Other than using contraceptives to skip their period altogether (just like astronauts do), menstruating women have precious few options to beat this thing and get on with their lives. Some over-the-counter pain-killers and a strategically placed hot water bottle is about it.
But there’s another option behind secret door #3, and early reports are saying this thing actually works. Dubbed Livia, this new medical device claims to be an "off switch for menstrual pain".
Okay, so first thing’s first: how does this supposed 'miracle cure' actually work?
As the Livia website explains, the device comes with two electrodes, which you need to place on the painful areas on your abdomen. Switch the device on, and these electrodes will start delivering imperceptible electric pulses to your nerves, which will settle the pain.
If it sounds too good to be true, I’m right there with you. But this thing has been getting some serious hype, according to Julia Belluz at Vox:
"Livia has received rave reviews in international women's magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour, and more than 3,000 crowdfunders from around the world have put upward of $284,000 into Livia's Indiegogo campaign."
While founder and CEO of Livia, Chen Nachum, insists that they’ve so far tested the device on 163 women in two different trials, with more than 80 percent of them reporting pain-relieving effects, we’re yet to see the results for ourselves in a peer-reviewed study, so there’s still a whole lot we don’t know about this particular device.
But what we do know is that the technology Livia is based on isn’t new, and doctors have been prescribing it for years.
Known as TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), electronic nerve stimulators have been used to treat all kinds of pain in the past, from neck and back aches to labour pain. It basically works by 'confusing' your body’s nervous system, so it can’t figure out what to do with the pain signals it’s supposed to be delivering to your brain.
"The idea is the nerve system cannot work with two types of signals at the same time," Nachum explained to Belluz, "so what Livia does is transmit frequency to the nerve system that it is very similar to the body's frequency, but it's not something the body knows."
Because the signals from the device reach the brain faster than the pain signals from the nerves, the brain doesn’t have time to register your menstrual cramps, says Nachum.
What Nachum is describing might sound really simple (and makes our nervous system seem kinda gullible), it’s actually rooted in a whole lot of science, Belluz reports:
"Jen Gunter, an OB-GYN and pain medicine specialist, noted that the idea of using TENS for menstrual pain is actually very sound. In fact, there's enough research that the Cochrane Collaboration was able to put together a review of the evidence. Its conclusion: 'High-frequency nerve stimulation may help relieve painful menstrual cramps.'"
Gunter told Vox she’s been prescribing high-frequency TENS for period pain for more than 15 years, and while the technique doesn’t necessary work for everyone, it really helps some women. "Prescribed one this morning, in fact," she said.
Right now, you’re able to preorder a Livia device for US$85 and wait six months for it to ship, and Nacham says they’re in the middle of another study, this time with 60 participants, to get a better idea of how effective it is.
And while we certainly don’t recommend that you invest in one until we see the actual study results, it'll be interesting to see if Livia's application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a menstrual pain reliever will be approved.
Gunter told Vox that her main concern with the device is that it might not provide frequencies that are high enough to be effective, and Nacham has refused to comment on the device’s exact frequency, perhaps for competition reasons.
If you’re really curious, head to your GP now and get them to fill you in on TENS. Even if it turns out that Livia doesn’t actually live up to the hype, you’ve got a whole lot of science on your side if you want to try the generic version.