Period pain is experienced by between 70 and 90% of women, which is a statistic that is crazy to me. Crazy because period pain is not normal, yet oh so common.
This article is the third in a series I have been writing on period pain. You can jump back and read the first two Understanding Period Pain and Lifestyle Treatments for Period Pain if you missed them.
Today I am sharing with you the nutritional advice that I give clients when they come to me with period pain. Often those that I see have hormonal conditions such as Endometriosis, histamine intolerance or fibroids, that mean their period pain is severe. So if you are reading this and fall into this category know that those severe period cramps are not something you have to put up with. And for those of you who don’t have these conditions but experience moderate period pain you too can have a pain free period by implementing the following.
Anti Inflammatory Diet
If you read the Understanding Period Pain blog you will know that the pain we feel when we experience period pain is caused through inflammation. We are not going to stop the prostaglandins from appearing in our menstrual blood, neither do we want to, as they play their own role in our menstrual cycle. We do however want to ensure we are not creating an environment where these prostaglandins cause us pain.
One very simple way to do this is through an anti-inflammatory diet. This includes lots of
– Fresh vegetables + fruits – these contain all of our vitamins and minerals to allow our body to work at it’s best
– Good fats that you find in avocados, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds – this food category actively promotes anti-inflammatory mediators in the body (see my post here for more information regarding fats in your diet)
– A variety of sustainable locally raised, grain free proteins and fish to help build our immune system, our blood and oily fish is a great anti-inflammatory
– Grains, legumes and pulses
– Filtered water and herbal teas
This does also include reducing or eliminating foods and drinks that cause inflammation
– Sugar is not only a cause of inflammation it can block the production of our bodies natural anti-inflammatories. Our bodies also use vitamins A, C and E when digesting sugar, which are nutrients our immune system needs to help dampen down the inflammation.
– Soy has been linked to disruptions of our endocrine system, so if your period pain is caused as a result of an imbalance of hormones you may find eliminating soy helpful
– Caffeine + alcohol are both stimulants and inflammatory so they can increase pain. They can also impair our bodies ability to detoxify estrogen which may worsen the underlying cause of your period pain.
– Gluten is inflammatory throughout the digestive system. As our immune system is closely linked to what is happening in our gut, some people find relief when they remove this from their diets
These were mentioned as part of an overall anti-inflammatory diet however I wanted to highlight a couple of standouts. Now that is not to say these are the only nuts you should eat, we need a variety but ensuring you get these in most days will help your period pain.
Brazil nuts contain high amounts of selenium, you only need 3 a day to hit your requirement. Selenium helps the liver, is a powerful anti-oxidant and is needed for hormone health. Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 which are our anti-inflammatory health fats and Almonds are high in Vitamin E which has been shown to reduce menstrual cramps.
I think this is my favourite as you can literally use it in place of anti-inflammatories. And those anti-inflammatories when taken too regularly cause so much havoc to our digestive system.
Consuming 500mg of ginger root powder three times a day in the two days leading into your period and for first three days of your period significantly reduces the intensity and duration of pain felt. If my endo clients can get relief with this, those of you who have standard period pain will find this wonderful. You can mix the powder into drinks, put it in your food or take it in capsule form. Make sure if you are taking it as a capsule there is nothing else added to it.
This is the one mineral I think the whole of the western world would benefit from supplementing. But it is extremely important in helping the cramps that cause our period pain. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, so it not only helps our muscles ease when they begin to cramp causing our period pain, it also helps us sleep – which was one of my lifestyle treatments to help period pain.
In the two weeks leading into your period I highly suggest upping the Magnesium rich foods, these include cacao – yep you can have chocolate knowing your are doing your body some good. Make sure you choose chocolate with high cacao content 80% or above otherwise you’re just increasing the sugar… green leafy veggies, figs, avocado, nuts (brazils and almonds), seeds (hemp + pumpkin), fresh tuna and quinoa are some great places to start.
I would also recommend supplementing. This is something I personally do. Now not all magnesium is created equal and there are numerous forms. If you are looking for a magnesium to help specifically with period cramps I would suggest Magnesium Glycinate or Glycine as it is known for it’s calming effects. Whilst supplementing with magnesium is relatively harmless – you may get a dose of diarhheroa if you over do it – I would recommend seeing a practitioner to work out a dose that is right for you and your symptoms. I know I will often combine magnesiums as there is usually more than one symptom we are addressing… Also see Magnesium Baths under the lifestyle treatments.
Whilst turmeric hasn’t been studied directly in relation to period pain (which totally surprised me), we do know the curcumin, the active constituent of turmeric is a major anti-inflammatory agent. It works to down regulate inflammatory mediators such as IL-6 and IL-8 which increase prostaglandin release. This is something I add regularly to my foods and encourage my clients to, in the two weeks leading into their period. Curcumin isn’t readily absorbed by the body so ensuring that when you have your turmeric you are adding in a source of healthy fats and some pepper, you will know that your body will be able to use the goodness.
When I am working with the hormones I like to give the body up to three months for changes to really been seen. However with these nutritional treatments my clients have seen a reduction in their period pain from the very next period! Remember period pain whilst common is not normal – you can have a pain free period. Add to this the lifestyle treatments and you will take back control over your cycle.
If you would like help with any hormonal or digestive symptoms or conditions please book a 20 minute chat with me. We can discuss what is happening for you and I can offer some advice.