Fennel Seeds for Menstrual Cramps & PMS

Fennel Seeds for Menstrual Cramps & PMS
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Fennel seeds can work as effectively as drugs like ibuprofen for painful periods, and an eighth of a teaspoon of ginger powder three times a day can cut menstrual bleeding in half.

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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. Hard to create placebo seeds, though; so, they used a fennel seed extract to put them to the test. The women started out with six out of ten pain, but down to four out of six within an hour, all better than placebo. 52% of the women rated the fennel seed treatment as excellent, compared to only 8% of women in the placebo group who were just unknowingly given capsules containing flour. But women don’t take flour for cramps; they take drugs like ibuprofen. Mefenamic acid is in the same class of anti-inflammatory NSAID drugs, and may actually work better than ibuprofen, but is not over-the-counter. How did it do against an extract of fennel seeds? Most 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, without the side-effects of the drug, which include diarrhea, rashes, autoimmune anemia, and kidney toxicity.

And, the drug doesn’t help with the other symptoms of bad periods. Women can feel nauseated, out-of-sorts, weak, achy, and diarrheic. But fennel seeds seem to help, though the control group wasn’t given a placebo; so, you don’t know how much of that was the placebo effect.

One downside is that on fennel, women bleed about 10% more. See, menstrual cramps are caused by the uterus contracting so hard that its own blood supply is compromised. And, the way we think fennel works is through muscle relaxation, because it also helps with infant colic, which is thought to be due to intestinal spasms.

The advantage of fennel here, too, is the lack of side effects, unlike the drug that’s used, which, they note, unfortunately can work a little too well to get your baby to stop crying by developing side effects like death.

Ginger, on the other hand, 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. The amount of blood loss was estimated using a scoring system that gives points for level of saturation and clot size, and on ginger, they went from like a half a cup per period down to a quarter cup. Ginger appears to be a highly effective treatment in the reduction of menstrual blood loss. It is cheap—about 6 cents a month— easy to use and may have fewer side effects than other chemical medications and invasive approaches—even sometimes fewer than placebo—they used lactose, milk sugar for the sugar pills, which may have caused the flatulence.

Ginger may also work better for premenstrual syndrome. An eighth teaspoon twice a day of ginger power 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. There are other dietary interventions that can help, like a reduction in salt and animal fat consumption, something I’ve addressed before. Whatever works, since sometimes, evidently, PMS symptoms can lead to murder. And, indeed, there are cases like 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 probation.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Howcheng via Wikimedia Commons.

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. Hard to create placebo seeds, though; so, they used a fennel seed extract to put them to the test. The women started out with six out of ten pain, but down to four out of six within an hour, all better than placebo. 52% of the women rated the fennel seed treatment as excellent, compared to only 8% of women in the placebo group who were just unknowingly given capsules containing flour. But women don’t take flour for cramps; they take drugs like ibuprofen. Mefenamic acid is in the same class of anti-inflammatory NSAID drugs, and may actually work better than ibuprofen, but is not over-the-counter. How did it do against an extract of fennel seeds? Most 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, without the side-effects of the drug, which include diarrhea, rashes, autoimmune anemia, and kidney toxicity.

And, the drug doesn’t help with the other symptoms of bad periods. Women can feel nauseated, out-of-sorts, weak, achy, and diarrheic. But fennel seeds seem to help, though the control group wasn’t given a placebo; so, you don’t know how much of that was the placebo effect.

One downside is that on fennel, women bleed about 10% more. See, menstrual cramps are caused by the uterus contracting so hard that its own blood supply is compromised. And, the way we think fennel works is through muscle relaxation, because it also helps with infant colic, which is thought to be due to intestinal spasms.

The advantage of fennel here, too, is the lack of side effects, unlike the drug that’s used, which, they note, unfortunately can work a little too well to get your baby to stop crying by developing side effects like death.

Ginger, on the other hand, 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. The amount of blood loss was estimated using a scoring system that gives points for level of saturation and clot size, and on ginger, they went from like a half a cup per period down to a quarter cup. Ginger appears to be a highly effective treatment in the reduction of menstrual blood loss. It is cheap—about 6 cents a month— easy to use and may have fewer side effects than other chemical medications and invasive approaches—even sometimes fewer than placebo—they used lactose, milk sugar for the sugar pills, which may have caused the flatulence.

Ginger may also work better for premenstrual syndrome. An eighth teaspoon twice a day of ginger power 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. There are other dietary interventions that can help, like a reduction in salt and animal fat consumption, something I’ve addressed before. Whatever works, since sometimes, evidently, PMS symptoms can lead to murder. And, indeed, there are cases like 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 probation.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Howcheng via Wikimedia Commons.

Doctor's Note

This may be one of my favorite videos of all time. Why? Because it offers cheap, simple, safe, side effect free solutions for a condition that causes the suffering of millions. It just kills me that we didn’t learn about these kinds of things in medical school. But there’s no physician outreach or ad budget for something you can buy anywhere for 6 cents a month. So, where are you supposed to hear about things like this? NutritionFacts.org—that’s where!

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For more on treating menstrual pain and PMS see:

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75 responses to “Fennel Seeds for Menstrual Cramps & PMS

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  1. I used to suffer from extreme dysmenorrhea. I reached a dose of 800 mg of ibuprofen with little symptom relief. After 3 months on a plant based diet I’m now pain free! It’s almost one year and the pain free periods continue. Nothing short of a miracle! I went to some very expensive doctors to find solution and they all suggested the pill which I never took. It’s a disgrace that doctors don’t know about this.




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    1. Same thing happened to me. I was ready to get a partial hysterectomy because I was told that’s all that’s left to try! I started a plant based diet with no fats or dairy too and it was a miraculous change!




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    2. My periods were very heavy and when I went vegetarian, near-vegan, it cut my flow by about half. It was lighter and lasted about 3 days. I was surprised and very happy about it. It stayed that managable always.




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    1. As an experiment about 8 weeks ago I started adding ginger to recipes, trying to get some ginger every day. This was started because of Dr. Greger’s ginger-migraine videos, a WFPB diet was not helping with them. In the 8 weeks I’ve only had one migraine, which was mild in comparison to the average, this is fresh ginger cooked (mostly) and while 8 weeks is too short to tell for sure, things look promising.




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      1. That’s great, Nick! My husband has migraines, but he doesn’t like ginger. I know it does come in supplements, so maybe he should try that.

        Here’s how I get a good dose of ginger daily: Every morning while the tea kettle is coming to a boil I mince a tablespoon or two of ginger root and put it into a 1 quart thermal carafe along with 1/4 teaspoon powdered turmeric and a bit of black pepper. I’m sometimes able to buy fresh turmeric, so I use that instead. Then I add a bit of stevia, one green tea bag and one Earl Grey tea bag. The hot water goes into this and I make sure to drink it all before the day is over. It’s delicious.




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  2. im so glad of this article and vid. i watch read all dr mgregors but this is really relevent to me at the mo, up and down horrific periods following birth of my 2nd child. I had both my babies at home, no drugs easy peasy. my periods after my babies have been so so bad i couldn’t sit down for 48 hours. far worse than labour. we are a vegan family and prefer a natural approach. we have a fantastic range of low cost spice shops near us in the uk. Thank you so much for this article. a lot of people wont talk about their “monthlys”. but we need to talk about them so we can identify what is normal and abnormal. the embarrassment of heavy period and leak is pretty bad, im very chilled liberal in my own house but a leak in public is awful. ive been there many a time. thanks again and keep these coming :)




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      1. funny you you should say that as wqeve been on a mission to eat a magnesium rich diet recently due to hormonal migraines and a while back ( a few months ago) a very twitchy right leg at night. :)




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        1. I do think all those things respond to magnesium. I also think that sometimes a period of supplementation can be helpful to kind of saturate your body with the nutrients you need, but that is an individual decision. It seems to me that pregnancy can really deplete you of nutrients if you don’t have enough.

          I used to have eye twitches and magnesium would stop them right away.




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    1. I’ve had the same problem. I’m not vegan, but pretty close. The diet has helped with weight maintenance, sinusitis, heartburn, and cholesterol. The one problem I’ve had with this diet is low ferritin levels, which are probably due to diet and the heavy periods. The low ferritin has likely caused me to have issues with sleep, I wake up feeling like my whole body is vibrating (worse in my legs) and can’t get back to sleep. Been taking iron pills twice a day with vitamin C for two months and the heavy cycles and the sleep issues have much improved. Need to get my ferritin retested to see when to cut back on the supplements, but it has really helped. You might think about asking for a ferritin test, I find that doctors don’t know that this can cause restless leg and other problems prior to people developing anemia.




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  3. Wow, wish I had known about this many moons ago! Dr G you were born too late! Gonna pass it on though, thanks! I was wondering, if fennel works like ibuprofen, what else it could help? Guess I’ll experiment!




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    1. My cousins, who both spent quite a bit of time in India, say people chew it after a meal to help digestion. I’ve seen it in a small dish by the cash register in Indian restaurants.




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  4. I watched this during my lunch break (lentils, greens and broccoli sprinkled with mustard powder ala Dr. Gregor- thank you!). I love your way of delivering much-needed and accessible information to address a problem that is affecting millions of us. Understand that we could have done without the anecdote at the end, given this is not statistically representative of women all over the world who are dealing with their menstral cycles in more pro-social ways. Thanks for all you are doing!




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    1. ‘A study has revealed that a kind of face a woman finds attractive can differ depending where she is in her menstrual cycle. For example: when she is ovulating she is attracted to men with rugged and masculine features. However, if she is menstruating she tends to be attracted to a man with duct tape over his mouth and a spear stuck in his chest while he is on fire. No further studies are expected on the matter.’




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  5. Is there any recommendation about the amount of fennel seeds to take?
    I have heamochromatosis so a slightly heavier period would be an advantage. I have yet to require a venesection but my iron levels are slowly climbing so I would not want to take ginger and reduce my blood loss, and therefore iron loss, during my periods. And of course I would like to prefer to deal with period pain without relying of drugs.




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  6. Just in case this can help someone out there, here’s what works for me (in addition to a WFPB diet and exercise):

    1) To eliminate PMS:
    Avoid caffeine, chocolate and wheat

    2) To eliminate cramps:
    Keep omega 6 fatty acid intake low
    Take 500+ mg of omega 3 algae oil per day
    Avoid gluten




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  7. Very interesting revelation, or is it? I went onto an Ayurvedic website where I have ordered various products and found this: “Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is an excellent herb for supporting a healthy, comfortable digestive experience. It is especially useful for strengthening the digestive fire without aggravating pitta. The roasted seeds are commonly served post meal in Indian restaurants to support digestion and to freshen the breath. Fennel combines well with cumin and coriander and makes a great digestive tea. It also soothes the urinary tract and promotes healthy urination. Fennel supports healthy lactation in nursing mothers and is also used to promote menstrual comfort. A tonic for the nervous system, fennel calms the mind and increases clarity of consciousness.” How amazing that the Indians apparently stumbled upon this without the benefit of placebo-controlled trials.




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    1. To psych_md:

      There are lots of cultures worldwide that have long known the benefits of different herbs. I don’t think Dr. Michael Greger is trying to say that we alone have discovered it! Rather, he is using Western research and technique to share this important point with our medical community. Many people in our society won’t believe herbal remedies that have been used for thousands of years in other cultures because they don’t have the science to back them up. Now we do.




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  8. I would love to try the ginger. Did they use ginger powder and how did they consume it- plain or in tea or on their food? Thanks for this video!




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      1. Thanks Thea! I found the article, just have to decide if I want to pay to view the full text article. My husband and I were both laid off within the last week. Weird and crazy coincidence.




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        1. Yikes. I hope you both get jobs soon.
          .
          I’m not an expert nor have I seen the study. But may I suggest that you could probably guess at some safe levels and then play around with it. At least it wouldn’t hurt the pocket book to try, I’m thinking… :-) Good luck.




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  9. “Ninety percent of women report having painful menstrual cramps at least some of the time.”

    Um, Dr. G? Maybe you should insert the words “who menstruate” after the word women. :-) Anyway, jumping ahead to the menopause years, I gotta say I pretty well sailed right through them with nary a hot flash. IMO it was because of my daily yoga exercises — including the shoulder stand, the plough, and etc.




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  10. Excuse me for interrupting ladies (hey but I did publicly share this video already), but I wonder if the fennel seed has any general health benefits for the rest of us? After learning how they are used in traditional Indian cuisine, I’ve begun chewing a 1/2t or so several times per week. Just because I can, I like the flavor, and it broadens the range of spices/plant foods I consume and such is generally quite healthful.




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    1. Well, I understand that they are also useful for improving the quality and flow of your breast milk.

      They are additionally a traditional breath freshener and apparently have some bronchial and eye health benefits. However, I don’t think there is a lot of research on fennel seeds. There appears to be more research on fennel extracts and the whole plant
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137549/
      http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=23
      http://health.in4mnation.com/fennel-seed-benefits-nutrition-value/




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      1. Thanks and also, the nice lady at the Indian restaurant explained that the fennel (with a bit of mixed in tiny candies) was consumed as a digestive aid. I wonder if there is any science to that or if how it became a common practice in their culture. Maybe find more info in their literature.




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    2. The fennel seed contains several volatile oils that help with inflammation, kill bacteria and microbes, and are also antispasmodic (GREAT to fight IBS symptoms). They have been known to increase digestion and rid the body of gas and bloating. They’re also immune boosting and have been known to protect cells against damage. :)




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  11. How would you recommend taking the fennel seeds and ginger? Should women eat the seeds? Infuse and drink as an herbal infusion? What’s the recommended dosage and frequency?




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    1. I just googled, the tablets contained 30mg fennel extract which i then googled is worth about 120mg of fresh fennel seed powder! Not sure how many teaspoons that is…




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  12. In my 20s I used to pass out the day before which was rough, but no cramps.
    I guess Fennel will not help with those who have irregular or a 21 day cycle? My relative suffers from it.




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  13. Another proven herbal relief for menstrual cramps – Angelica sinensis commonly known as dong quai or “female ginseng” .
    My wife swears by it.




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  14. Thanks so much for this post. I’ve had much less pain since going vegan, but I’ve been trying to find a reliable solution to the heaviness every month, without hormones. I will give this a try!




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  15. Thank you. The video mentions fennel helps with baby colic. Any research you are aware on other ways to help with baby colic? Specifically, does meat-free diet for Mommy help baby’s colic or other issues?




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    1. Michael: The breast milk of plant based mommies has been shown to have significantly lower amounts of contaminants such as PCBs, DDTs, and dioxins. They can be hard to find, but there are more videos on this website concerning breast milk. Good luck.




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    1. Thanks for your question Maya!

      In the studies mentioned by Dr Greger, fennel seeds were taken through various forms: extract, capsules and oil. However, you can also eat the seeds itself or use it while cooking, something that traditional indian recipes incorporate a lot in curry dishes!

      Hope this answer helps!




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  16. This is off topic but there isn’t a video that addresses this problem. Many omnivores that switch to a vegan diet (such as myself) experience a change in their menstrual cycle. Before switching my diet, my period operated like a Swiss train… always right on time. Now my cycle has shifted to a 40+ day cycle. Sometimes I don’t even get my period at all. I googled the issue and it is extremely common. Please address this issue.




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    1. Kimberly: I am by no means an expert and feel that I don’t have enough information to really respond to you. But just in case this idea helps you: Ask yourself if you are getting enough calories? I know that it is common for women who switch to an all raw (plant) diet start to have problems with their menstrual cycle and the known cause is that their bodies are going into starvation mode because they are not getting enough calories. I have not heard of this as a common problem for just switching to a “normal” vegan diet (ie, both cooked and raw whole plant foods with plenty of whole grains and beans). But maybe you are eating so much roughage or something that you are not getting enough calories? This is just a wild guess. Obviously I can’t know. Another guess is that depending on your age, this may be time for your cycles to change and it has nothing to do with your diet…??? Again, I know nothing. If this concerns you, I hope you are able to figure it out.




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  17. What about avoiding gluten/wheat, caffeine and soy products? What does it have to do with menstrual cramps? I have read about avoiding those things to feel better.




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  18. Hi, everyone! I’ve looked for videos on the website about birth control pills, but couldn’t seem to find anything. I’m wondering what Dr. Gregor’s stance is on the pill (since he talks about going off other medications) and whether it actually poses a greater health risk than other doctors not in Lifestyle Medicine seem to think.




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  19. Hi Dr.Michael,

    I’m thinking of buying HULLED HEMP SEEDS “Non GMO” 100% natural.

    What do you think, I can eat the seeds? Is it good for health?

    Very good videos translated into Portuguese and Spanish.

    Congratulations on the excellent work.

    Best regards,

    Dorival Bonasio
    Brazil




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    1. Hi Dorival.

      I am a volunteer moderator for Dr. Michael Greger. Hulled hemp seeds are a wonderful addition to a plant based diet- they are high in protein, omega-3s and healthy fat. A few tablespoons a day is a great start– enjoy!




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  20. What I found REALLY helpful about 3 months ago, was the omega 3 (EPA & DHA) supplementation. I’ve been a vegan for 12 years now (I’m 32) and after quitting oral contraception about 4 years ago, I started to feel heavy menstrual cramps, nausea and diarrhea (symptoms of dysmenorrhea ). Now, after 3 months, I only feel a small discomfort,
    nothing compared to the previous. I believe this fatty acids are helping to decrease the prostaglandins (associated with the inflammatory process). Every woman should try it. I take 2-3 vegan omega 3 capsules a
    day. Hope this helps!




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  21. Hello there and thanks for the video (: how much fennel seeds is needed and how often do you recommend to take them when having menstrual pain ?
    Can the ginger be raw? And is it possible to get too much ginger? I have heard that it is possible to get portion from ginger so I don’t want to eat too much if that is the case
    How much of




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    1. Dear Anna: As one of the moderators for NutritionFacts.org, I wanted to respond to your question about dosage and safety of fennel seeds for painful menses. When I reviewed the citations for the video you watched, specific amounts were not mentioned in the study abstracts other than clarifying that effective dose in studies was 30 mg of fennel extract every 4 hours .It was not clarified how that translates to seeds themselves although general consensus was that fennel is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in the amounts commonly found in food. When I reviewed Medline Plus data base, several studies indicated that fennel seeds were generally considered safe as a treatment although research was lacking to specifics and one study indicated possible gastrointestinal upset and caution was urged regarding possible drug interaction, so if you are taking meds you might want to check on that. I hope this is helpful. Joan-NurseEducator




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  22. Back in Japan, I grew up hearing older people say “ginger!” when it came to pain. I know it eliminate my cramps. Then I came to the states to marry my husband 20 years ago. I always made my hot ginger tea on the 1st day of my period and laid down on couch sipping the tea with the hot mug on my lower tummy. It eliminated the pain completely within 30 minutes. But since I switched to whole foods plant based diet, I have so little pain that I don’t depend on the tea or hot water bottle anymore. By the way, applying hot water bottle on the lower tummy eliminates the pain too.

    P.S. Oh, my husband used to make fun of me saying modern western medicine is the only one that works, not oriental medicine. The ginger tea worked on me as good as ibuprofen but I didn’t have any scientific research that proves it to explain to him. Meeting this site made me feel confident :-) Thank you :-))




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    1. Haruka, As one of the moderators on this site, I am glad you found NutritionFacts.org and it’s giving you more confidence and knowledge in your eating and health practices. Thanks for your feedback. Joan-NurseEducator




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  23. What was the dose of fennel seeds taken? I suffer from diarrhea on my period. I eat a whole food plant based diet and I try to remember to take an eighth teaspoon of powdered ginger 3x a day on my period, but munching on fennel seeds I have not tried yet. Do you just get a small handful and start chewing?




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  24. I’m wondering how I should take the fennel and at what dosage? It’d be easier for me to just eat the seeds versus finding drops.




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    1. Hi Brandie! Great question. In the study Dr Greger mentioned, they used a 30 mg capsule of fennel extract. So fennel seeds or fennel seed extract work just the same. Just remember that fennel increases menstrual bleeding so you might want to try ginger powder like Dr Greger suggested.

      I hope I answered your question.




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