Data Suggests That Cutting Out Inflammatory Foods From Your Diet Can Help Lessen Menstrual Pain
If you’re a lady, then you know what it’s like to suffer from horrible, annoying menstrual cramps. And what experts would like to share is that there may be a reason why they are so intense… your diet.
At the October 12, 2022 annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) held in Atlanta, the results were presented to the crowd.
First-year medical student at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Serah Sannoh, who presented the research she herself conducted before receiving her bachelor’s degree at Rutgers Universitysaid, “Severe menstrual pain is the leading cause of school absenteeism in adolescents and college-age women. Making changes in their diet can significantly improve their quality of life.”
Some Women and Girls Suffer From Debilitating Period Pain
According to NAMS, around 90 percent of adolescent girls experience menstrual pain. But in some cases, the pain can be so severe that it actually interferes with their day-to-day life.
In fact, that was exactly what it was like for Sannoh, who conducted the research in part to figure out natural remedies that she could possibly use on herself. Surprisingly, her periods had been mostly uneventful in her younger years, that was until her senior year of high school and straight into college, where she shares that her period cramps became “unbearable.”
She explained, “It was painful to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed. It felt like my stomach was twisted, and I would throw up.”
Moreover, using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NDSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, which are usually recommended by doctors to help deal with the cramping, didn’t adequately ease her pain. And to make matters worse, the pain would start at the very first day of her period and sometimes managed to remain for as much as four days.
Not Eating Inflammatory Foods Is Vital to Easing Cramps
In her study, Sannoh did a lot of extensive research and review of the literature, finding at least 20 articles on the topic. They were mostly comprised of randomized trials, questionnaires, and nested control case studies.
In conclusion, she found that diet can truly have a big effect on menstrual cramps. For example, foods that are considered high in omega-6 fatty acids, since they promote inflammation within the body, were seen to be quite troublesome.
Sannoh also shares that this is quite an issue for teens. She explains, “The American diet eaten by girls this age tends to be very high in these fats, which are generally found in processed oils and meats. The fast food places and college food halls where these girls eat serve a lot of these foods.”
Other inflammatory foods, as well as sugar, salt and coffee, were found to make cramps even worse. And the reason why these foods managed to affect menstrual cramps is actually basic biology.
Director of the Center for Women’s Integrated Health at the University of Chicago and a broad trustee for NAMS, Monica Christmas, MD, who was not part of the study, said, “Inflammatory foods increase the release of prostaglandins, which increase vasoconstriction that leads to pain. Specifically, these prostaglandins constrict blood vessels in the walls of the uterus, causing cramping.”
Sannoh found that women and girls with high levels of prostaglandins normally have more menstrual cramping.
There Are Foods That Help To Prevent Cramps
In addition, Sannoh discovered that there are some foods that have the opposite effect, rather than cause inflammation they work to prevent cramps. This includes foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce inflammation.
Omega-3s, which are found in such foods as salmon, anchovies, salmon, and sardines, as well as walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, along with their oils and other such plant oils – like canola – are great sources of this particular nutrient. Other foods like milk, eggs, and yogurt tend to be fortified with omega-3s too.
Sannoh’s study abstract concludes, “Since menstrual pain results from inflammation, it is important to have a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet or have more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.”
Plant-Based Diets Happen to Be Anti-Inflammatory Diets
Sannoh also found that by eating a plant-based diet that doesn’t include meat, it can help reduce cramps in the long term. In her research, she cites a study that was published in Nutrition Research, where participants ‘were randomized to follow several different diets, from vegan to carnivorous.’ For those that are on vegan, vegetarian, or pesco-vegetarian diets, all had ‘significant reductions in bodily inflammation, although menstrual cramps were not measured directly.’
The Study’s Lead Author Was Helped Eating Like This
For Sannoh, she hopes that there is a better understanding of the science behind the foods and cramps in order to help inspire younger women to make dietary changes that can help improve their lives, especially since it worked for her.
She shared, “I’m West African and my culture’s diet is high in cow meat, but I reduced my intake. I also decreased sugary foods — like my favorite chocolate bars — and coffee.”
Although she still eat these foods sometimes, she doesn’t eat it that much and she makes sure not to eat it during the time of her cycle, which she says has made a world of difference.
“The pain is less, the cramping is less, and more often I can now take and ibuprofen and go about my day,” she says.
Dr. Christmas shares, that the more permanent your dietary changes, the more it can positively it will affect your cramps.
“If you eat fewer inflammatory foods during the month, you will probably notice some benefits. [But] in the same way that people don’t become obese overnight and then diet a few days and lose all the weight, you can’t expect to reverse the effects of a poor diet in a matter of a few days,” she explains.
Dr. Christmas also says that by improving your diet this way, it can do more than just improve cramps, “It’s great that this study promotes the idea of making healthy choices at a young age. Eating right from an early age is highly beneficial and will improve longevity and overall health, reducing high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol, among other things.”