Happy periods simply don’t exist.
Unless we’re talking about a pregnancy scare… (in which we’ll be praying for it to rain red and promising that we’ll never hate our periods ever again!), I have never met someone who enjoyed having their periods every month.
But even if happy periods don’t exist, happier periods do exist!
Let’s talk about ginger.
A Natural Gingerly Way
Ginger is the reason why happier periods do exist.
This flowering plant is a natural remedy for alleviating the many woes of that time of the month. Its efficacy, safety and comparison with other treatments have been the topic of many studies and research.
The use of ginger for period symptoms is evidence-based and anecdotes from many women, including myself, have found that it works! So I’m very excited to share this information with everyone because honestly, we all deserve happier periods.
Numerous studies have explored the efficacy of ginger for treating primary dysmenorrhoea (period pain not due to an underlying disease).
However, as with anything in the research world, simply having vast amounts of studies on the topic is not enough. The really good evidence usually comes from rounding up all the research papers of the same topic to analyse and compare them. This way, we can form a better objective opinion and provide a more specific and quality evidence-based recommendation.
This is why the results of a ‘systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials looking at the efficacy of ginger for alleviating the symptoms of primary dysmenorrhoea’ were so exciting. They pooled together many of the research papers on the topic and made sure they had minimal bias, good research design and looked at the overall common outcome.
The review found that ginger powder, specifically a dose of 750-2000mg, taken during the first 3-4 days of the menstrual cycle was effective for primary dysmenorrhoea.
This means taking as little as 1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder on the first few days of our period can help alleviate our period pain.
But how does ginger compare with our usual pain medications? Drugs like ibuprofen, novofen and mefenamic acid have been used for years to help women with their menstrual pain.
A double-blind comparative clinical trial recruited 150 university students who suffered from primary dysmenorrhoea. The students were divided into 3 groups:
- Group A – Ginger (250mg capsules of ginger powder for 4x per day for 3 days)
- Group B – Mefenamic acid (250mg)
- Group C – Ibuprofen (400mg)
After one menstruation cycle, the students were asked about the severity of the pain before treatment, pain relief after treatment and their satisfaction with the treatment.
The results showed that all of the treatments were effective in reducing the pain. There was actually no difference between any of the treatment groups in pain relief or satisfaction.
The researchers concluded that “ginger was as effective as mefenamic acid and ibuprofen in relieving pain in women with primary dysmenorrhoea.” A similar study comparing Novafen (a drug combination of panadol, ibuprofen and caffeine) and ginger produced similar results.
However, when we look at the risk profiles of these treatments, it is apparent that ginger is superior due to its lower risk of side effects. Both mefenamic acid and ibuprofen belong to a group of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. While generally safe, these agents have common side effects such as nausea, dyspepsia and vomiting. More serious adverse effects include gut bleeding, cardiovascular issues, kidney injury and drug interactions.
To put this into perspective, millions of people cook with ginger every day with the dose often far exceeding that of the studies.
Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
Heavy menstrual bleeding is also a common problem for women of reproductive age. It has negative impacts on our lifestyle including work performance, daily activities and social engagements. Medically, it can result in iron deficiency anaemia.
Studies have shown that ginger is an effective therapeutic option for women with idiopathic heavy menstrual bleeding. That is, heavy periods without any underlying concerning cause.
Results show that 250mg (approximately 1/8 teaspoon) of ginger powder taken 3 times daily for the first 4 days of the period was effective in reducing the amount of blood loss. As we can see in the table below, before the treatment, both the ginger and placebo group (who received lactose powder) started off with around 114mL of blood loss per period. After the intervention, the ginger group loss only 61mL of blood which equates to a 47% decrease in blood loss! The placebo group had a 2% drop which isn’t significant at all.
The researchers conclude that ginger is a highly effective treatment for young women with heavy menstrual bleeding. Compared to other medications and invasive procedures, ginger is cheaper, easily accessible and there are less side effects. They do note though, that more studies should be done to make a clear decision overall on the use of ginger for heavy period loss.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
A group of researchers conducted a double-blinded clinical trial where 35 women were allocated to either an intervention or control group. The women underwent a questionnaire to determine the symptoms and severity of their PMS. The intervention group received 250mg ginger capsules twice daily starting 7 days before their period to 3 days after their period. This continued for 3 cycles.
The results of the study showed that ginger was effective in reducing the severity of mood, physical and behavioural symptoms of PMS. These symptoms include:
- Mood – restlessness, irritability, anxiety, depression, sadness, crying
- Physical – headache, breast tenderness, backache, abdominal pain, weight gain, swelling of fingers/toes, muscle stiffness, gastrointestinal symptoms, nausea
- Behavioural – fatigue, lack of energy, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, increased or decreased appetite
The researchers recommended the use of ginger for PMS due to its effectiveness, low cost, wide availability and most importantly, its low risk of side effects. However, this study was the first of its kind. More studies with a larger number of participants and different methodology are anticipated in the near future.
A Little Bit More Ginger
Genuinely, I love reading studies about these topics. Finding out that something as natural as ginger has the same efficacy as drugs that have gone through countless formulations, testing and trials is truly astonishing! Ginger is something that we all have in our kitchens, growing in our gardens and sells at the shops for only 7 cents (AUD) per 1 gram dose!
I use this knowledge by adding in a bit more ginger to my cooking, drinking more ginger tea (homemade so it’s more concentrated) or simply just taking a 1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder in the days leading up to my period and for the first few days during it.
- Adib Rad H, Basirat Z, Bakouei F, et al. Effect of Ginger and Novafen on menstrual pain: A cross-over trial. Taiwan J Obstet Gynecol. 2018;57(6):806-809. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30545531
- Chen CX, Barrett B, Kwekkeboom KL. Efficacy of Oral Ginger (Zingiber officinale) for Dysmenorrhea: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:6295737. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27274753
- Daily JW, Zhang X, Kim DS, Park S. Efficacy of Ginger for Alleviating the Symptoms of Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Pain Med. 2015;16(12):2243-2255. doi:10.1111/pme.12853 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26177393
- Jenabi E. The effect of ginger for relieving of primary dysmenorrhoea. J Pak Med Assoc. 2013;63(1):8-10. //pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23865123
- Kashefi F, Khajehei M, Alavinia M, Golmakani E, Asili J. Effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale) on heavy menstrual bleeding: a placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2015;29(1):114-119. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25298352/
- Khayat S, Kheirkhah M, Behboodi Moghadam Z, Fanaei H, Kasaeian A, Javadimehr M. Effect of treatment with ginger on the severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms. ISRN Obstet Gynecol. 2014;2014:792708. Published 2014 May 4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24944825/
- Ozgoli G, Goli M, Moattar F. Comparison of effects of ginger, mefenamic acid, and ibuprofen on pain in women with primary dysmenorrhea. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15(2):129-132. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0311 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19216660
- Rahnama P, Montazeri A, Huseini HF, Kianbakht S, Naseri M. Effect of Zingiber officinale R. rhizomes (ginger) on pain relief in primary dysmenorrhea: a placebo randomized trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012;12:92. Published 2012 Jul 10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22781186/
- Shirvani MA, Motahari-Tabari N, Alipour A. The effect of mefenamic acid and ginger on pain relief in primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2015;291(6):1277-1281. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25399316