Tori Hudson, ND examines a research study using an herbal combination to aid patients with primary dysmenorrhea.

by Tori Hudson, ND

This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot trial was done with 180 university students ages 18-27 who suffered from primary dysmenorrhea. Women were randomized to either mefenamic acid, an herbal combination of saffron/celery seed extract in combination with either anise or fennel, or placebo.

The herbal combination group took a 500 mg capsule three times daily of the saffron/celery seed/anise or fennel (SCA) from the onset of bleeding or pain for three days each cycle and followed for two to three cycles. The mefenamic acid dose was 250 mg t.i.d. Women were allowed to take something else that they usually took for pain such as acetaminophen or Ibuprofen or codeine, in addition to the research treatment. However, those women that did continue these pain meds, were excluded in the data analysis at the end of the trial.

Results:  The students taking the SCA herbal combination had a decrease in pain intensity and duration as did those in the mefenamic acid group  and both had statistically significant reductions in pain scores and pain duration compared with the women in the placebo group.  The decrease in the intensity of pain was greater in the SCA group in those women with severe dysmenorrhea. 

Commentary:  This combination of saffron, celery seed extract and anise or fennel showed a reduction in severity and duration of pain that was about three times superior to placebo.  Unfortunately, we were not given the breakdown of each herb contained in each 500 mg capsule.

Much of what we already know, both traditionally and previous research, provides a background of logic as to why this combination would be useful in primary dysmenorrhea.  Traditionally, saffron (Crocus sativus) has been used for many female conditions including PMS, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea and infertility.  Celery seed (Apium graveolens) extract has a long Ayurvedic tradition and the phthalates found in the seeds, have been shown to affect prostaglandins.   Anise or fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill.)  seeds have been known to help promote menstrual flow and has antispasmodic effects and thus used in fold medicine for treatment of dysmenorrhea and colic.

Primary dysmenorrheal is a result of prostaglandin induced contractions of the myometrium.  Prostaglandins also contribute to ischemia of the uterus and sensitization of nerve fibers to pain stimuli.  Given the influence of the herbal combination on prostaglandin balance, smooth muscle relaxation and blood flow, it should not be surprising that this combination of herbs did work.

Research References

Nahid K, Fariborz M, Ataolah G, Solokian S.  The effect of an Iranian herbal drug on primary dysmenorrheal: A clinical controlled trial.  J Midwifery and Women’s Health 2009;54(5):401-404.