7 Harmful Foods that Contribute to Severe Menstrual Pain Each Month
Severe menstrual pain may be on the rise. Studies indicate that over 50% of women who still have a menstrual cycle experience severe symptoms such as PMDD, intense cramps, stabbing pain, bloating, sleeplessness, anxiety, and more. 1 This is due to many factors such as higher levels of inflammation, various toxins causing hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, stress, and other factors.
One of the main contributing factors that can easily be improved is diet. With a little effort and inspiration, you can be on your way to a much more peaceful menstrual cycle. Diet alone may not be enough to coast through each cycle, but it is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle that will almost certainly make a big difference.
1. Highly Processed Foods
Processed foods, such as fast food, packaged snacks, and sugary treats are notorious for their negative impact on health. Plenty of research validates the insulin-spiking, inflammatory, immune hampering effects of these foods. They are usually low in nutrients and fairly high in toxins, preservatives, inflammatory fats, sodium, and simple carbohydrates. Many of these prepackaged, processed foods cause higher levels of arachidonic acid, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins, all of which contribute to more severe menstrual pain.
Although a glass of wine can be a very pleasant way to unwind, alcohol can have negative effects on menstrual pain. Alcohol is a diuretic and can can dehydrate the body and deplete important nutrients. When this is paired with regular coffee drinking, the negative effects are enhanced even more. Depletion of critical B-vitamins and impaired absorption of calcium, magnesium, and others intensify menstrual cramps and pain. Too much wine can also increase histamine levels, which can contribute to higher levels of pain during menstruation.
3. Caffeine's Unfortunate Effect on Severe Menstrual Pain & Cramps
Sorry coffee lovers, but it's the truth. While having a small to moderate amount of caffeine won't be overwhelmingly harmful, caffeine does have a strong physiological effect on the body that can worsen period pains and cramps. Caffeine intensifies period pains and also can cause more irritability and an overall frazzled, depleted feeling. Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties that can hamper proper circulation and oxygen distribution. It is known to increase tension and gut distress, which is the last thing you want during your cycle. The best thing to do is really cut down or abstain from caffeine for 5 days prior to menstruation all the way through it if possible. 2
For some women, consuming too much dairy around or during their menstrual cycle increases bloating and the severity of menstrual pain. Dairy, especially A1 rich dairy can cause gut distress. Although studies don't usually see a strong link with dairy and chronic inflammation, many people experience negative physiological effects from A1 casein protein. If you notice that dairy worsens your menstrual pain, try reducing or eliminating it from your diet during this time. Replacing A1 dairy (any dairy from holstein cows) with A2 may be more benign on the body. Sources of A2 dairy are any product that come from Jersey cows, sheep, or goats.
5. Insulin-Spiking Foods & Drinks
Indulging in high-glycemic carbs and sugary foods (including beverages and sodas) may provide temporary satisfaction, but worsens menstrual pain and overall health. Foods that cause a spike in blood glucose levels stimulate a cascade of effects in the body that ultimately leads to increased inflammation and hormonal imbalances. There may be a link between higher intake of refined sugar and grains with more severe PMS, although more research is needed. Balancing your blood glucose levels is a great way to positively influence hormonal balance and lower the menstrual pains.
6. Fried and Greasy Foods Fuel Pain
While indulging in fried foods may be fun and tempting, they can cause a slew of health problems and severe menstrual pain each month. When eaten on a fairly regular basis, these highly inflammatory foods add fuel to the fire and will intensify period pains for most people. These foods are often high in toxic, oxidized fats, which can light a fire in the body, and not the good kind. Additionally, fried, greasy foods can lead to digestive problems, hinder the immune system, and cause hormonal imbalances, all of which make menstrual cycles a whole lot more irritating.
7. High-Sodium Foods
High-sodium foods are a sneaky culprit in more arduous menstrual pains and symptoms. The worst offenders are processed meats, canned soups, salty snacks, eating out too often, and different types of sauces. The combination of high sodium and low potassium contributes to many different health issues. They are a major contributor to cramping, water retention, and bloating. Improving the ratio of potassium to sodium in your diet will not only be beneficial for period pains but also for cardiovascular health. 3, 4
While it may require superhuman diligence to completely avoid these foods, being mindful of their impact on severe menstrual pain and overall health will help give purpose to creating new habits. As we resist these foods, it becomes easier over time. A diet rich in wild-caught, omega-3, anthocyanin, and mineral-rich foods will go a long way toward overall well-being and easier menstrual cycles. It is worth it to make the effort to change your diet to one that is supportive and nourishing. Combing dietary changes with herbal and nutritional supplementation is perhaps the best 1-2 punch to calm those stubborn symptoms and feel more peace during your menstrual cycle.