Women will experience period pains to varying degrees throughout their life and cycles.
Some conditions such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and uterine fibroids can cause severe period cramps, so it’s super important to get checked by your doctor if pain from your period is interfering with every day activities.
However, some light cramping is normal around your period. But still, let’s be honest, if we could choose not to get them we would.
What Causes Period Pains?
Period cramps are caused by substances known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins play a key role in regulating inflammation. They are also involved in muscle contractions, blood vessel constriction, blood clotting and pain.
Shortly before a period begins, the endometrial cells that form the lining of the uterus make large amounts of prostaglandins which can promote inflammation and pain. When these cells break down during menstruation, the prostaglandins are released. This can cause the blood vessels in the uterus to constrict and the muscles in the uterus to contract, causing painful cramps. Some of the prostaglandins can also enter the bloodstream, causing headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
On the first day of your period, prostaglandin levels are high which is why cramps can be at their worst around this time. As menstruation continues and the lining of the uterus is shed, prostaglandin levels decrease. Pain usually decreases as the levels of prostaglandins decrease.
What can you do to alleviate them?
Eat Your Greens
Cruciferous greens include broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts and cabbage. These particular greens contain a compound known as Diindolylmethane or DIM. DIM is a metabolite of the phytonutrient indole-3-carbinol. DIM helps to maintain healthy oestrogen levels in the body. It assists with the clearance of excess oestrogen from the body by converting oestrogen into more favourable metabolites for excretion.
Fill Your Diet With Fibre
A high fibre diet is really important for supporting hormonal health as it aids with the excretion of excess oestrogen. Oestrogen is removed from the bloodstream by the liver, which sends it through the bile duct and into the intestinal tract. Fibre then acts like a sponge and removes the oestrogen from the body. This is sometimes known as the oestrogen disposal system works. Including foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, wholegrains, oats and nuts is a great way of upping your fibre intake.
Prostaglandins can promote inflammation which in turn result in pain. Including mono- and polyunsaturated fat sources can have anti-inflammatory effects. Include foods such as extra virgin olive oil, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout, rapeseed oil, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.
Limit Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for enzymes in the body. High intakes of omega-6 fats coupled with low intakes of omega-3 fats can lead to an imbalance of fatty acids within the body, promoting inflammation. This imbalance has also been reported to be associated with increased period pain. Limiting consumption of omega-6 fats along with increasing intake of omega-3 fats is recommended.
Raspberry Leaf Tea
Raspberry tea has been used for many years to relieve period cramps. This is because it contains a substance known as fragarine, which is known to help tone and tighten muscles in the pelvic region. This can thereby help with the cramps caused by spasms of these pelvic muscles.
Ginger has also been shown to be effective in reducing menstrual cramps. A 2009 double-blind study by Ozgoli et al. compared the effectiveness of ginger versus ibuprofen. Researchers found that supplementation of 250mg of ginger powder four times a day for three days from the start of participant’s period was as successful at reducing menstrual cramps as the treatment of 400mg of ibuprofen.
You can also opt to include ginger in your cooking in dishes such as stir fries and curries.
Magnesium supplementation with magnesium biglysinate or citrate may also help ease menstrual cramps. Magnesium is known to help with cramping and to act as a muscle relaxant. Magnesium is one mineral which can be depleted by the contraceptive pill, so supplementation may be a particulate good idea for women using it. Magnesium rich foods include leafy greens, black beans, chickpeas, bananas and almonds.
Limit High Sodium Foods
Bloating and water retention can be worsened by extra sodium aka salt in the diet. Limiting high sodium processed foods can be a good idea in the run up to your period. Eating plenty of fruits and veggies will also help as they contain potassium which is also helpful for maintaining a regular water balance in your body.