crampsSuffer from mild to moderate menstrual cramps–and want to try a natural alternative to over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)?

A new study in the journal Pain Physician (full pdf) shows that fish oil is one proven remedy that can provide relief.

In fact, after reviewing 51 studies about fish oil’s ability to quell chronic pain, the study authors discovered that of all pain conditions examined (including headaches, low back pain, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis), fish oil provided the most pain relief for menstrual cramps.

The same study found that the most effective pain-killing dose was up to 1,350 mg. daily. Interestingly, taking a larger dose appeared to reduce fish oil’s pain-killing effect.

So, what makes fish oil so powerful at slamming the brakes on period pain? The study authors explain that two omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oil–eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)–help rein in the effects of an omega-6 fatty acid–arachidonic acid–that’s found in the diet and can cause inflammation, which is a key contributor to menstrual cramp discomfort.

EPA and DHA may also stimulate the production of anti-inflammatory molecules in the body (resolvins E1 and D1) that have an analgesic effect.

Are you a vegetarian or vegan and want to ease menstrual cramp pain without using fish oil? There are plant-based sources of cramp-quelling EPA and DHA as well, which are available at health food stores and Vitacost.com.

Note: Fish oil can interact with some medications, such as hormone birth control and blood thinners. So, read up on it before taking it and talk to your doctor or pharmacist for more information.