We get it. Period pain is the worst. But if you’ve been self-medicating by popping Advil and eating a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s, you may want to consider some healthier alternatives for self-care. Margaret de Silva walks you through some tasty options.
If you've ever thought about bingeing on a pint of ice-cream to get over cramps, you’re not alone. Cramps affect a huge number of menstruating women. More than 80% suffer from menstrual pain, and about 50% seek medical treatment. What’s more, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, up to 20% suffer from menstrual cramping severe enough to interfere with daily activities.
And when we’re feeling tired or grumpy, we tend to reach for comfort foods. A study published in Annals of Endocrinology (a real page turner, we’re sure) found fluctuating hormone levels may contribute to women to eating 500 extra calories per day in the lead-up to their period.
Unfortunately, as delicious as that sugary treat might be, it's unlikely to help with your pain. Scientists are on the case, though. Below are some foods that research suggests may actually help.
Several studies have shown the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on reducing the severity of period pain. Although the studies involved fish oil supplements, you could also try upping your servings of fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring.
Walnuts, almonds, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds
These nuts and seeds are rich in manganese, which is thought to help ease cramps by reducing the hormone-like substances (prostaglandins) that trigger uterine muscle contractions. A Cochrane review suggests a dose of magnesium is more effective than placebo in reducing prostaglandins, but too much can also cause diarrhea, so go easy. Walnuts in particular are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
Flaxseed is another food item that is high in omega-3 and thought to reduce prostaglandins, and by extension, the severity of period pain. There hasn’t been much research specifically on the effects on period pain, but Dr. Lark, author of Menstrual Cramps: Self-Help Book suggest flaxseed inhibits the release of certain prostaglandins in the same way that fish does—by providing omega-3s.
If cramps aren’t helping your mood, reach for a banana. This nutrient-rich food is one of the best source of vitamin B6, which can boost your mood and may help reduce the severity of PMS symptoms, including cramps and bloating. Bananas are also rich in potassium and magnesium, which may reduce water retention and bloating.
Ginger has a long history in traditional medicine as a natural pain-fighter and anti-inflammatory, and more recently several studies have shown that it effective in treating pain. A 2009 study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine compared showed ginger was as effective as ibuprofen when it came to easing menstrual cramps.
Chamomile tea is thought to relieve muscle spasms and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. One large study showed that the tea was associated with a type of amino acid that can relieve muscle spasms. It's also soothing, which can reduce anxiousness and irritability that you may experience in the days leading up to your period.
Ok, you can’t really eat it. But essential oils containing lavender, along with sage and marjoram, have been shown to have a beneficial effect on period pain when used in massages on the lower abdomen.
If you really just want some chocolate, damn it, then go for it. Dark chocolate is a good choice, since it tends to be lower in sugar and also is a source of magnesium.
At the end of the day, self-care is important at any time of the month. So look after yourself—and don’t feel guilty if you do find yourself craving something sweet for a dopamine hit.