Severe period pain, or dysmenorrhea, that causes you to cancel work, lie in bed all day, or prevents you from doing your normal daily goddess activities is NOT normal.
I reflect back to the days I was in college when I used to experience these pains.
My diet was made up of typical dorm food: lots of pizza, sub sandwiches, bagels for breakfast, bags of chips with trans-fat, lots and lots of sugary cookies, too much beer and not enough water.
My cramps had me leaving class early so I could lie in bed for hours with a heating pad after I took aspirin.
When I started taking the birth control pill, along with cleaning up my diet, my severe cramps went away. Often, doctors will prescribe the pill to treat hormonal imbalance symptoms, yet the birth control pill doesn’t teach your body how to balance its own hormones.
The birth control pill suppresses ovulation, which makes it so your body never releases an egg each month. This causes no need for your body to make the hormone, progesterone, which is produced after ovulation to sustain the uterine lining. A deficiency in progesterone hormone can be caused overtime, resulting in estrogen dominance.
That is what happened to me. Low progesterone levels caused me to have an estrogen dominance, with heavy, two week long periods after I stopped taking the pill.
With the help of diet and lifestyle, my system came back into balance and now I experience 3-5 days of my menstrual cycle each month, and the best part is NO MORE PAIN!
I will feel a slight swelling in my lower legs, lower back and lower abdomen as my uterus contracts to release the uterine lining. This is normal. What is not normal is cramping that halts you in your steps and causes you to have to sit down or worse, spend the day in bed.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And nutrition is a big factor in this.
Reducing sugar and food sensitivities that cause inflammation such as gluten in wheat products, harmful oils like trans-fat, and foods high in inflammatory omega 6’s without enough omega-3 consumption, as well as too many animal products can help reduce pain.
This knowledge is now readably available the more our western society jumps on the health trends.
But what foods can we eat that will reduce pain and aid in natural hormone balance?
Below, I share my top 5 foods for decreasing menstrual pain.
It was hard to choose, as there is an abundance of delicious foods and balancing herbs I share when I help clients in my 1:1 sessions to support their specific dietary needs and lifestyles…. but alas, here are a few of my highest recommended options:
Part of the reason there could be intense cramping as well as PMS is due to the imbalanced ratio of estrogen to progesterone. This is called estrogen dominance (a culprit of leading to endometriosis, fibroids, and cysts), and it can come from stress, improper elimination detox pathways such as the liver or colon not functioning at its best, as well as xenoestrogens which come from plastics from food storage and beauty products that can store in fat cells for a decade.
Too much estrogen will fill the cell receptor sites, making it challenging for progesterone to be properly absorbed and utilized. A diet high in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale, collards, and cauliflower helps support the liver in its functions of breaking down excess estrogen.
I chose broccoli specifically, because it is also high in chromium, which is a mineral needed for managing blood sugar to prevent cravings for sweets that can escalate before menstruation comes.
In addition, broccoli is abundant in vitamin C which is shown to boost progesterone levels as it is an antioxidant that protects the health of corpus luteum, the collapsed follicle on the ovarian wall that produces progesterone during the luteal phase- the second half of the menstrual cycle.
2. Fermented Cod-Liver oil or Flaxseed Oil: are high in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Not only are omega-3’s anti-inflammatory, but EPA directly helps the cells form beneficial “series-3” prostaglandins, fatty acid compounds that help the uterus contract during menstruation to release the lining. These beneficial prostaglandins help block the making of the inflammatory prostaglandins that lead to intense cramping, lower back pain, and tense leg muscles.
The omega-3’s in fish oil are delicate and fermented cod liver oil uses less heat to extract the oils which helps with preservation. Fermented Cod Liver Oil contains about 25% EPA and DHA. About 2 teaspoons daily were given during a study to high school girls in Cincinnati, Ohio and the use of ibuprofen was significantly decreased during menstruation.
In addition, anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric and ginger are beneficial for reducing inflammation caused by prostaglandins.
3. Almonds: are high in Vitamin E, as well as avocado and peanuts.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that has role in protecting the delicate fatty acids EPA and DHA, omega 3 fatty acids, that help to decrease inflammatory prostaglandins.
Vitamin E is also shown to help ease heavy menstrual flows.
4. Leafy Greens and/or Dark Chocolate: What do dark leafy salad greens and chocolate have in common? Magnesium!
Magnesium acts as a natural muscle relaxant, which can help reduce painful cramping. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is often deficient in magnesium levels.
“High consumption of dairy products, with their unbalanced calcium to magnesium ratio of 10:1, inhibit the absorption of magnesium” (Shannon, 70). Also, excess sugar in the diet is a culprit that overtime can decrease magnesium levels. It is important to have a proper ratio of magnesium to calcium in the diet. New data is coming out that shows that a 2:1 ratio of magnesium to calcium is optimal.
Plenty of green vegetables: leafy greens and broccoli, can boost magnesium levels as they contain both magnesium and calcium.
Dark Chocolate is rich in magnesium, especially from the raw chocolate form cacao, which is abundant in many other beneficial minerals… this explains why you might crave chocolate before your menses comes!
There is a correlation of low progesterone levels and high prolactin levels. Vitamin B6 helps regulate prolactin levels by increasing the making of dopamine and dopamine helps decrease prolactin levels.
High levels of the hormone prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, are often common with women who have PMS.
So, the higher dopamine, helped made by B6, can help boost progesterone levels.
Plus, dopamine is the reward system neurotransmitter that makes us feel pleasure. Often times, addictive behaviors are created for that reward-pleasure-dopamine fix. This can lead to emotional eating and food cravings.
Eating more pistachios and other foods high in B6 like sunflower seeds, turkey, chickpeas, pinto beans, and avocado will help naturally increase dopamine.
Now that’s something to feel good about!
It is important not to take Vitamin B6 isolated, as it works synergistically with the other B-vitamins, so if you are thinking about taking a supplement, go for a B-complex, preferably a brand that has B12 and B9 (folate) in the methylated form.
For more information on foods, including herbs and Chinese Medicine for reducing PMS, food cravings, bloating, irritability, exhaustion, check out my online eCourse: Goddess in Rhythm, where we flow through one whole month of the menstrual cycle and share nutrition for each of the hormonal shifts that occur.
Shannon, Marylin, M. Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition: Self Care for Improved Cycles and Fertility… Naturally! Cincinatti, OH: The Couple to Couple League International, Inc. 1990.
Harel, Z., Biro, F., Kottenhahn, R, et al. “Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of dysmenorrhea in adolescents” (Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 1996, 174:1335-1338).