About 85% of girls suffer painful bloating, cramps and abdominal pain during their monthly periods — and for some the problems can last for years.
Since menstrual pain is a leading cause of school and work absenteeism for adolescent girls/ women, it’s important to explore options that can minimize the pain. Researches made in New Jersey-USA, explored the connection between diet and dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful periods. There, diets high in inflammatory foods such as animal meats, oil, sugars, salts, and coffee contribute to an increased risk of pain during a woman’s period. It was found that a lot of the things that young people like to eat are are highly inflammatory (lunch meats, foods full of sugars and trans fats). When women and girls changed to an anti-inflammatory diet (fruit, vegetables, olive oil, like the Mediterranean diet) they got less cramping and pain.
The scientific evidence has shown eating a healthy diet, getting good sleep and exercising are effective measures in curtailing the duration and severity of cramps. It is always important women to see a health care provider in order to make sure that there’s not some other medical condition that might also be contributing to the symptoms.
What causes the pain?
As the female body prepares to menstruate, endometrial cells that built a lining in the uterus to welcome a fertilized egg begin to break down. As they do, those cells release large amounts of fatty acids called prostaglandins to make the uterine layer contract and expel the unused tissue. The body also releases prostaglandins naturally during labor to open the cervix for birth.
Prostaglandins act like hormones, causing blood vessels and smooth muscles to constrict, resulting in cramping and pain. Researchers have found prostaglandin levels are higher and uterine contractions are stronger and more frequent in women with menstrual pain than women who have little or no pain.
Eating inflammatory foods only adds to the discomfort. Highly processed and high-sugar foods and fatty, greasy foods are common culprits. In fact, a 2018 study found college students who ate more snacks had more pain during their periods.
Another study of Spanish college students found women who drank cola and ate meat were more likely to suffer pain during their cycle than women who ate more vegetables and fruits. In fact, women who ate fewer than two servings of fruit a day were more likely to suffer pain during their menstrual cycle.
Part of the problem is an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, oysters, walnuts, chia and flaxseeds) are anti-inflammatory. Studies have linked them to a reduction in risk of many chronic diseases triggered by inflammation.
Omega-6 fatty acids keep skin, hair and bones healthy and help regulate metabolism, in addition to their role in the reproductive system. But too many of these fatty acids can cause inflammation when the body ultimately breaks them down into arachidonic acid, which lowers the body’s pain threshold. In fact, people with diets high in omega-6 fatty acids, especifically those derived from animal-based products, have a higher presence of arachidonic acid in the body, which increases the amount of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins that help the uterus contract.
A diet that balances omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, decreases the amount of inflammatory foods that you ingest and decrease the painful menstrual experience.
Two separate studies from 2011 and 2012 revealed women who took omega-3 fatty acid supplements reduced the intensity of menstrual discomfort enough to lower their use of ibuprofen for pain relief. And a 1996 study found a highly significant relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and milder menstrual symptoms in teens.
Changing your diet is not the only way to fight menstrual pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, reduce the production of prostaglandins, which is why they are a mainstay of treatment for cramps.
However, these pain medications also have side effects and are linked to bloating, diarrhea, dizziness, indigestion, headaches, heartburn, high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting and on rare occasions, raised liver enzymes.
Certain oral birth control pills also lower the production of prostaglandins in the uterine lining, which then reduces both blood flow and cramping.
But if you are not interested in using these methods — or want extra relief — give an anti-inflammatory diet a try.
Try to decrease the consumption of red meat, sugar and coffee.
There’s an added benefit to adopting an anti-inflammatory lifestyle as it's associated with less high blood pressure, less cardiovascular disease, less diabetes, less arthritic issues, decreased morbidity and mortality, especially after menopause.
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