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:

Does Vitamin C Help With Terminal Cancer?

Studies in the 1970s showed an extraordinary survival gain in terminal cancer patients with vitamin C, a “simple and relatively nontoxic therapy.” It’s no wonder it got a lot of attention, especially when reported by a world-renowned scientist, Linus Pauling. But studies in the 1980s found no such benefit, so scientists were “left with the inevitable conclusion that the apparent positive results [in the original study] were the product of case-selection bias rather than treatment effectiveness.” In the 1990s, though, an alternative explanation arose: The disappointing ’80s research only used oral vitamin C, whereas the apparently successful ’70s experiments also gave vitamin C intravenously, and we didn’t realize until the ’90s that the same dose given intravenously can lead to dramatically higher levels in the bloodstream than when taken orally. So maybe high dose vitamin C does help in terminal cancer, but maybe only when given intravenously. This is the topic of discussion in my video The Role of Vitamin C in the Treatment of Terminal Cancer.

Encouraging case reports continued to be published. Regression, remission, and cure had been documented in individual cases of advanced kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and lymphoma, but that was three success stories out of how many? If it was three out of a hundred, or even three out of a thousand, then okay, if the treatment is sufficiently nontoxic. But there is evidence that IV vitamin C is widely used in the alternative medicine world, as in 86 percent of 172 practitioners surveyed. Just those 172 practitioners alone treated about 10,000 patients a year, and manufacturers are selling hundreds of thousands of vials of this stuff in the United States. It’s not all being used for cancer, but, presumably, at least thousands of cancer patients are being treated every year with IV vitamin C, making the publication of three remarkable case reports seem less impressive. So no matter how amazing these cases seemed, it’s possible the cancers just spontaneously regressed all on their own, and it was just a coincidence that it happened after the patients were given vitamin C. To know for sure, you have to put it to the test.

To date, there have been some small pilot studies, and the results so far have been disappointing. The good news is that even insane doses of IV vitamin C seem remarkably safe, but failed in a study of two dozen patients “to demonstrate anticancer activity.” Similar small studies have been published, all the way through to the present, with results that are tantalizing but inconclusive. What we do know is that the present state of cancer chemotherapy is “unsatisfactory.” People have a perception that chemotherapy “will significantly enhance their chances of cure,” but if you put all our cancer-killing chemo together, the overall contribution to five-year survival is on the order of 2 percent—all those side effects for a 2.1 percent survival rate bump, at a cost of maybe $100,000 per patient per year. So, it may be worth looking deeper into therapies like IV vitamin C. However, the lack of financial reward (since vitamin C can’t be patented and sold for $100,000) and bias against alternative medicine “could dissuade conventional investigators and funding agencies from seriously considering this approach.”

So, decades later, what can we conclude? “After trials which have included at least 1,609 patients over 33 years, we have to conclude that we still do not know whether Vitamin C has any clinically significant antitumor activity.” Although “there is currently no definitive evidence” of benefit, the Mayo Clinic’s randomized controlled trials “do not negate the potential benefit” based on what we now know about oral-versus-IV routes of administration. So, we’re kind of back at square one: Does it work or not? There are highly polarized views on both sides, but everyone’s working off the same incomplete data. What we need are carefully controlled clinical trials. The question, though, is what do we do until then?

If it was completely nontoxic, one could argue, “Well, what have you got to lose?” But it is not—it’s only relatively nontoxic. For example, there have been rare but serious cases of kidney injury reported. After all, if it’s so safe, why did our bodies evolve to so tightly control against excess absorption? It can also be expensive and time-consuming. Each infusion can cost $100 to $200 out of pocket since insurance doesn’t pay for it, which can be quite a boon for alternative medicine practitioners. About 90 percent of the millions of doses of vitamin C being dispensed are in for-profit arrangements, so there are financial pressures pushing in both directions, for and against this treatment.

Given the relative safety and expense, though, if controlled studies even find a small benefit, it would be considered worthwhile. And if they don’t, the vitamin C question can be put to rest once and for all. But “[i]n cancer treatment we currently do not have the luxury of jettisoning possibly effective and nontoxic treatments. We should revisit promising avenues, without prejudice and with open minds…”


This video is the third installment in a three-part series. For the complete saga, watch the other two videos Intravenous Vitamin C for Terminal Cancer Patients and Vitamin C Supplements for Terminal Cancer Patients.

I discuss the conundrum of what do to about funding research of non-patentable natural treatments in Plants as Intellectual Property: Patently Wrong?.

Additional videos of interest include:

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:

Vitamin C Pills Put to the Test for Cancer

Vitamin C “is no stranger to controversy, as evidenced by the fact that over 40 years lapsed” from the time citrus fruits were shown to cure scurvy in the 1700s and the widespread implementation of eating citrus to save lives. Is it possible we’re in the midst of a similar 40-year lag with research in the mid-1970s purporting to show that terminal cancer patients treated with vitamin C lived 4 times longer and sometimes 20 times longer? I explore this in my video Vitamin C Supplements for Terminal Cancer Patients.

Researchers at the venerable Mayo Clinic decided to put vitamin C to the test, and they failed to show any benefit. The survival curves for both groups of patients were essentially identical. In fact, the one success story, a man with end-stage pancreatic cancer who had shown no response to any previous attempts at chemotherapy but started improving and was still alive five years later, was one of the patients who got the sugar pill placebos. It was official: Vitamin C didn’t work. “The apparently positive results reported…almost certainly resulted” from systematic bias in terms of which historic controls were chosen to compare with the treatment group, read the accompanying National Cancer Institute editorial.

Linus Pauling disagreed, arguing that the prior chemotherapy in nearly all the Mayo Clinic study patients may have negated the effect of the vitamin C. If the vitamin C works by boosting your immune system but your immune system is first destroyed by chemo, the thinking goes, no wonder it didn’t work. In the original vitamin C study that showed remarkable benefit, only 4 out of the 100 patients had ever received chemo. The Mayo Clinic researchers were skeptical, but “Pauling had a legendary reputation for being right about all sorts of things,” so “one might perhaps do worse than rely at least partly on Pauling’s awesome intuition.” Thus, a second, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was performed on patients with advanced cancer, but, this time, those who had no prior chemotherapy.

Again, it was a spectacular failure.

Researchers found no measurable response. The cancer in the vitamin C group progressed just as rapidly, and the patients on the placebo sugar pills lived just as long. In fact, if anything, the sugar pill group lived longer. At two years, everyone in the vitamin C group had died, but there were still a few survivors in the placebo group who lived at least past three years. The researchers concluded that “high-dose vitamin C therapy is not effective against advanced malignant disease, regardless of whether the patient has had any prior chemotherapy.”

Because the Mayo studies were taken as definitive, the medical community concluded that vitamin C was useless. However, in the Mayo Clinic studies, they gave the vitamin C orally in supplements, not intravenously. In retrospect, the route of administration may have been key.

In the original study, Pauling and his researchers started out infusing 10 grams of vitamin C a day intravenously, whereas in both of the Mayo studies designed to replicate the protocol, the researchers just gave people vitamin C supplements to take orally. Patients were sent home to swallow 20 capsules a day. They got the same dose, but 10 grams given orally is not the same thing as 10 grams given intravenously. They can’t be blamed for their ignorance, though. This fact wasn’t discovered until decades later.

It turns out vitamin C concentration in our bloodstream is tightly controlled, such that if you try to swallow more than you’d get eating five servings of fruits and vegetables, your body cuts down on the absorption in the intestine. For example, if you go from eating 200 mg to eating about ten times more (2,500 mg), the level in your bloodstream only goes up 3 mg per liter or quart of blood. “In contrast, because intravenous injection bypasses the intestinal absorption system,” it can result in super high blood concentrations—as in 100 to 200 times the level you can achieve taking vitamin C orally. Maybe that explains why the original studies seemed so promising but the follow-up studies were so disappointing. This raises the controversial question of the re-evaluation of vitamin C in cancer treatment. Researchers responded to the challenge and took up the mantle, and I discuss this in my video The Role of Vitamin C in the Treatment of Terminal Cancer.


To learn more about the history of vitamin C and cancer, see Intravenous Vitamin C for Terminal Cancer Patients.

To learn more about vitamin C, see Do Vitamin C Supplements Prevent Colds But Cause Kidney Stones? and What Is the Optimal Vitamin C Intake?.

Can eating citrus protect against cancer? Find out in Citrus Peels and Cancer: Zest for Life?.

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: