 

Calcium and Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium absorption. Without sufficient vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium effectively, regardless of how much is consumed. Therefore, it's important to ensure adequate vitamin D intake along with calcium. Vitamin D can be obtained from sunlight exposure, certain foods like fatty fish and fortified dairy products, and supplements. Studies have shown that the intake of calcium plus vitamin D might have a relieving effect on symptom severity in women with PMS and menstrual cramps.

 

How to Increase Calcium Intake

Maintaining a diet rich in calcium can help ensure adequate calcium levels in the body. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are high in calcium. Non-dairy sources include leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, and fish with edible soft bones, like sardines and canned salmon. Calcium-fortified foods and drinks, such as soy products, cereals, and juices, are also good sources of this mineral.

There are several ways to increase calcium intake. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are high in calcium. Non-dairy sources include leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, and fish with edible soft bones, like sardines and canned salmon. Calcium-fortified foods and drinks, such as soy products, cereals, and juices, are also good sources of this mineral.

Calcium supplements are another option, especially for those who find it difficult to get enough calcium from their diet. Calcium is available in many dietary supplements, and the two most common forms of calcium in supplements are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate, for instance: multivitamin/mineral products and supplements containing calcium only or calcium plus vitamin D, commonly containing about 200 to 300 mg, and common amounts in calcium or calcium plus vitamin D supplements are 500 or 600 mg.

However, it's important to note that while supplements can help, they shouldn't replace a healthy diet. In the United States, approximately 72% of calcium intakes come from dairy products and foods with added dairy ingredients. Foods fortified with calcium in the United States include many fruit juices and drinks, tofu, and ready-to-eat cereals.

As for absorption, calcium absorption varies by type of food. The absorption of calcium from dairy products and fortified foods is about 30%. Certain compounds in plants (e.g., oxalic acid, phytic acid) can decrease calcium absorption by forming indigestible salts with calcium, decreasing its absorption. As a result, absorption of calcium is only 5% for spinach, whereas it is much higher, at 27%, for milk. Net absorption of dietary calcium is also reduced to a small extent by intakes of caffeine and phosphorus and to a greater extent by low status of vitamin D.

 

The federal government’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that “Because foods provide an array of nutrients and other components that have benefits for health, nutritional needs should be met primarily through foods. … In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements are useful when it is not possible otherwise to meet needs for one or more nutrients”. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans describes a healthy eating pattern as one that:

  • Includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, and oils. Many dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, are rich sources of calcium. Some vegetables provide significant amounts of calcium, as do some fortified cereals and juices.
  • Includes a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products. For example, Tofu made with calcium salts is a good source of calcium, as are canned sardines and canned salmon with edible bones.

 

Conclusion

While more research is needed to fully understand the link between calcium and menstrual cramps, current evidence suggests that maintaining adequate calcium levels could help alleviate menstrual pain. Remember to avoid overconsumption of calcium: studies show that high calcium intakes might also increase the risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) and prostate cancer, although not all studies confirm these findings. As always, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

References

Berchtold, Martin W., Heinrich Brinkmeier, and Markus Muntener. "Calcium ion in skeletal muscle: its crucial role for muscle function, plasticity, and disease." Physiological reviews 80.3 (2000): 1215-1265.

 

Abdi F, Amjadi MA, Zaheri F, Rahnemaei FA. Role of vitamin D and calcium in the relief of primary dysmenorrhea: a systematic review. Obstet Gynecol Sci. 2021 Jan;64(1):13-26.

 

Earl, Daniel Thad, and Joseph M. Mercola. "Calcium channel blockers and dysmenorrhea." Journal of adolescent health 13.2 (1992): 107-108.

 

Szent-Györgyi AG. Calcium regulation of muscle contraction. Biophys J. 1975 Jul;15(7):707-23. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(75)85849-8.

 

Khajehei, Marjan, et al. "Effect of treatment with dydrogesterone or calcium plus vitamin D on the severity of premenstrual syndrome." International journal of gynecology & Obstetrics 105.2 (2009): 158-161.

 

“Calcium”, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals, 2023, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/.

IN THIS ARTICLE
1.Introduction
2.The Role of Calcium in Muscle Function
3.Calcium and Menstrual Cramps
4.Calcium and Vitamin D
5.How to Increase Calcium Intake
6.Conclusion