woman suffering from menstrual crampsEvery month, for about a week, millions of women cope with debilitating menstrual cramps. Whenever they strike, most of us reach for NSAIDs, maybe some caffeine, and sometimes a heating pad -- rinse, repeat. But that routine can get old, sometimes it doesn't even help, and who knows what kind of toll it might be taking on your long-term well-being? Plus, wouldn't it be so much better to preempt the cramps before they begin?

Enter a new, small study from Italy, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, that found a single, high-dose (300,000 IU -- whoa!) of cholecalciferol -- aka vitamin D3 -- was linked to a marked reduction in menstrual cramps. (In two months, the average pain scores dropped 41 percent for women on vitamin D vs. no difference in pain for a placebo group.) Also interesting: All the women in the study had blood levels of vitamin D measuring in the lowest 25 percent of normal at the study's outset. A clue, perhaps?

Perhaps there's a major link between vitamin D deficiency and dreadful cramps!

Of course, the answer to that Q remains to be seen, because the research just isn't there yet. In the meantime, though, this study is already being blown off by experts who are saying it's fab that the high-dose worked, but women shouldn't be taking that much vitamin D. (But hormone-wrecking birth control pills and gut-destroying pain meds are just fiiiine! Stick with those, ladies! Ugh.)

The truth is that no one really knows if 300,000 IU of vitamin D is dangerous for a woman of reproductive age -- even one who is deficient in D. However, it bears noting that the "recommended" dose of 600 IU can be entirely too low -- especially for a woman who is deficient. I speak from personal experience, having recently learned that I'm deficient. My doc suggested 5,000 IU minimum. But my boyfriend who was found to be "severely" deficient was prescribed special high-dose 50,000 IU vitamin D! So clearly, higher doses can be acceptable -- and potentially very helpful.

Sounds like the real takeaway here is two-fold: That women with awful cramps should check their vitamin D stores and consider supplementation, and that natural, nutrition-based, preventative ways that promote wellness. We should and can use real food, vitamins, herbs, etc. to preempt cramps. Even if vitamin D isn't the answer for every woman, there are lots of other natural options -- like evening primrose oil (essential fatty acids promote the production of the prostaglandins that help the uterus contract without causing cramping), turmeric (a natural anti-inflammatory), vitamin B-6, and other hormone-balancing minerals like calcium and magnesium. Because we shouldn't be waiting until we're writhing in discomfort or being left to believe a bottle of over-the-counter drugs is our only option.

Do you suffer from bad menstrual cramps? Do you think a natural remedy could help?