A highly effective, cheap, easy-to-use, safer treatment for heavy periods

Ginger is most famous for its role in preventing and alleviating nausea and vomiting. There are now so many studies that there are reviews of reviews. Just a half teaspoon of powdered ginger “is associated with a 5-fold likelihood of improvement” in morning sickness in early pregnancy. (See my video Natural Treatments for Morning Sickness for more on this.) Ginger has also been shown to help with motion sickness, improve postoperative nausea and vomiting, prevent antiretroviral-induced nausea and vomiting during HIV treatment, and was said to be a “miracle” against chemotherapy-induced vomiting.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of ginger for breast cancer chemotherapy, chemo-induced vomiting was relieved in all phases—the acute phase within 24 hours of the chemo, two to three days after, and even before chemo sessions with what’s known as anticipatory vomiting. (After a few chemo treatments, the body knows what’s coming and starts throwing up at just the thought of the next session.) Anticipatory nausea can’t seem to be controlled by drugs, even the fancy new ones that can cost 10,000 times more than ginger, which comes in at about two pennies per dose and may work even better in some ways.

Ginger can also help with pain. One-eighth of a teaspoon of powdered ginger, which costs just one penny, was found to work as well as the migraine headache drug Imitrex, without the side effects. (See my video Ginger for Migraines for more.)

Speaking of pain, my video Ginger for Nausea, Menstrual Cramps, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome discusses that it may also be as effective as ibuprofen for alleviating menstrual cramps. Painful periods are exceedingly common and can sometimes cause severe suffering yet have been “virtually ignored” by pain management researchers and practitioners. Four randomized controlled trials, however, have been published on ginger for menstrual pain, and all four showed significant benefit when ginger was taken during the first few days of periods. Effective doses ranged from about a third of a teaspoon a day to a full teaspoon a day, but because they all seemed to work, one might as well start out with the penny-a-day dose.

As a side benefit, ginger can dramatically reduce heavy flow, which is one of the most common gynecological problems for young women. We know there are pro-inflammatory foods that may contribute to heavy menstrual bleeding, so how about trying an anti-inflammatory food like ginger? Heavy menstrual bleeding is defined as more than a third of a cup (80 milliliters), but all the study subjects started out much higher than that. Just an eighth teaspoon of powdered ginger three times a day starting the day before their period cut their flow in half, and it seemed to work better each month they tried it, providing a highly effective, cheap, easy-to-use, safer treatment for menstrual blood loss and pain.

So, ginger works for migraines and menstrual cramps, but just because it may be effective for many types of pain doesn’t mean it’s necessarily efficacious for all pain. For example, what about intestinal cramps? Is ginger effective for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? The answer is yes, dropping IBS severity by more than 25 percent. But, so did the placebo. So, the real answer is no—it is not effective for the treatment of IBS, yet “[g]inger is one of the most commonly used herbal medicines for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).” Silly people, don’t they know it doesn’t work any better than a sugar pill? Or, from another perspective, are they smart for using something that offers relief 53 percent of the time and doesn’t risk the adverse effects of some of the drugs with which doctors may harm one person for every three they help?


If placebos are so safe and effective, should doctors prescribe them? I discuss the pros and cons in The Lie That Heals: Should Doctors Give Placebos?.

What does work for IBS? See my videos:

What else can women do to make their periods more tolerable? See:

For more on ginger, check out:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

How to Treat Infant Colic

Colic, characterized by prolonged periods of inconsolable crying, affects up to 40 percent of young infants. The condition is often dismissed as trivial by the medical profession, but should be treated seriously, as I discuss in my video, Treating Infant Colic by Changing Mom’s Diet. It can contribute to postpartum depression, interfere with breastfeeding, and even lead to the death of the infant at the hands of a parent from shaken baby syndrome.

They’re not just crybabies. Colic is pain.

The medical profession has a scandalous history, not just denying pain relief to infants, but routinely performing surgery on infants with minimal or no anesthesia into the 1980s. One famous case in 1985 was little Jeffrey Lawson, who underwent open heart surgery fully awake and conscious. He had been given a drug to paralyze him so he wouldn’t squirm, but, like in a horror movie, the baby couldn’t move yet could feel everything. This wasn’t some rogue surgeon. Torturing babies was standard operating procedure in the 80s. Not the 1880s, mind you, but the 1980s.

“The liaison between the [American Academy of Pediatrics] AAP and the Society of Anesthesiologists commented that the use of paralyzing agents was a standard and time-honored technique…” The profession has a history of infant pain denial. They didn’t even think babies could feel pain. Even today, most physicians don’t use painkillers or even local anesthesia for circumcisions, a procedure so traumatic the babies show stronger pain responses to vaccinations even months later.

The pain of colic is thought to be caused by gastrointestinal discomfort, like intestinal cramping. In my Peppermint Oil for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and What to Take Before a Colonoscopy videos, I explored the role of peppermint oil in reducing intestinal spasms. Might it help with colic? A few drops of a peppermint leaf solution appeared to cut in half the number of colicky episodes and reduced daily crying from three hours to two hours, working just as well as simethicone, a leading over-the-counter drug for colic. The problem is that simethicone has been shown to have no benefit for colic. So, saying peppermint is as good as something shown to be useless isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. And the American Academy of Pediatrics warns about the use of peppermint oil in infants.

One study found an herbal tea preparation to be helpful, but parents have been cautioned not to use it. Not only might tea interfere with breastfeeding continuity, but there is a lack of adequate industry regulation. For example, star anise tea is commonly used for colic. Chinese star anise is regarded as safe and nontoxic, but Japanese star anise is poisonous. They look identical, but Japanese star anise contains a potent neurotoxin, and it has been found contaminating star anise tea in the United States. So, we shouldn’t give it to kids.

There is even a report of toxicity from a supposed homeopathic dose of belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, that evidently wasn’t homeopathic enough. Another report found the same. Just because it’s homeopathic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe.

It’s no better when doctors prescribe it, though. The drugs used for colic are made from belladonna, too. The drugs may work, but they should not be used because of their serious side effects.

What about just good old fashioned burping? After all, “[b]urping after feeding is commonly advised by paediatricians, nurses and parenting websites to promote expulsion of gases that accumulate during feeding with aim of decreasing discomfort and crying episodes.” Scientific evidence for the efficacy of burping was lacking until a 2014 randomized controlled trial for the prevention of colic and regurgitation (also known as spitting up) in healthy infants. What did they find? Burping is useless for colic and made the regurgitation worse. Burped babies spit up twice as many times as unburped babies!

So, what’s an effective treatment? The elimination of cow’s milk protein, since colic appears be some sort of allergic response. Decades ago, it was shown that infants fed cow’s milk developed antibody responses to the bovine proteins, which may explain why colic can improve after changing from a cow’s milk formula to either a hypoallergenic hydrolyzed protein formula or a soy-based formula.

Breast-fed infants have similar rates of colic as formula-fed infants, but that might be because breast milk from cow’s-milk-drinking mothers contains cow’s milk proteins. We know cow’s milk proteins can pass through breast milk and cause certain serious allergic reactions, but what about colic? Based on studies of formula-fed infants, colic was already a well-known symptom of intolerance to cow’s-milk protein back in the 1970s. So, thinking colic in breast-fed infants may be caused by cow’s-milk proteins transmitted from mother to infant via breast milk, researchers tried a dairy-free diet for breast-feeding mothers whose infants had colic. Of 19 infants, the colic disappeared promptly from 13 babies, and they were able to show they could bring back the colic in 12 of those 13 by challenging the mothers with a little dairy. For example, a baby boy develops colic that almost completely disappears within a day of his mom eliminating cow’s milk, and then the colic promptly comes back when mom goes back on dairy. The researchers conclude that the treatment for infantile colic in breast-fed infants is a diet free of cows’ milk for the mother—a recommendation that continues to this day.


Isn’t that horrifying about little Jeffrey Lawson’s open heart surgery? I’ve grown more and more cynical over the years, but it still shocks me how terribly wrong the medical profession can be in the face of overwhelming evidence and basic common sense. Now that more women are becoming physicians and graduating medical school classes are approximately 50:50 women and men, hopefully things will change for the better.

More on dairy in infancy and childhood:

More on healthy pregnancies:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

The Best Food for Acne

We hear a lot about traditional Chinese herbal medicine, but less about the herbs used in Japan. There is a root called Rhizoma coptidis that appears to have similar anti-acne activities to drugs like Accutane, a drug infamous for its side effects that has been since pulled from the market. But there are side effects to the root, too. A poor fellow took it to clear up his skin and as you can see in my video, let’s just say it made things  worse.

The anti-acne active component of the root is thought to be berberine. Is there any way to get the active ingredient in a safer plant? Yes, apparently: barberries, which I cover in my video Treating Acne with Barberries. You may remember barberries as being perhaps the most antioxidant-packed dried fruit available (see my video Better Than Goji Berries). You can find them cheap at Middle Eastern grocers, since they’re used to make a signature Persian rice dish. Their taste is described as “pleasantly acidulous,” which is just doctor-speak for sour. I love sprinkling them on my oatmeal just because I love their taste, but, evidently, they have played a prominent role in herbal healing for thousands of years around the world. They have been described rather flamboyantly in a pharmacology journal as an “herbal remedy [that] has no match in serving the human race.” And I just thought they were kind of tangy.

The problem with the herbal medicine literature is that there is often a long, impressive list of traditional uses, but little or no science to back them up. And what does exist is often either test tube or animal data that has questionable clinical applicability. Who cares, for example, if barberries “induce menstruation in a guinea pig” (except maybe the guinea pig)? So, you end up with drug companies injecting herbs into the penises of rabbits in hopes of coming up with the next Viagra, but they conduct few, if any, human studies.

I’ve seen petri dish studies over the years suggesting anti-cancer effects of barberries on human tumor cells in a petri dish or having anti-acne effects on hamsters, but there weren’t any such human studies… until, now.

Evidently, there had been anecdotal reports of acne clearing up after barberry juice consumption, so researchers decided to put it to the test in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of fifty 12- to 17-year-olds with moderate to severe acne. Half got a sugar pill, and the other half got the equivalent of about a teaspoon of dried barberries three times a day for a month.

The results were remarkable. After four weeks on the placebo, as expected there was no change. The teens had just as many pimples as before. But in the barberry group, there was a 43 percent drop in the number of zits and about a 45 percent drop in the number of inflamed zits. That’s extraordinary. A spoonful of dried barberries costs about eight cents. Barberries have no reported side effects, and they are healthy for you anyway. The only potential concerns I could find were about eating them during pregnancy, and we don’t have good data on barberry consumption during lactation, so it’s best to stay away from barberries during breastfeeding as well until we know more.


For more on acne check out these older videos:

And a few new ones I just released this year:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: