An herb treasured for its warming and pain-relieving properties, ginger (Zingiber officinale) is often said to relieve menstrual cramps and period pain.
Not just a possible solution for menstrual complaints, ginger has also been found to quell post-surgery nausea, relieve osteoarthritis pain, and aid in the prevention of morning sickness.1
Why Is Ginger Used for Menstrual Cramps?
Research suggests that compounds found in ginger may help to protect against the increases in inflammation, by inhibiting the body’s production of prostaglandins (a class of pro-inflammatory chemicals involved in triggering the muscle contractions that help the uterus shed its lining). Because the onset of menstrual cramps appears to be linked to excessive production of prostaglandins, it’s thought that consuming ginger in dietary supplement or tea form can help reduce menstrual pain.1
The Research on Ginger for Menstrual Cramps
Studies published in recent years suggest that ginger may be helpful for relief of dysmenorrhea (the medical term for pain before or during menstruation).
For a report published in Pain Medicine in 2015, for instance, scientists looked at previously published trials testing the effects on ginger in women with dysmenorrhea not caused by pelvic conditions such as endometriosis. In their analysis, the report’s authors found that was more effective than a placebo in relieving pain.2
Another report, published in 2016, examined previously published studies on the use of ginger for dysmenorrhea. Ginger was found to be more effective than a placebo in reducing pain severity. Of the two studies comparing ginger to a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), ginger was found to be as effective at reducing pain.3
In addition, there’s some evidence that ginger may help control heavy menstrual bleeding. In a clinical trial published in Phytotherapy Research in 2015, for instance, 92 women with heavy menstrual bleeding were treated with either ginger or a placebo for three menstrual periods. At the end of the study, researchers found that levels of menstrual blood loss dramatically declined among study participants who received ginger.4
Ginger may cause a number of mild side effects, including diarrhea and heartburn.
Ginger can act as a blood thinner. If you have a bleeding disorder or are taking medications or supplements that affect the blood, you should speak to your doctor before taking ginger. It shouldn’t be used within two weeks of a scheduled surgery.5
The Bottom Line
While it’s common to feel some discomfort in your abdomen, back, and thigh area while you’re menstruating, if you have pain on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor. In some cases, menstrual pain can signal a condition such as uterine fibroids and endometriosis.6
For menstrual pain that is not caused by an underlying condition, there is evidence that ginger may help to relieve symptoms.3
Self-care strategies such as massaging or applying a heating pad to your lower abdomen, limiting your intake of salt, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, practicing stress-management techniques, and exercising regularly can help protect against menstrual pain.
In addition, taking dietary supplements containing vitamin B6, calcium, and/or magnesium may help fight menstrual problems. Some research suggests that increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids or using herbs like dong quai and red raspberry leaf may also help soothe menstrual pain to some degree.
For the further relief of menstrual pain, some people find relief using aromatherapy. There’s some evidence that massage using a blend of essential oils such as lavender, clary sage, and marjoram may help ease menstrual cramps.7
1. 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. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-92
2. 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):2243-55. doi:10.1111/pme.12853
3. 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. doi:10.1155/2016/6295737
4. 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):114-9. doi:10.1002/ptr.5235
5. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Ginger. Updated November 30, 2016.
6. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dysmenorrhea: painful periods. Updated January 2015.
7. Romm A. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2017.