How I fixed my menstrual cramps: curcumin


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!)

How I fixed my menstrual cramps: curcumin


My Story:

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.

Except.

The.

CRAMPS.

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

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?

Reducing inflammation:

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.

Advice:

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?


About Samantha

Hello! I'm Sam and I'm an Eating Psychology Coach. I work with women who struggle with emotional eating and weight loss to develop new strategies and lifestyles so they can stop using food to cope, lose weight, and eat happy.


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14 thoughts on “How I fixed my menstrual cramps: curcumin

  • Kelly

    I’m glad you found something that’s working for you. We had a “foster daughter” who lived with us a for a couple of years (she was really renting a room, but she ended up as part of the family!), and she would get terrible, terrible cramps. My mother in law would come over and make an infusion with oregano that seemed to help quite a bit. Fortunately, I’m past all that nonsense! 😀

    • Samantha Post author

      That/s awesome, Kelly! I love that the oregano infusion helped… I really dislike the taste of oregano (blame my younger brother and his obsession with putting heapings of ‘Italian Herb Seasoning’ on everything growing up), but the curcumin is definitely working for me

  • Ope

    I would try this, thanks for sharing… been using organic molasses for a while, period is lighter but I still need the pain to go away… can you tell me how to use the turmeric powder?

    • Samantha Post author

      Hi Ope – I’ve never heard of using molasses, that sounds really interesting. Definitely something I’ll check out!

      Sure, you can use turmeric powder in a few ways, but basically you just add it to whatever you’re eating or drinking. You can put it into juice or a smoothie, or make ‘turmeric tea’ with it. You can put it in salad dressings, soups, stir fry, curry, on meat, etc.

      I find that taking the capsules is the most convenient, and I know exactly how much I’ve taken. But, I think the second best option is to add powder (or better – fresh grated, if you can get it) to a drink each day.

      Does that help?

      • Jasmine

        Is this safe for children who are starting their period and have terrible cramps? My daughter is twelve and she just got her period she has horrible cramps that keep her in pain all day.

        • Samantha Post author

          Hey Jasmine,
          I can’t say whether it’s safe for children – definitely ask your doctor about it. Cramps can often be linked to hormones, so definitely a healthy diet with lots of veggies and water is a good place to start, but a doctor can definitely help.

  • Lee-Anne

    This has worked for me and I wasn’t even taking if for this problem – I am amazed. I take the tablets from iherb, but they have dandelion as I was taking it for a liver supplement

  • Jen

    I’ve been taking unsulphured blackstrap molasses for my cramps (mixing a big ol’ tablespoon into some peppermint tea with a splash of ACV; I’ve heard it’s better-tasting in a cup of chai, but I’m too sensitive to caffeine) but unfortunately it’s not really a work-friendly solution. I was lucky to have my cycle begin on the weekend the last several months but my luck’s run out. So I’m glad to have come across your post. Will try the curcumin and cross my fingers it works!

    Since this post is a couple years old now I’m curious if you still take curcumin for cramps? And if so, does it work better if you take it every day, or is it just as effective to only take it the few days leading up and during?

    • Samantha Post author

      Hey Jen. I haven’t tried the molasses approach, but that does sound like it might be pretty messy to try and carry around.

      I took the cucumin for just under a year – maybe 8-9 cycles, and I took it every day. I found that when I only took it in the week leading up to my period it didn’t work so well. But that was just me – the research into cucumin for pain is a bit all over the place in terms of how well it works for humans, so your experience might be different.

      I’m really lucky that my cramps have reduced a ton over the past 12-18 months (probably as my body and hormones got used to being off hormonal birth control and having ‘real’ periods with the IUD), so I haven’t been using the cucumin.

      I hope that helps!

  • MEESH KAUR

    Hiya

    Im having to take days off work because my pains are so painful. Do u really think this will be as effective as pain killers?

    • Samantha Post author

      Oh that’s terrible. Period pain can be so bad. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t say it works ‘for sure’, but I do know it worked well for me for the type of pain I was having. I didn’t find it worked like a pain killer like ‘take a pill and 20 mins later the pain is gone’, but I found it effective as a supplement to take all/most of the month that then made my periods less painful when it did come.

  • Dev

    Irregular periods is such a major problem in women’s . Curcumin is a effective remedy to get rid of such problem. I am happy that you shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.