You usually have a general idea of when your period is coming. You may have been tracking it with an app to get to know your monthly cycle better and you know what to expect: bloating, cravings, and menstrual cramps. The pain can range from being mildly uncomfortable to downright debilitating. One way to soothe the ache: foods that help with period cramps.
Why do some women get period cramps while others don’t? It all comes down to a type of chemical in your body called prostaglandins. This hormone-like substance can trigger the uterine muscles to contract during your period, according to the Mayo Clinic. Higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more severe cramps.
That said, multiple factors can affect how much pain your period causes, “including how heavily a woman bleeds, how tight her cervix is, how inflamed her system is, and her perception of pain,” says Wendie Trubow, MD, an ob-gyn.
The good news is that certain foods can help ease cramps. Okay, they won’t make the discomfort go away directly, but they may have an impact on the body processes and hormones that lead to period cramps.
Some pro tips on a relatively pain-free period: Avoid processed foods, get enough sleep, manage stress, and take supplements such as methylated B vitamins, which support hormonal balance, says Dr Trubow. To get the most out of these practices, do them over the entire course of the month, not just during your period.
If you get really bad cramps, you may want to put down that bag of chips or pint of ice cream even when the cravings hit. Here are 12 foods that’ll help you feel better throughout your cycle.
Avocados contain omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium, both of which may help reduce period cramps, says Alli Magier, the founder of Well by Alli. “Omega-3 fatty acids lower inflammation and help prevent excess prostaglandin production,” she explains. Magnesium, known as “nature’s relaxant,” can also help ease smooth muscle and lower the production of prostaglandins.
2) Chamomile Tea
Chamomile tea contains anti-inflammatory compounds and can help reduce pain by inhibiting certain enzymes known to cause pain, says Magier.
Note that chamomile tea works best when you have it before the pain starts (so a few days before your period), according to a 2019 article published in the Journal of Pharmacopuncture.
3) Cruciferous Vegetables
Estrogen dominance and poor estrogen detoxification can contribute to endometriosis and dysmenorrhea (a.k.a. painful period cramps), says Morgan Goodstadt, the founder of Good Nutrition. “Broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain antioxidants and nutrients that help the liver detoxify excess estrogen. They are also high-fibre foods, which support estrogen clearance and elimination through the bowels,” she adds.
Staying regular, which these veggies could help with, is super important for moving excess estrogen out of the body and supporting your gut too.
4) Fermented Foods
Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, kombucha, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, and yoghurt contain probiotics that help keep your gut healthy, says Magier, which is important for estrogen balance and period pain. The good bacteria from fermented foods can balance your gut microbiome and regulate estrogen metabolism and elimination.
In addition, low calcium intake can increase muscle contractions and cramping, so add fermented dairy to your diet for max relief.
Prostaglandins are primarily made from omega-6 fatty acids, which are naturally inflammatory, says Goodstadt. “For optimal health, we want to consume a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids,” she says. One way to do that? Consuming lots of omega-3-rich foods like salmon and sardines. (Yum!)
Flaxseeds are one of Goodstadt’s all-time favourite foods for hormone health in general. “Not only are they a great source of fibre and healthy omega-3 fats, but they also contain compounds called lignans, which can bind to and detoxify excess estrogen,” she says.
Ginger can lower the intensity of period cramps and pain, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology Science found. It has potent anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps soothe the stomach and reduce nausea, another common PMS symptom. Enjoy it as a spice in a dish or add slices to a steaming mug of tea!
8) Leafy Green Vegetables
Spinach and Swiss chard are full of anti-inflammatory compounds, fibre, manganese, and vitamin E, per Magier. “Adequate fibre intake is important for reducing PMS symptoms because it helps keep the gut microbiome healthy and supports normal estrogen metabolism,” she says. Vitamin E can tone down prostaglandin production, and low manganese levels are associated with more severe pain during menstruation.
9) Almonds, Cashews, And Walnuts
Nuts are a healthy source of minerals and unsaturated fats, explains Magier. In particular, walnuts are great sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower prostaglandin production and combat period cramps. Almonds and cashews pack a ton of magnesium, which is associated with less period pain.
10) Peppermint Tea
Peppermint contains the active ingredient menthol, which has been shown to relieve pain. It can reduce the duration and severity of pain associated with periods, a 2016 study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research showed.
11) Pumpkin Seeds
“Pumpkin seeds are one of my favourite high-magnesium foods, making them excellent for reducing period cramps,” says Goodstadt.
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is also a hormone modulator and pain reliever. It has been found to address some of the root causes of period pain, including estrogen dominance and endometriosis, per a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine. More