Period cramps are a common and uncomfortable part of being a woman. In fact, 80% of women will experience period cramps at some stage in their life, with 5-10% of women suffering from pain that is so severe that it can disrupt daily life (1). While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing period cramps, what foods help with period cramps can be a great starting point. In this guide, we’ll discuss the different types of foods which can help reduce period cramps, as well as foods you may want to avoid.
What causes period cramps?
Period cramps occur as a result of hormones called prostaglandins that cause the uterus to contract in order to shed its lining during menstruation. This contraction can cause pain and discomfort, ranging from mild to severe. Some people experience more severe cramps than others, and the severity of period cramps can vary from one menstrual cycle to another.
It is important to note that menstrual pain can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease. If you experience severe or unusual menstrual pain, it is important to speak to a healthcare provider to rule out any potential underlying health issues.
Foods that help with period cramps
Did you know that certain foods can help to alleviate the discomfort of menstrual cramps? Here are some of the top foods that you should consider incorporating into your diet to help with period cramps.
Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce pain and inflammation, making it an excellent food for easing menstrual cramps. A study carried out on 120 students with moderate to severe period cramps showed that ginger can help reduce the severity and duration of menstrual pain (2). Try adding ginger to your meals or drink ginger tea to reap the benefits.
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation and could help ease menstrual pain. A 2011 study revealed that fish oil was better at relieving menstrual cramps than ibuprofen (3). Aim to eat two portions of salmon weekly during your period to get the optimal dose of omega-3, or try taking an omega-3 supplement.
Dark chocolate is not only delicious, but it also contains magnesium, which can help to reduce cramps and mood swings during menstruation. Magnesium has been shown to help relax the uterus lining and reduce the prostaglandins that lead to period pains (4). However, make sure to opt for chocolate with at least 70% cocoa to get the most benefits.
Leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collard greens are high in calcium and magnesium. Low calcium levels can cause an increase in uterine muscle contractions, making period cramps harder to manage (5). You can add leafy greens to your day by adding some spinach to your smoothie or using kale as a base for a nutrient-dense salad.
Bananas are high in potassium and Vitamin B6, both of which can help to reduce bloating and water retention during menstruation. Additionally, not consuming enough potassium can cause muscle cramping, which can worsen menstrual cramps. Evidence shows that treating menstrual cramps with potassium-based treatments can help reduce pain (6). Bananas are a convenient on-the-go snack that are great to have around during that time of the month.
Overall, incorporating these foods into your diet can help to reduce menstrual pain and discomfort. However, keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, so it may take some experimentation to figure out what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try different foods and listen to your body to see what helps to ease your menstrual cramps.
Foods that can make period cramps worse
While some foods can help alleviate period cramps, others can worsen them. Foods high in sugar as well as caffeinated drinks and alcohol can exacerbate period cramps by causing an increase in inflammation. Try to limit these foods and drinks during your period to help make your cramps easier to manage.
Dealing with monthly period cramps can often seem like an ongoing struggle, but by making thoughtful adjustments to your diet, you may find your time of month going by a little easier. You might just decide to replace your pizza with salmon and a side of leafy greens or swap your high-sugar milk chocolate for good-quality dark chocolate. It could even be sipping on some warm ginger tea in bed. Small changes can make a big difference when it comes to relieving period cramps.