Recently, the Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine published a study conducted on 84 medical students at Babol University of Medical Sciences in Iran stating that thyme oil (thymus vulgaris) was slightly more effective than ibuprofen for alleviating menstrual cramps.
As someone who knows a thing or two about severe cramps, I was all eyes when I read the headline. Like many women across the globe, my cramps can get outrageous. There’s no other pain I’ve ever felt in life more severe than the pain that comes every 28 days. The nausea, fatigue, sharp jabs, and numb legs make me feel as if I’m about to birth an alien baby.
My go-to for the pain has always been ibuprofen. I have to take at least three 200 milligram caplets every six hours just to get through the day. But the ibuprofen has been taking a toll on my body, causing stomach pains and heartburn. There’s no fun in fighting pain with pain (unless you’re getting a tattoo), so I wanted to do my own thyme oil test.
The Babol University study was conducted by splitting the students into three groups: one group got 200 mg capsules of ibuprofen, one got 25 drops of 2 percent thyme oil, and one got a placebo. Each group was given its dosage every six hours and told to report their pain levels an hour after each dosage.
After 48 hours, results showed that on a scale of one to 10, the ibuprofen group’s pain levels decreased from 5.3 to 1.5; the thyme oil group’s pain levels decreased from 6.6 to 1.2; and the placebo group’s pain levels decreased from 6.2 to 3.5--meaning the thyme oil was a bit more effective than ibuprofen in reducing pain from cramping.
Now before I just went all crazy and skipped to the market to buy thyme oil, I had to investigate. I’ve never used essential oils other than the rosehip kind, which I use on my face every day. But applying an essential oil on the skin and ingesting one is as different as night and day. Since the study didn’t clarify how the thyme oil was ingested, I took to the Interwebs to see if I could maybe find anything on whether (and how) thyme oil was safe to consume.
First stop, WebMD. While WebMD usually has pretty extensive information on what’s going on in the medical world, there was something that confused me. In one section, it mentioned if taken by mouth, thyme can help cure bronchitis, sore throat, arthritis, stomach pain, and upset stomach, but in another section, it reads, “there isn’t enough information to know whether thyme oil is safe to take by mouth in medicinal doses.” Say what? Get it together, Internet folks!
But, that’s what I get for trying to find medical advice on the Web in the first place. I should have learned my lesson in college when WebMD had me thinking my migraines were a brain tumor. I knew it was time to bring in a professional.
I reached out to Sandra Lanshin Chiu, L.Ac, an acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist, and the director of Treatment by Lanshin, a healing treatment studio in Brooklyn. Thyme is a Western herb, so Sandra wasn’t able to give me any specific information on it, but she did shed some light on herbal oil intake overall.
“It is never ever safe to take internally any herbal oil without the approval and supervision of a trained herbal professional. Neither should you take herbs as medicine without proper supervision,” she says. “They are powerful remedies that take herbalists years of study to understand how they affect the body at what dosages, so they should not be taken lightly.”
Momma didn’t raise no fool! I knew something didn’t sound right about the 25 drops of oil those students were given, though the study didn’t specify how the drops were administered. Were they through capsules or were they just droplets in a cup? Oh, the mystery! The last thing I needed was to fall face first onto the subway tracks because I took the wrong dosage of herbal oil trying to rid some cramps. Who was going to explain that to my mother?
After spending a few more hours researching, I discovered an article on Live and Feel describing how drinking thyme tea can treat menstrual pain, along with respiratory and digestive problems.
The next few days were the calmest they’ve been in a while. At the start of the day, I suffered the usual severity of cramps, but one cup of tea for breakfast was enough to lessen the intensity, and brewing a cup before bedtime was enough to get me through the night mostly pain-free.
Though I wasn’t able to re-create the study, I am pleased that not only did the thyme tea actually make my pain go away, but also at how quickly it kicked those cramps in the behind. Ibuprofen has been my BFF for the past 11 years, but has been supplemented with my newfound bestie--thyme tea. I will use this method for the next few months just to make sure I wasn’t suffering from a case of mind-over-matter. As for the thyme oil method, I advise anyone willing to try to seek a professional’s help, first.
Do you use any herbal medicines? What’s your go-to cramp reducer?