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Fennel Seeds vs. Ginger for Menstrual Cramps and PMS

Ninety percent of women report having painful menstrual cramps at least some of the time. Around the Mediterranean, fennel seeds have been traditionally used to relieve painful menstruation. We call them seeds, but they’re actually whole little fruits. I discuss their effectiveness in the treatment of menstrual cramps in my video Fennel Seeds for Menstrual Cramps and PMS. It’s hard to create placebo seeds, so researchers used fennel seed extract to put it to the test. The women started out rating their pain as six out of ten, which then went down to a four within an hour after the taking the fennel seed extract. Fifty-two percent of the women rated the fennel seed treatment as excellent, compared with only 8 percent of those in the placebo group who were just unknowingly given placebo capsules just containing flour.

But women don’t take flour for cramps; they take drugs such as ibuprofen. Mefenamic acid is in the same class of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs and may actually work better than ibuprofen, but it is not available over the counter. How did it do against an extract of fennel seeds? In a head-to-head study, most women started out in severe pain but ended up pain-free after treatment, and the fennel worked just as well as the drug class considered the treatment of choice––but without the drug’s side effects, which include diarrhea, rashes, autoimmune anemia, and kidney toxicity.

The drug also doesn’t help with the other symptoms of bad periods. During menstruation, women can feel nauseated, out of sorts, weak, achy, and diarrheic. But when put to the test, fennel seeds seemed to help; however, the control group wasn’t given a placebo, so we don’t know how much of that was a placebo effect.

One downside of taking fennel is that women bleed about 10 percent more. Menstrual cramps are caused by the uterus contracting so hard its blood supply is compromised, and we think fennel works through muscle relaxation. It also helps with infant colic, which is thought to be due to intestinal spasms. The advantage of fennel there, too, is the lack of side effects, unlike the drug commonly used for colic. Indeed, dicyclomine hydrochloride can work a little too well to get your baby to stop crying––by developing side effects like death.

Ginger is effective for cramps and reduces bleeding when an eighth of a teaspoon of ginger powder is taken three times a day during one’s period. This is important since up to 18 million young women in the United States experience iron deficiency anemia due to heavy menstrual bleeding. In a study, the amount of blood loss was estimated using a scoring system that gave points for level of saturation and clot size. On ginger, they went from half a cup per period down to a quarter cup. Ginger appears to be a highly effective treatment for the reduction of menstrual blood loss. It is cheap, at only about 6 cents a month, easy to use, and may have fewer side effects than medications and invasive approaches, even sometimes fewer than placebo! The researchers used lactose (milk sugar) for the sugar pills, which may have caused the reported flatulence.

Ginger may also work better for premenstrual syndrome (PMS). An eighth of a teaspoon twice a day of ginger powder for a week before one’s period yields a significant drop in PMS mood, physical, and behavioral symptoms, whereas fennel may help with PMS anxiety and depression but not with the emotional or physical symptoms.

Other dietary interventions that may help include a reduction in salt and animal fat consumption, which I address in my video Dietary Treatment for Painful Menstrual Periods.

We should use whatever works––because sometimes, evidently, PMS symptoms can lead to death. Case in point: Christine English who, at that time of the month, ran down her husband. Accepting PMS as a defense, the court released her with one year of probation.

For more on treating menstrual pain and PMS, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

26 responses to “Fennel Seeds vs. Ginger for Menstrual Cramps and PMS

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  1. The best thing I found for cramps is eating WFPB (lots of vegetables!), exercise, avoiding gluten (especially wheat) and taking an algae DHA/EPA supplement at twice Dr. Greger’s recommendation. I must take at least 500 mg algae omegas daily and eat gluten-free to eliminate cramps completely.

  2. I’m beyond the age of needing to worry about cramps….yaaay! :-)

    I don’t mean to be a Debbie Dower here…or maybe I do…but one evening at an Indian restaurant I helped myself to a small scoop of fennel seeds the owners offer to customers on their way out. Supposed to help with digestion. My friends also took some.

    During the night my mouth felt really weird. The next morning when I looked in the mirror I was horrified to see that my upper lip had ballooned to nearly twice its size! As though I’d had a massive lip job that some of those silly gals get. Scary looking, and I didn’t want to go out in public. But I forced myself to head over to a local RiteAid.

    They suggested an allergy relief med (I hate ALL meds, but this was formulated for children so I figured it was “safer”). I took two of the dissolving tablets, cherry flavor, and by the following day my trout lip had shrunk back to normal. My friends had no problem, so it couldn’t have been that the seeds were rotten.

    1. You must be allergic.

      I have had the lip ballooning….

      I am realizing I can’t remember the last time I had the flu or color or those type of allergy symptoms.

      Years and years ago.

      I used to have such bad allergies, particularly in the Spring and Fall. Allergic to some trees, ragweed, mold, smoke and baby oil and other things.

      I still get rashes on my arms sometimes, but that is from cleaning supplies. I have to not rest my arms on the tables when I go out.

  3. Just read your blog about ginger and fennel seeds for menstrual cramps and bleeding. I wonder if it works to lessen bleeding from stomach ulcers as well? My son (40 yrs. and lives at home) who has special needs and was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. We have to keep a close eye on bleeding symptoms, ie; dark stools, etc. We have changed his diet to whole plant based foods and pretty much eliminated sugar, other than occasional local honey. I wonder if adding ginger daily would be helpful. Or if there are any other plant based suggestions to assist the tummy in staying healed. Thanks for all you do to assist us in trying to live a healthier lifestyle. It is greatly appreciated.

      1. Nevin,

        No I haven’t tried that.

        Does it have strong taste? They key for us is having it taste good enough to have him eat it without a fight.

        Thanks for your suggestion greatly appreciated.

    1. My links aren’t posting.

      Broccoli Sprouts and Cabbage juice.

      You can look them up.

  4. I had such bad periods most of my life.

    I remember being doubled over in pain and getting suicidal with the PMS. The suicidal would go away right after every time.

    WFPB might have changed my whole life, if I had found it back then.

    It is all over for me. Hoping some people find out about it younger.

  5. Re: ” fennel may help with PMS anxiety and depression but not with the emotional or physical symptoms.” Huh? Anxiety and depression are emotional symptoms. What exactly are you trying to state here?

  6. Magnesium helps. Probably why going WFPB is good. Magnesium relaxes any kind of muscle cramps. It works even when overdoing exercise.
    It’s found especially in green leafy veggies if there is enough in the soil.
    But I do like the Malate form for those who need extra. Magnesium oxide is not absorbed.

  7. I am 28 and discovered the WFPB diet after having to research natural ways to get rid of some annoying esophagus issues along with menstrual issues. I have both heavy periods and horrible pain (that has been confirmed not to be endometriosis after a laparoscopy for removing an ovarian cyst ugh I know) Q: would taking both the fennel and ginger help? Or do they counter their effects when combined?

    1. Teresa,

      I think you are going to have to try it and let us know.

      There are web-sites with diets for endometriosis. I tried to post a link, but I can’t.

      I have two friends who got rid of it with things like green tea.

      Good luck!

    2. Hi I’m a RN health support volunteer. Thanks for your great question. They don’t counter each other. Very few food would do that unlike medications which often do. I would first try the ginger alone as it has been shown to help with both cramping and bleeding. See how that works. You could try the fennel seeds too but stop if it seems to increase the bleeding. Here is some more info Dr. Greger has:

      Good luck to you.

  8. Do you just EAT the 1/8 tsp of ginger?
    Or is there a better way? I’ve tried just eating 1/8 tsp of the powder … just hard to swallow. Thanks so much for this!

    1. I always shake some organic powdered ginger (and cinnamon) on my morning hot cereal. Not sure if it measures to 1/8 of a teaspoon or not — probably does. With all the other stuff I put in the cereal, I don’t taste the ginger anyway.

    2. Hi I’m a health support volunteer. Thanks for your question. I would not just eat the plain ginger- it can be drying and irritating to the oral mucosa. I would add it to food. Oatmeal and smoothies are great way to get it into the diet.


    3. Pam, I often make ginger tea by taking a small knob of fresh ginger root, peeling and thinly slicing it. Throw some slices in the tea pot along with a lemon and maybe tumeric . Recipes abound on the net.

      1. Thanks Susan! I do the same with fresh ginger often. I buy slice and freeze for this purpose. I was just looking for easy ways to do the powdered as recommended by Dr Greger. I was adding to oatmeal and such and I guess that seems to be the best way. I also add the dried to my morning lemon water. – Pam!

  9. When I was younger I used to have painful menstrual cramps every month. While I don’t know the truth of this, I read in some literature that I had on Natural Hygiene, that the cramps are caused because there is congestion in the uterus, namely excess mucous, and that the uterus cramps because it is trying to push it out. I went on the diet of lots of fruit and fresh salads (mostly raw foods) and within three months I was totally free of cramps. Each month there was an improvement. After about 17 years of pain, total relief in three months. After that, my body fell into a 28 day cycle, instead of 30 to 35 days, and lasted for three days. Remained with a mostly raw low fat diet and had no more problems afterward. When menopause came, the only symptom I had was some hot flashes which felt just like the heat you get when you eat spicy food.

    1. Lea,

      The use of the concept/terminology of “congestion and the mucus” is very much a Chinese medical explanation.

      The probability chemically is that with the diet change you modulated the amount of magnesium in the your system which leads to a reduction in the cramping. Glad to hear of your ongoing success and natural health.

      Dr. Alan Kadish Health Support volunteer for Dr. Greger

      1. Thank you, Dr. Kadish. Just jogged another memory on the Natural Hygiene article. The writer also mentioned that women think they are passing blood clots but it is actually blood coated mucous. He then wrote that menstrual blood lacks fibrinogen and therefore cannot clot. I just did a search of that statement and found an old article from the early 1900s on the subject. Here is a link.

        I don’t have access to the whole thing, but here is a quote from what I could read. “We first obtained our knowledge as to the real cause of the non-coagulability of normal menstrual fluid finding a complete absence of fibrin ferment and fibrinogen in haematocolpos fluid (Blair Bell 1911 [2] ).

        While magnesium may play a role in easing cramping, when one has mucous congestion in the sinuses, that can be equally as painful as menstrual cramps. I did notice that after changing my diet, there were no more clots in the menstrual blood. They left along with the cramping. I think also that giving up dairy made a huge difference as it is very mucous forming.


  10. 1. It would have been much for helpful if we were told how much fennel, as we were told how much ginger.
    2. Also, what kind of extract? If it was an ethanol extract, for example, fennel tea might not be very helpful.
    3. Also, I always appreciate the list of sources that accompany your videos. It would be helpful if you also attach a list of sources to your blogs?

    1. Tzvi, sources are given in the blogs. The blue-green colored words are hyperlinks to the sources or videos to which Dr Greger is referring. Just right-click on the words to open the source reference in a new tab.

  11. I found the GAPs diet to work the best for eliminating cramps

    The best route is to stop consuming sugar, alcohol, caffeine, dairy and grains. Cramps and muscle pain gone!

  12. My dad sent me this innocently enough. I couldnt help but laugh at the remarks at the end about the woman with pms who got off for murdering her husband. I don’t think this was OK by any means, but worth adding to this article (lest we appear sexist/ignorant/lazy authors) that over half of all homocides of women in the US (higher other places) are “partner violence” aka women are killed often by boyfriends and husbands. Maybe time for an article on some herbs that prevent the abuse and aggression perpetrated on women by men? That would be most helpful really….

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