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.
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.
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- F Kashefi, M Khajehei, M Alavinia, E Golmakani, J Asili. Effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale) on heavy menstrual bleeding: a placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2015 Jan;29(1):114-9.
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Fennel Seeds for Menstrual Cramps & PMSLicense
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:
- Saffron for the Treatment of PMS
- Wake Up and Smell the Saffron
- Plant-Based Diets For Breast Pain
- Flax Seeds For Breast Pain
- Dietary Treatment for Painful Menstrual Periods
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