Menstrual cycle is a direct indicator of overall female health, and periods are body’s way of telling you that things are working as they should. From puberty to menopause, menstruation is a part of life for women. And for many of those women, the monthly period comes with unwelcome side effects.
A new research review presented this week at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) conference has confirmed that dietary changes can have a significant effect on the severity of menstrual cramps. Dysmenorrhea is characterized by severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain during your period
Dr. Monica Christmas, NAMS board member and director of the Center for Women’s Integrated Health at the University of Chicago, not involved in the new research, said:
“This meta-analysis of adolescents with dysmenorrhea found that adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet was associated with decreased dysmenorrhea. Encouraging young women to adopt healthy lifestyle practices at a young age will be instrumental in maintaining optimal health throughout midlife and beyond and may help to slow the aging process.”
The research comprehensive review included multiple studies evaluating the relationship between diet and menstrual pain.
“Researching the effects of diet on menstrual pain started as a search to remedy the pain I experienced; I wanted to understand the science behind the association,” Serah Sannoh, a Rutgers University student and lead author of the poster presentation, said
Researchers focused their analysis on adolescent and teenage girls, as menstrual cramps are common in this group and responsible for many lost school days. An older study from 1981 found that 14% of adolescent girls in the United States regularly missed school because of menstrual cramps. In another study published in 2017, 13% of teenage girls in Nigeria had taken days off school because of period pain. But it is not just teenage girls who endure menstrual cramps they can affect adult women also. Therefore the findings of the review could provide ideas for holistic ways to keep period cramps under control.
The review also identified several foods that made menstrual pain worse. These include meat, oil, sugars, and salts. In addition, coffee was found to increase cramps. Furthermore, the research review notes that omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation, whereas omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation.
“Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, and they trigger the painful menstruation cascade,” Sannoh said. “These are found in foods like red meats and processed foods like french fries. In addition, sugar, coffee, and salt are also inflammatory. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, These are found in foods such as salmon, sardines, flaxseeds, and nuts.”
The findings of the review would therefore suggest that limiting your intake of meat and processed foods while increasing oily fish, seeds, and nuts in your diet may relieve the monthly pain. Fresh fruit and vegetables are a key part of an anti-inflammatory diet. The review found that people following a vegan or plant-based diet had lower levels of inflammation and were less likely to experience menstrual pain. However, the review concluded there’s a link between what you eat and the severity of menstrual cramps and that dietary changes can be effective in reducing pain. But can you still eat what you want and enjoy the occasional cup of coffee without making those cramps worse?
“Even if someone does not adopt a strict anti-inflammatory diet, decreasing your intake of inflammatory foods should help decrease the inflammation that causes menstrual pain,” Sannoh said.