Periods, the big bad P-word is the reason for many sleepless nights and midnight ice-cream cravings! When a girl hits puberty, she prepares her body and mind to undergo 5-6 days of literal hell on earth every month for the next 40 odd years of her life.
Menstruation is the cyclic expulsion of the inner cell lining of a woman’s uterus. It is a result of an intricate interplay of several hormones and environmental factors. A regular menstrual cycle is a sign of overall health, and any deviations can make women irritable, moody, and in general, stressed and unhappy. But, above anything else, it is the pain that comes with periods that bothers them most.
Writing on behalf of at least 50% of the world’s population, let’s make one thing clear – When a woman writhes in pain during her’ time’ of the month, it is not just in her head; it is a real problem. While most women experience menstrual pain, for around 15% of women, this pain is so crippling that it affects work and everyday chores.
While there are anti-spastic medications available in the market to tackle cramps, many women are not very comfortable using them. Some feel if they take medicines, their next cycle is irregular and even more painful. And others choose to adjust to the pain. Whatever be the reasons, no one deserves four days of mind-numbing pain and discomfort.
So, many women choose the natural way of beating cramps – eating right and exercising regularly. Read on to learn what causes these cramps and some effective and easy lifestyle hacks to beat period blues.
What causes these cramps?
Just before you get your periods, cells forming the inner layers of your uterus or endometrial cells break down. This large-scale breakdown triggers the cells to release a chemical called prostaglandins. These chemicals cause massive inflammation and cause cramps and other common symptoms like nausea, headache, loss of appetite, etc. Estrogen, a female reproductive hormone, also plays a role.
The role of inflammatory chemicals – Prostaglandins
Extensive research in the area shows that inflammatory prostaglandins are directly associated with the common problems of menstruating women. When these chemicals are released in the uterus, they cause the muscle lining to contract, causing cramps in the lower abdomen and legs. As for the other signs, when prostaglandins reach blood vessels, they contract the blood vessels resulting in localized problems like headache, nausea, diarrhoea, etc.
Women with high levels of prostaglandins get more severe cramps as compared to those who have higher levels.
The role of estrogen
Another way to understand what causes cramps is to look at the cellular manufacturing units that produce these chemicals – the endometrial cells of the uterus.
According to studies, if something can slow the growth and breakdown of these cells, they can effectively reduce period cramps. During the first 14 days of the menstrual cycle, high estrogen levels thicken the uterine wall, preparing the body for impending pregnancy.
So, anything that can regulate estrogen levels effectively slows cell growth and ultimately reduces the severity of period cramps.
Can food regulate estrogen and reduce inflammation?
The short answer, yes. Now that you understand the two main reasons why some women get severe period cramps, it is time you look at some natural, diet-based remedies to prevent cramps.
Foods like vegetables, fruits, seeds, whole grains, legumes, etc., all help reduce general inflammation. These are rich in antioxidants and help to keep your body in good shape and relieve the pain. Besides that, you can have 100% natural tonic for menstrual cramps. Made with chasteberry and wild yams, this tonic is ideal for women who have irregular menses and severe cramps.
While a plant-based diet is good for reducing cramps, excessive meat and animal fat are linked to high estrogen levels. As previously mentioned, high estrogen levels mean thick uterine walls, which make for crampy and painful periods when they break down.
Components of an excellent menstrual diet
All the basics are done. Now let’s list the different food items that should be a part of your menstrual diet.
Add lots of:
- Fresh fruits like oranges, berries, mangoes, chaste berries, etc. They not only reduce the severity of cramps but also improve skin and hair.
- High-fiber whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain wheat etc. They are rich in fiber and help to lower body estrogen levels.
- Leguminous plants like lentils, different types of beans (both fresh and dried), peas, etc. These are rich in simple proteins and help your body to fight period-related fatigue.
- Red and green vegetables like carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.
- Water. Water is the answer to a lot of problems in your body. Increase your daily intake of water during your menses.
- Probiotic supplements like yogurt. Probiotics help to counterbalance the effects of diarrhea which is very common during periods.
Stay away from:
- Animal-based protein like meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products. These food items can increase estrogen levels causing severe period cramps.
- Refined grains like cereals, refined wheat flour, baked items like pastries, white bread sandwiches, etc.
- Extra added vegetable oils in the form of margarine, dressings, mayonnaise, etc.
- Fatty items like fried food, processed cheese, chips, fries, etc.
If you follow the right menstrual diet, you will see results, for sure, but as a general rule of thumb, dietary changes alone are less effective than when combined with regular exercise. So, take out your yoga mat or that forgotten pair of running shoes and start working out. Period cramps will be a thing of the past, even before you realize it.
The pain, the fatigue, the discomfort, and the societal taboo – a woman has to fight and conquer not just period pain but much more. While getting past taboos may not be very easy, reducing period pain via diet and lifestyle changes is! Follow through the points above, and you’ll have one less concern to think about the next time you get your periods!
Here’s wishing you a lifetime of pain-free periods!