Here is a list of foods and nutrients that will help to manage period cramps and other PMS symptoms like nausea and bloating. Eating these foods regularly will be a natural and safe option for managing your periods.
We have all had our encounter with period cramps - ranging from mild irritation to debilitating to the point of needing a day off.
Period cramps are not only physically painful. Cramps, often accompanied by nausea, constipation, bloating, and mood swings also create a lot of mental and emotional stress.
Many women experience cramps with such severity that they have a real lack of function during periods. When you are anticipating such cramps, it also limits your life as you have to schedule and plan every activity to accommodate that. This is another added stressor.
But, thankfully, there is a list of foods that help with period cramps.
Yes! You heard it right.
You can add these delicious foods to your diet and not only manage period cramps and have great energy and a positive mood all month long.
Understanding Menstrual Cramps
Menstrual cramps, also known clinically as dysmenorrhea, refers to the throbbing and aching cramps in the lower belly experienced before and during periods.
These cramps are often accompanied by pain in inner thighs, hips, and lower back. Their intensity can range from mild and inconvenient to severe. Some women also experience other symptoms like nausea, sweating, bloating, dizziness, and headache along with these cramps.
Menstrual cramps are usually caused by contractions of the uterus or womb. This is a muscle and when it contracts too strongly, it can press against nearby blood vessels and cut off its oxygen supply.
Another cause of period cramps is the presence of chemicals known as prostaglandins which cause the uterus to contract and also stimulate the pain receptors.
Many people experience severe period cramps due to conditions like endometriosis, fibroids, and pelvic inflammatory disease. If you are under thirty, have started menstruating in your early teens, or have heavy and irregular periods, you are more likely to be at risk of menstrual cramps.
The Link Between Your Diet And Menstrual Cramps
Paying attention to nutrition and diet has long been proven to be a powerful and natural strategy of keeping the inflammation down in our bodies. Similarly, eating high levels of sugars, processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine can aggravate inflammation in your body.
In fact, a 2016 study by Journal of women's health has found that inflammation in the body is linked to increased period pain and premenstrual symptoms. So, eating a natural and nutrient rich diet that keeps the inflammation down is definitely an influencing factor when it comes to menstrual cramp management.
It has also been found that a diet high in animal products and industrially processed oils leads to an increase in levels of hormone estrogen.
Higher levels of estrogen lead to the formation of thicker uterine lining, which will amp up the release of higher levels of prostaglandins as it breaks down the lining during periods. This will in turn lead to a more severe sensation of pain.
While there are no specific foods that 'cure' menstrual cramp when they occur. But practising good nutrition in your regular diet will have positive consequences on the frequency and severity of cramps.
Nutrients That Help To Fight Period Cramps
Here is the list of nutrients that researchers and scientists have found to help with menstrual cramps -
Omega 3s are the fatty acids that help to reduce inflammation in general, which is useful in reducing menstrual cramps. These healthy fats also help in achieving optimal hormonal balance between estrogen and progesterone.
Potassium helps to relieve symptoms of bloating and cramping during periods. Potassium deficiency can lead to fluid retention and too little of it can cause muscle cramps.
Magnesium relaxes blood vessels and uterine muscles which help to ease menstrual cramps. It also helps to regulate hormone serotonin responsible for muscle relaxation . Studies have found that magnesium not only reduces the severity of PMS symptoms but its deficiency can increase the severity of cramps.
Iron is vital for making up for the loss of iron content during menstrual flow. Iron deficiency often leads to lower haemoglobin levels which might cause symptoms like cramps, nausea, and fatigue.
Manganese is also shown to reduce symptoms of menstrual discomfort. It reduces inflammation which will in turn help to get relief from aches and pains associated with periods.
Vitamin E, B1 and B6 are helpful in reducing cramps and mood swings. Vitamin D helps to relieve muscle pain and is essential for calcium absorption.
Fibre has been shown to help in estrogen management which in turn influences menstrual cramps. Specifically, the fibre rich foods help to prevent the reabsorption or recycling of estrogen into the body.
Probiotics are vital for gut health, which in turn helps in managing inflammation and pain in the body. Healthy gut bacteria play a crucial role in breaking down the estrogen and preventing it from recirculating in the body.
Water is not exactly a nutrient, but staying hydrated can help to reduce bloating and constipation, which often worsen menstrual cramps. Drinking plenty of water will also help you avoid dehydration headaches.
A List Of Foods That Help With Period Cramps
Pesky period cramps can bring the best of us down. Nutrition management could be an option worth exploring in managing PMS long term.
So, here is a list foods that help with period cramps, add these in your regular diet for pain free periods -
Bananas are rich in fibre and manganese which give relief from bloating and cramps. Pineapple has manganese which helps to reduce inflammation and bromelain, which relaxes muscles and reduces pain. Lemons and oranges are rich in vitamin C which helps in iron absorption. However, opt for fresh fruits and avoid processed fruit juices.
Nuts like Cashew, Almond, walnuts, Peanuts are loaded with magnesium, vitamins, and omega 3s. A handful of nuts make a healthy and tasty snack. You could even try replacing dairy with nut milks and eating peanut or almond butters with your toast.
3. Leafy greens
Kale is rich in magnesium and calcium which relax the muscles and fight period pain. Spinach, and dill are loaded with magnesium, calcium and antioxidants that not only reduce menstrual cramps and discomfort but also improve bone health. Celery, and lettuce are great for hydration.
The fibre and iron in broccoli helps to fight menstrual pain. Sweet potatoes are full of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Tomatoes are loaded with potassium and water content. Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli are packed with calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium along with vitamins.
Flaxseed and chia seeds are rich in omega 3 fats and fibre. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds contain magnesium, vitamin E, and zinc. These seeds will make a nutritious addition to your trail mix or can be added as a topping in your soups and salads.
6. Whole Grains
Lentils and legumes like beans and chickpeas are rich in iron, magnesium, and protein. Whole grains like millets, qinoa, and oats also deliver much needed fibre. They are a particularly good choice for vegetarians who can not consume eggs or seafood.
7. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is a rich source of iron and magnesium and also a favourite comfort food that lifts mood. Make sure that you avoid highly sugary and processed chocolates. Opt for an organic brand with 80% or more chocolate content and very little or zero sugar.
Eggs are not only packed with protein, they also contain vitamins like B6, D, and E, which have all been shown to help to manage period pain. You can eat eggs in breakfast or as a post exercise meal for that protein boost and don't skip the yolk.
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and seafood like shrimp help to reduce menstrual cramps as they are loaded with Omega 3s, which have antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties. You could alternatively take a cod liver oil supplement.
Chamomile and raspberry have antiinflammatory properties that soothes the cramping sensation and it also soothes the stressed nervous system. Ginger tea may help to manage nausea and bloating along with giving anti- inflammatory boost. The menthol in Peppermint tea helps to relax muscles, and ease cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.
Smoothies are a convenient way of getting nutrients from leafy greens and fruits along with much needed hydration that helps with PMS. Pack your smoothie with leafy greens, seasonal fruits, and seeds, avoid using sugar or fruit juices. You can use fruits like watermelon or apple, which can help to curb sugar cravings naturally.
The curcumin in turmeric has powerful antiinflammatory properties. Fennel has been found to inhibit uterine contractions stimulated by prostaglandins. Cinnamon has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties along with being an excellent source of iron and manganese.
Although dairy is usually blamed for increased bloating and cramps, yogurt could be one exception. If you can not tolerate it, you can try kombucha to get the probiotic advantage for estrogen management and keeping period cramps at bay.
PS - Along with adding the above foods, it is a good idea to avoid highly processed foods, simple sugars, coffee, alcohol, spicy food,and red meat as they are inflammatory.
We have all found, mostly through trial and error, that some foods just don't agree with us or some foods boost our mood and well-being during 'that time' of the month.
It's not just common sense. Apparently, this has a basis in how hormones work in our body and how the foods we eat affect our hormones.
So in your experience, what foods help you manage menstrual cramps?
Share your recommendations in the comments and let us help each other manage our PMS naturally.