Since 95% of my blogs are recipes, it rarely gets that personal up in here. Welp, this post is going to change that. Menstrual cramping (period pains, dysmenorrhea, LITERAL PAINS FROM HELL) is a topic that has affected me personally (could you guess?) as well as many of my friends and has pushed me to try and find some sort of natural remedy to help. Now when I say I cramp, I don't mean "feel a dull uncomfortable pain for a few times through out the day". NO. I mean full-on, sharp, unending pains for at least the first 24 hours that usually leave me debilitated for 12 hours and lead me to throw up 3..4..5+ times from pain and literal period wrath. So when I'm talking about cramps.. I MEAN CRAMPS.
One study shows that 10 out of 100 women are unable to carry out usual daily activities for one to three days every month because of unbearable menstrual cramping. About 80% of all women have experienced some sort of menstrual cramping in their life (I truly envy that 20%).
Over the past few years, I've been searching for a natural supplement that actually worked. Over the years I've tried:
- Heating pads
- Herbal teas
- Magnesium supplements
- Herbal lotions (or other lotions that claimed they would help)
- Cramp bark
- Aromatherapy (Eden's Garden PMS Ease is great)
- Yoga and/or light exercise
- Hot baths
- Red wine
- Random herbal products claiming they help with menstrual cramps
...And then when all these failed I would resort to taking something like Tylenol or Ibuprofen that I did not want to take - and then it wouldn't even work after taking 2-3 times the recommended dose (can't condone that as a medical professional). And despite the efforts of my OBGYN and advice from the internet and other random people.. I was not going to change my mind on my stance on birth control. I've read the many many studies that show deaths and complications (read here, here & here) that birth control has caused- PLUS watching my friends battle with depression and other terrible side effects that are labeled as "normal". On top of that, I'm not into taking some substance that just plays around with my hormones at it's free will. So.. yeah that's a no for me dawg.
I had a tad bit of success with each of the interventions listed above, but not enough to ever feel a complete difference. Cramp bark actually worked for a cycle or two.. until it didn't (and then made me throw up from the terrible terrible taste).
I was about to give up and come to terms that I just had to live like this the rest of my life. I did the math... 12 hours of pain for each cycle x 12 periods per year for the next 30 years = 4,500 more hours of terrible cramping FOR.THE.REST.OF.MY.LIFE. But then I found this. One of my favorite doctors (Dr. Michael Greger) posted a video entitled "Benefits of Ginger for Menstrual Cramping" and claimed: "An eighth of a teaspoon of ground ginger power is tested head-to-head against the leading drug for the alleviation of painful periods."
So with my next cycle starting in a few days, I tried it. I ground up a 2" knob of ginger and juiced it into some water and drank it the night before I started. While I still ended up getting sick that time, I actually was only down for about half the time as usual. So preparing for next cycle, I went ahead and got some ginger extract. So the next cycle came around, and right before my period started I drank a mouth full of water with a full dropper full of ginger extract (you could probably measure better than this, but I find it quite convenient and quick). I woke up in the middle of the night with some mild cramps and did it again. When I started to feel them again, I took another dropper full. For the first time I had zero sharp cramps and zero pukes. I thought it had to have been some sort of coincidence. So the next cycle I tried it again. SAME THING. I did this for each cycle and it continued to work every time. On the 4th or 5th cycle, I started unexpectedly and didn't have it with me. I got terribly sick inside a BJs and was in excruciating pain for another 6-10 hours the entire night. Unfortunately the ginger was at my house in OKC and I didn't have any at my mom's. This was the first time I seriously realized how well it had been working.
I wanted to pass it off as some miraculous coincidence that I stopped having cramps right as I started it. But this last cycle, I took it before and as I started feeling cramps.. and absolutely nothing. While I still feel partially bloated and some mild discomfort, I can say my pain has come down from a 9 all the way to a solid 1.5.
I don't get paid by some national ginger council (is there one?) or HerbPharm to tell you this- but I genuinely am so blown away by how well it works. I have also tried ginger shots (straight fresh juiced ginger) that have worked so well. The reason I go for the ginger extract is because it's convenient and fast and easy to have it on hand when I start without having to run to the grocery store for some ginger (or travel with a knob of ginger and a grater in my carry on).
I just wanted to pass on my findings to anyone else who struggles with severe cramping (dysmennorhea) and might benefit from trying ginger out. Also- if you are having these kinds of pains- be sure to consult a medical doctor or OBGYN to make sure it isn't something more serious like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or some other medical condition. PSA: Ginger will not heal that!!
Since we're already past the TMI threshold- I've started using a menstrual cup (that supposedly also can help decreasing cramps) while also decreasing waste and has zero chemicals that you absorb (yup that's real) like in tampons, and is just all around pretty nifty. If you're interested in this, my friend Vic at Beloved Magazine wrote a great review of them here.
I've attached Dr. Greger's video below for others that want some research about ginger and menstrual cramps. Be sure to let me know if you have tried it and if it has/has not worked for you. Enjoy!