Add these to your shopping list right under your Naprogesic.
Fact: period pain is the most common complaint women have when it comes to talking about their cycle with their GP. But what if you could eat away some of those griping, cramping, brain-fogging symptoms to make getting through, well, less of a pain?
Susan Johns, Clinical Dietitian and director of Lunette New Zealand, advises that a few simple nutrition tweaks can make a difference when it comes to period pain.
“Period pain can definitely cramp your lifestyle, but poor eating habits and lifestyle stress amplify symptoms, making your menstrual cycle something to dread every month,” Johns says.
An increase in prostaglandins, a natural hormone, causes uterine contractions that help shed the lining during menstruation. This is perfectly normal and needs to occur to start the flow of what will become menstrual debris.
The Thinkergirls ask: How much does your vagina cost you?
But the downside is that this hormone, coupled with other factors such as muscle tone, inflammation and chemical interference from a poor diet, can alter symptoms so that they range from mild discomfort, to ‘cannot-get-out-of-the-foetal-position’ pain in the abdomen, lower back and upper legs.
Here are John’s top 6 simple food hacks to help turn down the volume on period pain:
With the uterus busy contracting and cramping and generally ruining your day, the muscle lining can get fatigued and develop lactic acid build up, just like a calf muscle after a night of dancing in heels. Magnesium is key here to give relief to cramping pains.
Best foods: nuts, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate (hooray!), spinach and fish.
Have an avo
Hormones need fatty acids for their building blocks. This means that good fats make good hormones, bad fat makes bad hormones. Keeping your saturated fats low and unsaturated fats at a healthy consumption, especially in the week leading up to your period, can help keep hormones on an even keel from one period to the next.
Best foods: avocado, coconut and olive oil, whole eggs and salmon. Salmon also contains vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and iron which also contribute to alleviating menstrual pain.
B vitamin deficiency, especially B6, is known to play a role in increasing PMS symptoms such as irritability, forgetfulness, insomnia, anxiety and moodiness. Add period pain on top of this and your day just got a whole lot worse.
Best foods: chickpeas, chicken, tuna, banana and fortified breakfast cereals.
In one study, women took either 500 IU of vitamin E or placebo for 5 days (2 days before and 3 days after their periods started). Those who took vitamin E reported less pain than those who took placebo. It’s not known how vitamin E works to improve PMS but fill up on food rich in this vitamin. Sweet potato fries, anyone?!
Best Foods: kumera (sweet potato), spinach and almonds.
Like vitamin E, it’s known that increased calcium intake improves period cramping symptoms but the mechanism isn’t clear. It is known, however, that calcium definitely improves muscle tone, and who doesn’t want toned muscles.
Best foods: milk, kale, yoghurt, broccoli and sardines (with bones).
Increasing zinc-rich foods a few days before you are due has a good effect on cramps, bloating and inflammation. Remember that zinc needs vitamin B6 to be absorbed, so be sure that the food you eat contains enough vitamin B6.
Best foods: peas, asparagus, spinach, red meat and seafood.
“Whilst these simple changes can improve symptoms of period pain, they will certainly not alleviate them completely, especially if you suffer from fibroids or endometriosis. Period pain is a multi-faceted issue and must be treated as such,” adds Johns.
She suggests coupling a few food tweaks with gentle exercise, yoga, stretching, good sleeping habits and also taking a look at what sanitary items you are using.
“The tissue inside the vagina and outer labia are very absorbent, similar to the lining of the mouth. You wouldn’t sit a bleached chemical-soaked pad in your mouth for a week, so why do it to your lady bits?” She is a big fan of sustainable sanitary options, such as all-cotton disposable pads and tampons, cloth pads and period underpants, and menstrual cups such as Lunette.
“Over-the counter pain medication can help with period cramping symptoms but excessive use can lead to potential nasty side-effects,” warns Johns. “Try these tummy tamers for a few cycles to see what difference they can make, and definitely talk to your doctor if your period pain is interfering with your normal lifestyle.”
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