Getting out into the sunshine could help ease period pain, study suggests

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Moya Crockett
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If you’ve ever suffered from chronic cramps around the onset of your period, you’ll know how miserable it can be. Sitting in bed, hunched over a hot water bottle with a crumpled packet of ibuprofen by your side is grim at the best of times – but no more so than in summer, when we’re more inclined to feel like we should be out in the sunshine living our best lives.

However, according to a new study, getting outside when it’s sunny could actually prove beneficial in reducing menstrual pain. The paper, published in the Journal of Endocrinology, reviewed research into the pain-relieving effects of vitamin D.

It was found that when combined with good quality sleep, getting enough vitamin D can help manage menstrual cramps, as well as other painful conditions including chronic back pain and arthritis. Otherwise known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, levels of vitamin D in our bodies increase when our bare skin is exposed to sunlight, or when we take supplements.

The review was conducted by Dr Monica Levy Andersen at the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil. She discovered that levels of vitamin D can affect the body’s inflammatory response, which also alters pain sensation.

Dr Andersen says that her findings suggest that, when paired with a good night’s sleep, vitamin D could increase the efficiency of pain management treatments for conditions such as cramps.

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“This research is very exciting and novel,” says Sof Andrikopoulos, editor of the Journal of Endocrinology and assistant professor at the University of Melbourne.

“We are unravelling the possible mechanisms of how vitamin D is involved in many complex processes, including what this review shows – that a good night's sleep and normal levels of vitamin D could be an effective way to manage pain.”

Several other studies have also suggested that vitamin D could be utilised to help women cope with the pain of menstrual cramps. A report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine journal in 2012 found that women with a history of severe menstrual cramps reported significantly less pain when they took a very high dose of vitamin D five days before their period was due to start.

Last year, another study revealed that women with dysmenorrhea (cramps) experienced a significant reduction in period pain after taking a vitamin D supplement for eight consecutive weeks.

So while we’re not saying that your cramps will vanish completely in the summer months, topping up your vitamin D levels before your period is due to start sounds like a good idea. As they say, every little helps.

Main image: iStock