It seems like everywhere you look at the moment, you see someone talking about the healing powers of turmeric, and it’s derivative compound, curcumin.
- “It calms inflammation”
- “It fights cancer”
- “It dampens pain”
- “It’ll turn you into a unicorn!”
Ok, maybe not that last one. But still.
I’ve heard about it in podcasts from doctors, read about it in books from wellness experts, and the blog posts are everywhere. Today I want to tell you my story about this spice, and explore a little research (in true Live the Whole style!)
Ok, personal story time. Seriously, really personal story time.
So, last year, I got totally sick of being on hormonal birth control. I’d be on various kinds for about 12 years and besides a growing awareness of it being possibly not the best thing for my body, I really wanted to know who I was without a pill (or a patch, or an implant) influencing my hormones. So, November last year, I stopped. (Check out this up-coming documentary if this interests you)
The story of what that was/still is like is for another day. Today’s story:
After four months hormone-free, I started to explore my non-hormonal options and decided to get a copper IUD fitted. It was a simple procedure, and I’m super happy with the results.
Holy moly, the menstrual cramps. When that time of the month rolls around, so do I. On my bed. Groaning.
Every afternoon for 3-4 days, starting at around 4:30pm-6:30pm (and intermittently throughout the day) I get such bad menstrual cramps I actually whimper in pain. I know you know this isn’t cool. So, I started looking for some options.
I knew I wanted to keep the IUD. A few days of pain is a small price to pay (in my current way of thinking, for my life) for the benefits it brings. So, I needed a healthy, sustainable way to reduce this cramping.
Sure, some ibuprofen would knock the pain out, but taking that for a few days a month seems just as damaging for my body as being on the pill, so I didn’t want to go there. The answer I came up with and decided to experiment with was: curcumin.
Curcumin is an extract from turmeric, a popular spice used around the world. It has extensive research support – and I mean extensive! This review concludes that “More than 7000 published articles have shed light on the various aspects of curcumin including its antioxidant, hypoglycemic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activities.”
Studies, which I’ll go into shortly, suggested that taking curcumin could help me reduce my menstrual cramping through multiple pathways, such as reducing inflammation (caused by the IUD), reducing muscle spasms (caused by an upset uterus), and helping balance hormones (caused by coming off the pill).
And I’m about to give you some scientific evidence, but let me first just say that this has worked for me. I took 500mg of curcumin daily for about two weeks before my period started, and my cramping was vastly reduced. I’m hoping that if I take it consistently, my next cycle will be even easier.
Ok, so where’s the science for this?
In an in-depth review of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatments, the authors cover curcumin in detail. There are many chemical pathways identified, and some studies have pin-pointed the ones that curcumin works on, but the base conclusions of these studies are that curcumin “…may be considered a viable natural alternative to nonsteroidal agents for the treatment of inflammation.” In other words, we can use curcumin in much the same way as your favourite NSAID, only without the side effects.
Calming muscle spasms:
This study looked at muscle spasms in the intestines of guinea pigs and the uteruses of rats. I feel kind of bad imagining rats with menstrual cramps (I know how bad they make me feel), but when these little guys were given curcumin, both the intensity and frequency of their cramping was reduced – which is exactly what I’ve experienced too. The study authors say that their “…results obtained from this study concluded that curcuminoids produced a smooth muscle, relaxation effect …”, so if you’re suffering in this way, it might be an option for you to look into.
Helping with estrogen-dominance:
When you take the pill, your hormones are changed. The pill is hormones, and as you come off of it, your body has to re-adjust. One thing that commonly happens for pill-takers is that they end up with some estrogen-dominance, which is where your estrogen and progesterone get out of balance. This can lead to increased PMS symptoms, cramping, and other fun things. While I didn’t find any studies directly looking at curcumin and PMS, there are many, many studies looking at curcumin and estrogen from the point of view of both breast cancer or endometriosis (both conditions are highly linked to estrogen balance issues), and these studies conclude that taking curcumin can help balance out these important female hormones. (See here, here, and here for a small selection of this work)
What can you do?
If this is sounding like something you’d like to try, but you’re wondering how, it’s pretty easy.
There’s some discussion about whether taking curcumin orally provides enough bioavailable compound (stuff our body can use) to have an effect, but not only does anecdotal evidence say ‘yes’, but this study explains that “Despite its generally low bioavailability, curcumin has been shown to have distant or indirect effects through the upregulation of the enzyme intestinal alkaline phopshatase (IAP), which is a fantastic anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory endogenous component produced at the gut epithelial level and that has been shown to have local and also distant protective effects though oxidation and inflammation down-regulation.” In other words, they found that curcumin, even if it is not highly bio-available, still has some wonderful, scientifically identifiable, effects.
You can also try finding a curcumin supplement that includes back pepper, as this is recognised as being really helpful in making curcumin more usable by your body.
So, what should you do? Studies suggest that taking 400-600mg of curcumin as a supplement is totally safe for most people (if you’re pregnant, have stomach ulcers, or are concerned, talk to your doctor). You can either grab some supplements (I’ve been using these ones from iHerb), or you can make your own with this awesome recipe from Empowered Sustenance.
Here at Live the Whole, I am interested in finding root causes and fixing the problem where it starts. This is why I’m usually not a huge fan of long-term supplement regimes. We should be listening to our symptoms and working our way back to look at life changes we can make to support our well-being, not relying on quick-fixed or pills. In this case, however, I can’t ‘fix’ the problems cause by this IUD without taking it out, which at this time I am not prepared to do. So, I am going to accept that I have made these choices and work to support my body however I can. For now, this means not only working with lifestyle changes to help me relax and process the hormonal changes, but also supplementing with curcumin.
Tell me in the comments: What do you do for cramping? Any tips you’d like to share?