Written by Hanna Pumfrey

How to Eat Right to Avoid Monthly Menstrual Discomfort

Us ECOFEMINISTS are all so different, but there’s one thing that unites us: period cramps. Painful menstrual cramps and PMS symptoms are something many women consider part and parcel of their monthly cycle. Menstrual cramps are the most common gynecological condition among women of reproductive age. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Unbeknown to many women, small dietary adjustments can help to reduce PMS symptoms.


The cause

Studies have shown that women who experience higher levels of menstrual pain also have increased levels of inflammatory hormones. A recent study by the National Health Service in England found that menstrual pain is caused by acute inflammation, as measured by C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a protein produced by the liver, and its levels rise when there is inflammation present in the body. The study found that women with raised CRP levels had about a 26-41% increase in risk of the various PMS symptoms.


What causes the inflammation:

Inflammation can be caused by many things, but often it is your diet that is a key contributing factor. Here we highlight some of the key food triggers:

Excess sugar/processed foods: Excess sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats result in hormonal imbalance, inflammation, weight gain, and nutrient deficiencies that may contribute to PMS.

Nutrient deficiency: Magnesium, vitamin B6, calcium, folic acid, and essential fatty acids are essential for the prevention and treatment of PMS. Vitamin B6 and magnesium are especially helpful for PMS related breast pain, water retention, cravings, tension headaches, depression, and anxiety.

Toxicity: Yeast overgrowth and a lack of fibre or beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract compromise oestrogen breakdown and elimination. Poor liver function or limited bile flow will also cause oestrogen dominance because bile is high in oestrogen metabolites. All of which contribute to PMS.


Dietary changes you can make:

Eat More Oily Fish: Krill oil, found in fish, is rich in omega-3 fats, which promote production of the good kind of prostaglandins, which are anti-inflammatory. The healthiest types of fish to include in your diet are sardines, herring, mackerel, wild salmon, trout, and anchovies.

Try a Magnesium Supplement: Magnesium relaxes the nervous system and can greatly help to reduce the  mood disorders commonly associated with menstruation. It is quite difficult to get enough magnesium through diet alone, because the magnesium levels in the soil are very low. Also, factors such as stress, caffeine, and alcohol intake all promote magnesium loss from the body. Try taking one teaspoon of magnesium powder a day with a meal to increase your levels.

Get More Fibre into Your Diet: Alongside inflammation, hormone imbalance is a contributing factor to cramps. Cramps are caused by increased levels of oestrogen, relative to progesterone. Your liver breaks down the oestrogen that is no longer required and secretes it into the intestines. There it should be eliminated by bowel movements. Women with a sluggish bowel, however, struggle to excrete oestrogen, leading to a build-up of the hormone in their bodies.

So, it’s super important to make sure your bowels are working at optimum efficiency! This is done through increasing the levels of fibre in your diet. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flaxseeds, fruit, and vegetables are all wonderful sources of fibre.

These are some simple changes that proved effective for many women, but your body knows best. We’re all different, and, unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment against cramps. Trust your instincts and do what feels right for you.