Ahhh yes, the dreaded monthlies. They vary tremendously from woman to woman, however, are commonly despised due to all the mental and physical symptoms that occur. Cramps, nausea, anxiety, fatigue, diarrhea, the list goes on!
When navigating this time, it’s pleasing to know that there are some simple swaps you can make from both a nutritional and lifestyle perspective to decrease period discomfort. Poor diet and lifestyle choices influence the hormonal changes that occur over a monthly cycle in women. These recommended swaps are healthier alternatives to some of the common things we may lean into during our bleed because there are just certain factors that our hormones can jive with!
If anyone was looking for one supplement to support their flow, magnesium would be it. There is a plethora of evidence supporting the benefits of magnesium for PMS, menstrual migraines and dysmenorrhea. Magnesium has a naturally relaxing effect on the nervous system and can support those that suffer from cramping due to its control on neuromuscular stimulation. It is often that women reach for medications like ibuprofen to manage pelvic pain however it may be decreased magnesium levels that is driving their pain. Try a bioavailable magnesium, such as bisglycinate, to reap the most benefit.
We love it, we hate it. Caffeine has a strong association with increasing symptoms of dysmenorrhea, especially in those who have a few too many cups of coffee per day. Caffeine is a stimulant and causes blood vessels to constrict, which has implications on pelvic pain and menstrual headaches. Restricting caffeine intake is one of the most frequently used lifestyle changes for managing pain amongst women with dysmenorrhea. Swap to decaf, a warming hot cacao or try herbal teas one week leading up to and during your period.
Balance Your Blood Sugar
Okay, this one cannot be stressed enough. Balancing blood sugar is not just important for diabetic patients, it is important for everybody! When blood sugar isn’t consistently balanced throughout the day this causes unnecessary stress on our body. Why is this important for menstruation? Studies have shown that women who suffer from PMS and dysmenorrhea are likely to crave refined carbohydrates due to low blood glucose levels. Eating a balanced breakfast, and of course before coffee, is a major factor for decreasing menstrual pain.
Reduce Refined Sugar
Diets higher in dietary fibre with an abundance of fruits and vegetables and a balanced intake of dietary fats decreases dysmenorrhea. Eating a diet high in dietary fibre, vegetables in particular, is also naturally anti-inflammatory. Fibre also pays a key role in the reduction of oestrogen dominance, which is a major hormonal component driving PMS and dysmenorrhea. Adding in more fibre and healthy fats also reduces the cravings for refined sugars and carbohydrates due to the high satiety of these foods, so hello to balanced blood sugar too! Introducing cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, and aiming for at least 30g fibre per day is a fabulous place to start.
Remember that time you went for a run on your period, didn’t really feel like it and felt like death afterwards? This is your permission to listen to your body. Our menstrual phase is when oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest, so it’s no wonder that we feel like turning inward. Hormones also have an effect on exercise performance due to the hormonal fluctuations that range across the menstrual cycle, where during peak oestrogen phases, follicular and ovulatory, oestrogen has muscle building, fat utilising and energy storing effects. Therefore, during your bleed is not the time to hit PB’s. Yoga, Pilates and gentle walking are all fabulous alternatives.
Fathizadeh, N., Ebrahimi, E., Valiani, M., Tavakoli, N., & Yar, M. H. (2010). Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 15 (Suppl 1), 401–405. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3208934/
Shin, H. J., Na, H. S., & Do, S. H. (2020). Magnesium and Pain. Nutrients, 12(8), 2184. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082184
Duman, N. B., Yıldırım, F., & Vural, G. (2022). Risk factors for primary dysmenorrhea and the effect of complementary and alternative treatment methods: Sample from Corum, Turkey. International journal of health sciences, 16(3), 35–43. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35599944/
Monday, I., Anthony, P., Olunu, E., Otohinoyi, D., Abiodun, S., Owolabi, A., Mobolaji, B., & Fakoya, A. (2019). Prevalence and Correlation between Diet and Dysmenorrhea among High School and College Students in Saint Vincent and Grenadines. Open access Macedonian journal of medical sciences, 7(6), 920–924. https://doi.org/10.3889/oamjms.2019.205
Zarei, S., Mosalanejad, L., & Ghobadifar, M. A. (2013). Blood glucose levels, insulin concentrations, and insulin resistance in healthy women and women with premenstrual syndrome: a comparative study. Clinical and experimental reproductive medicine, 40(2), 76–82. https://doi.org/10.5653/cerm.2013.40.2.76
McNulty, K. L., Elliott-Sale, K. J., Dolan, E., Swinton, P. A., Ansdell, P., Goodall, S., Thomas, K., & Hicks, K. M. (2020). The Effects of Menstrual Cycle Phase on Exercise Performance in Eumenorrheic Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 50(10), 1813–1827. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01319-3