Dealing with period cramps is a monthly ordeal for many. From hot water pads to painkillers, various methods are used to ease period cramps and the pain. However, certain food can also aid in reducing period pain, experts say. From berries to citrus fruits and dark chocolate, some food items have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce pain and make you feel better as well.
Factors affecting severity of period cramps
The primary cause of period cramps is the contraction of the uterine muscle to help in the expulsion of the uterine lining. Numerous factors, including hormonal changes, prostaglandin levels, and individual pain sensitivities, influence the severity of the cramps.
According to Bengaluru-based nutritionist Anitha Devaraj Aradhya, period cramps in women are more severe today, especially among youngsters, because of the imbalance in the body’s progesterone and oestrogen hormone levels.
“While lifestyle factors like obesity and inactivity play a huge role in the hormonal imbalance in women, food also has a significant influence,” adds Aradhya. “The excessive intake of food which contains high sugar levels, oily food, and fast food can have a negative impact on various bodily activities that can alter the menstrual cycle and the cramps.”
Food and period pain
Prostaglandins (a group of lipids that work like hormones in our body) act as small signalling molecules that control bodily physiological processes like inflammation, blood flow, and pain perception. They stimulate the uterine muscles to contract more vigorously by increasing their concentration in the uterus during menstruation. This causes more pain and cramping.
“Because of the hormonal changes, the prostaglandin levels are slightly higher, particularly throughout the menstrual cycle,” says Samreen Sharieff, nutritionist and diabetes instructor from Bengaluru. “The intake of trace minerals, specifically vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin C, and zinc can reduce the effect of prostaglandins by supporting hormonal balance and reducing inflammation.”
Aradhya recommends taking probiotics and omega-3 supplements to relieve cramping during periods.
“When omega-3 fatty acids help alleviate period cramps by reducing inflammation and promoting muscle relaxation in the uterine area, probiotics promote a balanced gut microbiome and can alleviate gut-related uneasiness during periods,” says Aradhya.
Then there is dark chocolate, the go-to pain-reliever for many. Research shows they could help too, primarily because of the presence of magnesium.
“Dark chocolate contains magnesium, which regulates period pain by relaxing the uterine muscles and reducing cramps. It can also regulate serotonin levels, enhance mood, and lessen overall discomfort during menstruation,” says Aradhya.
Food that could alleviate period pain
There is no one superfood that can alleviate period pain or cramps. Experts suggest having a balanced meal along, and incorporating certain additional food items, which could help alleviate the pain.
“The combined effect of certain nutrients provided by certain food items along with the regular nutrient intake helps in easing pain,” says Sharieff. “Make sure that diverse kinds of fruits and vegetables make up at least half of your plate. You can get the best of everything by combining a variety of them. The other half of the plate can be divided into two quarters –one-quarter of whole grains and the other with good protein sources.”
Here are some of the foods suggested by experts for period pain relief,
- Berries and citrus fruits: Various kinds of berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, and citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons, are packed with vitamin C, which helps reduce the impact of prostaglandins and regulate menstrual cramps. It also has anti-inflammatory properties to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are packed with different micronutrients. “The vitamin C and D and minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc in micronutrients can manage the effect of prostaglandins,” says Sharieff.
- Omega-3 sources: Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that has high anti-inflammatory properties. Even though it is seen in natural sources like walnuts, flaxseeds, and deep seafood, Aradhya recommends taking omega-3 three supplements if needed.
- Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and radish: These are all magnesium-rich vegetables that play a crucial role in various bodily functions, including muscle and nerve function.
“Magnesium controls more than 300 enzymes in the body. Along with managing prostaglandins during periods, it can relax nerves and muscles and ease period cramps. It also manages symptoms like mood swings, irritability, etc. during periods,” says Aradhya.
- Turmeric, ginger, garlic: Experts suggest it is ideal to take anti-inflammatory-rich foods such as turmeric, ginger, and garlic before the cycle starts to mellow down the cramps.
“You can add turmeric to the milk and drink. If you are lactose intolerant, you can simply add turmeric to water at night and consume it the next morning. Another nice choice is to boil water with ginger or garlic in it before drinking,” says Aradhya.
- Probiotics: Probiotics like pickles or buttermilk ensure a balanced gut microbiome and make your periods free from gut-related difficulties such as bloating and constipation.
Foods that aggravate period pain
While certain foods help in managing period pain, there are certain groups of food that can make it worse.
“Processed foods with elevated levels of salt, sugar, and fat enhance inflammation. There are bound to be some hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, with the added burden of inflammation, it worsens the pain and other symptoms of periods,” says Sharieff.
- The concentration of prostaglandins gets higher in the uterus during menstruation, stimulating the uterine muscles to contract more forcefully and intensely, increasing pain, and cramping during periods.
- By promoting hormonal balance and lowering inflammation, the consumption of trace minerals like vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin C, and zinc can lessen the impact of prostaglandins.
- Berries, citrus fruits, dark chocolate, omega-3 rich food or supplements, cabbage, cauliflower, radish, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and probiotics are some of the food sources suggested by experts for period pain relief.