Painful periods are known in Western medicine as 'primary dysmenorrhea'. 'Primary' means there's no clear underlying cause (such as endometriosis, fibroids or cysts), and dysmenorrhea means 'bad monthly flow' which is pretty accurate! Painful periods affect almost all people who menstruate at some point in their lives, and at least 1 in 4 have pain severe enough to result in missing school or work. (source)
As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I know what to do for painful periods, and that most sufferers can experience tremendous relief using acupuncture, topical treatments, dietary and lifestyle changes, and herbal medicine. But I'm always curious about what Western style studies have to say. So I put on my adventuring hat and took a tour through PubMed, the archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine. Here's a few studies that you might find as interesting as I did!
1. A hot water bottle works better than acetaminophen. A randomized, single-blind (meaning the investigator asking the questions didn't know which treatment the women had received) study of 344 women found that a heat wrap not only relieved pain more effectively and for longer than acetaminophen, but also reduced fatigue and moodiness - probably because a hot water bottle is a lot nicer than a pill that can damage your liver! (source) Numerous other studies support this conclusion, finding heat therapy as effective or more effective than over the counter painkillers and NSAIDs.
2. Your kitchen cupboard works better than your medicine cabinet. Numerous studies conducted in Iran (where traditional Persian medicine uses these herbs medicinally) found that common spices are more effective than ibuprofen - with no risks of side-effects. Researchers studied ginger, fenugreek and cinnamon. Ginger stopped nausea as well as pain (source), fenugreek reduced pain, as well as other symptoms such as fatigue, headache, nausea, and fainting, better than ibuprofen (source), and cinnamon reduced both pain and heaviness of bleeding better than the drug (source). Wow!
3. Acupuncture works better than anything else! Well, I could have told you that without inflicting any scientific jargon on either of us! Acupuncture is very hard to study in a typical Western way (here's a long article about it), but the overall consensus is that it works (source, source, source, source)
You can learn even more about what really works to stop period pain at my upcoming class with Denise Cicuto of Cicuto Acupuncture, Sunday, July 19 at 4 pm, at Back to Life Wellness in Alameda. Get more info and RSVP on facebook