If you’re a woman, you’ve been there: Doubled over in pain, cursing your ovaries, and unable to do pretty much anything without whimpering. And no, we definitely wouldn’t blame you if you downed a couple painkillers and curled up in bed for an hour or five to cope with those crazy menstrual cramps—but now, you might not have to. Turns out, there’s an edible cramp cure right in your kitchen, and it might even work better than drugs.
A new study
Published in Scholars Research Library suggests that consuming extra virgin olive oil daily is more effective at reducing symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea—the most common type of menstrual cramp pain—than ibuprofen. Unfortunately, the study didn’t look into olive oil’s effect on secondary dysmenorrhea—cramps associated with an underlying health issue like endometriosis or uterine fibroids. But the research is still promising nonetheless.
Researchers divided 60 women ranging in ages from 17 to 30 into two groups. All women suffered moderate to severe menstrual cramps with an average pain severity score of 6.7 on a scale from 1 to 10. Then, each group received a type of pain intervention: Group one took 25 mL (about 5 teaspoons) of extra virgin olive oil daily for 2 months, starting 2 weeks prior to their menstrual cycle; while group two was given 400 mg of ibuprofen three times a day during the first 3 days of menstruation—when cramps are often the worst—for two menstrual cycles.
The EVOO group had an average pain score of 2.4 for month one, and 1.4 for month two; while the ibuprofen group’s results were a tad less exciting—4.7 for month one, and 2.4 for month two. So, not only was pain reduced to a greater extent for the women in the olive oil group, but their pain continued to decline as they continued to consume olive oil.
How is this liquid gold working its magic?
Chock it up to one of extra virgin olive oil’s potent polyphenol compounds. “About 10 years ago, researchers noticed that olive oil mimics the action of ibuprofen, thanks to the polyphenol oleocanthal, which has anti-inflammatory properties,” says Elena Paravantes, RDN, Mediterranean diet consultant and founder of the blog Olive Tomato.
In fact, previous studies have shown that oleocanthal helps suppress the production of an inflammatory molecule called prostaglandin, much like ibuprofen does. Studies also show that extra virgin olive oil’s ability to fight inflammation has a cumulative effect, which means that the more consistently you consume this kitchen staple, the greater its pain-relieving potential. So, instead of taking it when you’re already doubled over in pain, it’s smart to start consuming it on a regular basis before your pain even starts.
Before you do, though, there are a few things you should know:
Oleocanthal content is generally highest in fresh extra virgin olive oil, says Paravantes, so steer clear of virgin and regular olive oils, and be sure to consume it before the “best by” date or within a year of the “harvest date.”
Heating can also decrease the oleocanthal content a bit, says Paravantes, but it’s pretty stable compared to other phenolic compounds in olive oil. So light stir-frying should be okay, but for maximum benefits, try using it in salad dressings, or sop it up with a nice multigrain baguette, or even take it straight-up—EVOO shots, anyone?