What's the Best Diet to Calm Severe Menstrual Pain?

NUTRITIONFEMALE HEALTH

Written by Keith - Nutritionist, Herbalist, and Reseacher

5 min read

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Maintaining a balanced and nutrient-rich diet is crucial for overall health and well-being, including menstrual health. Certain dietary choices can help lower inflammation, impact hormonal balance, and help fight the onslaught of symptoms when they hit during menstruation. While diet alone will not cure all menstrual cramps and symptoms, it's an important piece of the puzzle. Let's delve into the specific foods that can aid in improving menstrual cramps and related symptoms.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

We hear so much about these fats, and for good reason. They have a very respectable body of evidence to their name and only continue to grow. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce pain and inflammation associated with menstrual cramps. They influence prostaglandins and other compounds that play a role in pain levels.

One study showed that after 3 months of supplementing with omega-3 fats, there was a reduction in the severity and intensity of pain during menstruation. It allowed women to take less ibuprofen. Although this study showed that the omegas didn't cure dysmenorrhea, it showed an improvement. 1 Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines (always buy wild and never farm-raised), organic walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. However, nuts and seeds are digested best when sprouted.

2. Calcium-Rich Foods

Calcium is an incredibly important mineral for muscle tone, contraction, and nerve transmission. Several studies have shown positive benefits with calcium supplementation for menstrual cramps. 2 Having a diet that is rich in calcium is important, but avoid too much A1 dairy, as it can be inflammatory. A1 proteins are usually responsible for the negative studies associate with dairy. If you enjoy dairy, go for products that are from Jersey cows, goats, and sheep, which has a much higher A2 content. Lentils, beans, sprouted pumpkin seeds, salmon, and almond milk are also good sources of calcium. Consuming these foods on a regular basis may help to lower menstrual cramp severity and promote bone health.

3. Magnesium-Rich Foods

Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients when it comes to menstrual pains. It is essential for hundreds of processes in the body and helps to relax tissues. According to several studies, magnesium is effective at reducing muscle tension, cramping, and overall menstrual pain. 3 Try to incorporate magnesium-rich foods into your diet, such as dark chocolate (stay away if you have histamine issues), sprouted pumpkin seeds, edamame, and other magnesium-rich foods. However, diet alone may not be enough to maximize the benefits of magnesium. Supplementation can be beneficial, although steer clear of magnesium oxide unless you enjoy spending a lot of time on the toilet. We make sure to include magnesium in our product Calm Cycle.

4. Anti-Inflammatory Food

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Severe menstrual pain, also known as dysmenorrhea, can be a thorn in many women's lives that just seems to keep going despite any efforts. While there are options like NSAIDs, birth control, and medication, these don't come without risks and potential side effects. The industry for menstrual woes hasn't grown much in decades, and many women suffer way too much because of the lack of options. While there are many symptoms to address on a menstrual cycle, cramps seem to be the number one foe. As a nutritionist, herbalist, and compulsive researcher, I want women to know that there are really helpful things that can dramatically decrease the severity of cramps and other symptoms.

While there are quite a few remedies available for the pain, adopting a healthy diet is a foundational way to help manage menstrual cramps and other related symptoms. In this article, we will explore the best diet habits and specific food items that can provide relief from period pains. It is truly shocking how many diets are out there in 2024. From Paleo, Keto, low-carb, vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, carnivore and more, it's getting more and more difficult for people to really settle into a healthy and balanced diet because of how heavily each is promoted on Youtube and social media.

As a nutritionist who has spent years reading research about diet, supplements, and health, I want to emphasize the importance on focusing on specific food items rather than any popularized diet. Each person's response to any given food item is different and it's critical to customize the ideal diet based on individual foods rather than following a set diet with limitations. If it is something you prefer to try and experiment with, then more power to you, but just make sure it is sustainable, healthy in micro-nutrients, and balanced. Out of the diets mentioned above, my personal recommendation would be a Mediterranean-ish like diet. The Mediterranean diet usually does very well in studies and is perhaps the most sustainable long-term. However, it's really about mapping out a diet that includes many healthy foods that works for you.

The Importance of Diet for Menstrual Cramps & Pain

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Are you tired of hearing about inflammation yet? Although inflammation is seemingly mentioned in every article about health these days, it's important to make efforts to keep it as low as possible. Inflammatory prostaglandins such as F2 Alpha and E2 are heavily implicated in more severe menstrual cramps. Including anti-inflammatory foods such as organic berries, omega-3-rich fish, ginger, walnuts, pomegranates, and anthocyanin-rich foods. Anthocyanins are dark pigments with an incredible array of benefits for health. Certain anthocyanin-rich foods include purple/black rice, purple potatoes, bilberries, and blackberries, which may help lower pain and symptoms during your menstrual cycle.

5. Hydration & Electrolyte Balance

One of the main issues in many strict diets such as ketogenic, low-carb, carnivore, and veganism is that they can limit foods that help bring ideal balance to the body. While each diet has its arguments for good health, many people on these diets often run into electrolyte and nutrient imbalances over time, as well as difficulty in sustaining it. It seems redundant to talk about hydration, but one overlooked thing for menstrual pain is the sodium-to-potassium ratio. Proper hydration is essential for maintaining overall health and managing menstrual symptoms.

Hydration isn't only about drinking enough water, but getting a good balance of minerals and electrolytes from food. Make sure to eat a diet rich in potassium and not to exceed around 1,800 mg of sodium. Ideally, we should consume slightly over a 2 to 1 ratio of potassium to sodium, but it is often around 1 to 1. This poor ratio contributes to cramping, bloating, and a more difficult menstrual cycle.

6. Avoid Trigger Foods

Certain foods can potentially worsen menstrual cramps & symptoms by increasing inflammation. It is advisable to limit or avoid the consumption of vegetable oils, fried foods, baked pastries, potato chips, soda, pork, and too much caffeine. These foods can contribute to bloating, mood swings, more intense cramps, and increased pain.

Adopting a healthy diet that includes these foods will give you a strong foundation for experiencing a more peaceful menstrual cycle each month. Supplementation and herbal remedies, as well as other interventions, may still be needed to maximize relief from those stubborn period cramps. It is impossible to recommend any current set diet as being the "best" because diet is such a tailored, customized thing. However, the most sustainable, balanced, and successful diet according to most research would be a Mediterranean-like diet that is balanced and rich in nutrients.

References:

1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22261128/

2. https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/18/1/3/2924701

3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28392498/