In general, my health is really good. Since going vegan a few years back, I’ve managed to virtually come off my asthma and allergy medications – something I never thought would be possible! My digestion is great, my skin is clear and I generally feel really good. But the one blot on the metaphorical landscape is period pain.
This is, of course, incredibly common, and it’s something I’ve suffered with for many years. And it’s not just the pain, but everything else that goes along with it. I sometimes experience feeling hot and feverish and having an upset stomach alongside painful cramps.
An anecdote for those who have never experienced this: a few years back, I had just got into uni when I felt my cramps getting bad. At the same time, my stomach started to feel upset. I went into a toilet cubicle and took some painkillers. All I had on me was Paracetamol, which is pretty useless against period pain. I started to feel so feverish that I took off first my jumper and then my shirt. I was still sweating, and the pain was getting worse.
Though I was supposed to be meeting with some other students to work on a project, I wasn’t in a fit state to go anywhere. So I stayed in the cubicle, doing yoga stretches in an attempt to ease the pain. With no internet on my phone, I couldn’t let my group members know where I was, and I watched helplessly as time ticked on. Eventually, I did feel well enough to leave and join my group. By then, I had been in that cubicle for over an hour.
Another time, I was at uni and my cramps got so bad I decided to go home. I’d been on the bus maybe ten minutes when I got so feverish I had to get off several stops early to avoid overheating. I staggered into town, went into the toilets in the bus station, and slumped on the cold floor until I finally felt well enough to get another bus home. On a couple of occasions I’ve been close to tears because the pain was so bad. And many people have it far worse than me, being bedbound for days when they have their periods.
Anyway, I’ve since discovered that Ibuprofen works a hell of a lot better than Paracetamol (why did no-one tell me sooner?!). It works by reducing inflammation, and if I take it when I first feel the cramps starting, I can avoid the worst of the symptoms.
But I don’t like being reliant on medication to function – even something as innocuous-seeming as Ibuprofen can have alarming side-effects. And I was once caught out when my period came in the middle of the night at a friend’s house. I had no painkillers on me, and though the pain wasn’t too bad that time, it was an uncomfortable night.
A couple of months back, I decided enough was enough. I personally don’t believe it’s natural to experience crippling pain every month, even though it is so common. From an evolutionary perspective, it just doesn’t make sense – try running away from predators when you have painful cramps! I suspect cramps are a product of our modern lifestyles, mainly our diets and a lack of exercise. I’ve definitely noticed that the better I eat, the milder my cramps are. Doing lots of long walks and working at a standing desk seems to help too. In an ideal world, I would walk several miles a day and eat a completely whole foods plant-based diet.
But that just isn’t feasible right now, so I looked for other options. My mum kept urging me to try raspberry leaf tea, but I just don’t like it very much so it’s hard to motivate myself to drink it! I’d also heard that raw food diets could help, but they’re expensive and I love cooked food. So I turned to ginger.
I’d read about the benefits of ginger for period pain in Dr Michael Greger’s How Not To Die. But I just never got around to trying it, mostly because I couldn’t imagine how I’d incorporate it into my everyday diet. The solution I came up with involved putting about a quarter teaspoon of ground ginger in a little water or apple juice and downing it like a ginger shot! It wasn’t ideal, but it did the job.
I started drinking it every day, though I missed a week in the first month due to going away. Studies have found that ginger can work as well as Ibuprofen, even if only taken during menstruation. It can also reduce blood flow.
So did it work? The first day of my period was certainly less painful than average, though I did still take some Ibuprofen. The amount of pain I experience can vary dramatically from month to month, so I couldn’t be sure it was the ginger. The second day, however, was another story. I woke up early with a little discomfort and took one Ibuprofen tablet to stop it from getting worse. But that was all I took that day. I went about my day and even went shopping.
Though I felt quite tired and had some mild discomfort, there wasn’t much pain to speak of. I usually experience pain for all of day two. When I emptied my menstrual cup at the end of the day, there was definitely less blood than usual. There was very little blood the following day, and by day four it had dwindled away to almost nothing. My periods have always been lighter than average, but not to this extent. So I do believe the ginger had an impact.
And the best part? Studies show that the effects are cumulative – so the longer you take ginger, the more it helps. I’m still taking it and excited to see what happens next month. It feels good not to be dreading my period for once!
I have a mild dust mite allergy, and often wake up with a runny or blocked nose – I’m basically allergic to my bed sheets! These days, a walk after breakfast is usually enough to clear it. But after taking ginger for a while, I noticed I was waking up with a clearer nose. I didn’t immediately connect the two, but then I remembered that ginger is anti-inflammatory. Allergic reactions are caused by inflammation, so it’s certainly plausible that ginger could be helping.
If you’ve tried any natural remedies for period pain, I’d love to hear what you tried and whether it worked! Let me know in the comments.