About 85% of women suffer from menstrual cramps and bloating during their monthly periods. Many of these women have no idea that it is possible to survive a monthly period without going through any pain because they have been experiencing it for years.
“Since menstrual pain is a leading cause of school absenteeism for adolescent girls, it’s important to explore options that can minimize the pain,” Dr Stephanie Faubion, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Women’s Health in Jacksonville, Florida, said in a statement.
A new study found that there are behavioural changes that girls and young women can make to reduce pain. “Diet modification could be a relatively simple solution that could provide substantial relief for them,” said Faubion, the medical director of The North American Menopausal Society.
The abstract, presented at the NAMS(The North American Menopausal Society) annual meeting, looked into the relationship between diet and dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful periods. Serah Sannoh, the lead author, told CNN that she became interested in the topic because of her menstrual pain, which she has had since adolescence.
“I discovered that diets high in inflammatory foods like animal meats, oil, sugars, salts, and coffee contribute to an increased risk of pain during a woman’s period,” said Sannoh, who carried out research as an intern at Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.
“Many of the foods that young people enjoy eating are highly inflammatory… Lunch meats, sugary and trans-fat-laden foods But if you eat an anti-inflammatory diet — like the Mediterranean diet — you’ll have less cramping,” said NAMS board member Dr Monica Christmas, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Chicago.
According to Christmas, scientific evidence shows that eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising are effective ways to reduce the duration and severity of cramps. However, she stressed the importance of women seeing a doctor: “Make sure that there isn’t some other medical condition that might also be contributing to the symptoms.”
Another 2018 study of Spanish college students discovered that women who drank cola and ate meat were more likely than women who ate more vegetables and fruits to experience pain during their cycle. In fact, according to a 2020 study, women who ate fewer than two servings of fruit per day were more likely to experience menstrual pain.
Sannoh discovered that an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids contributes to the problem. Anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, oysters, walnuts, chia, and flaxseeds. Several studies have linked them to a lower risk of many chronic diseases caused by inflammation.
In addition to their role in the reproductive system, omega-6 fatty acids keep skin, hair, and bones healthy and help regulate metabolism. Too many of these fatty acids, however, can cause inflammation when the body converts them to arachidonic acid, which lowers the body’s pain threshold.
“From my research, I discovered that people who consume a lot of omega-6 fatty acids, especially those derived from animal products, have a higher presence of arachidonic acid in their bodies, which increases the amount of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins that help the uterus contract,” Sannoh explained.
“Having a diet that balances omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as reducing the number of inflammatory foods that you eat, will reduce the painful menstrual experience,” she added.
Women who took omega-3 fatty acid supplements reduced the intensity of menstrual discomfort enough to reduce their use of ibuprofen for pain relief, according to two separate studies published in 2011 and 2012. In addition, a 1996 study discovered a highly significant link between omega-3 fatty acids and milder menstrual symptoms in adolescents.
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