Millions of women around the world experience painful menstruation all year round with no hope of finding relief . One of the best ways to prevent or treat painful menstruation is by adopting a “whole food plant-based lifestyle”. A plant-based lifestyle encourages the consumption of unrefined plant foods (such as fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds) and discourages meats, dairy products, eggs and processed foods
Removing animal products, junk, fatty foods and refined grains from your diet, can offer many health benefits which includes reduced menstrual cramps, increased energy and weight loss. When one’s diet consists mainly of meat or dairy products, junk or fatty foods, refined grains and packed foods, daily fibre needs can not be met. Lack of fibre in animal products contributes to severe menstrual pain. A study showed higher intakes of red and processed meat, may lead to endometriosis (a painful condition in which the uterine cells extend to other organs in the body). Women who eat more red meat have an increased risk of developing endometriosis by 56 percent. There’s a connection between the food you eat and your body’s estrongen levels.
Replacing non-fibre, junk and fatty foods, meat or dairy products with low-fat, high-fibre, whole plant-based foods like grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits decreases estrongen levels. This decrease is due to the high number of antioxidants and plant chemicals found in plant foods that help the body function properly. Eating high amounts of fibre is significantly related to having less menstrual pain. The more estrongen based foods (animal and diary products) a woman consumes, the more likely her uterine lining becomes abnormally thick and when it begins to break down during menstrual cycle, this process creates more prostaglandins in the body that’s responsible for muscle contractions and resulting in higher levels of pain. A lower hormone level will have less effects on the uterine cell.
Whole grains are simply grains that have all three parts intact unprocessed (the bran, germ and endosperm). They’re typically high in iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, B vitamins. Whole grains are rich sources of dietary fibre and can help curb hunger during menstruation. A lady gets more tired than normal during her period, and that’s why it’s important to go for whole grains which have plenty of fiber and protein to keep you full and provide long-lasting energy through out the day. Fiber maintains regularity of bowel movements, thus, making you feel less bloated. Dr Susan Lark’s, author of “menstrual cramps self help book” adds that whole grains are excellent sources of magnesium which reduces neuromuscular tension. Magnesium is also found to reduce symptoms of headaches and cramps. Whole grains also contain B-complex vitamins and vitamin E which helps to fight depression and fatigue. Sorghum Aka (Guinea corn), spelt, wheat, rice, millet, corn, oats, bulgur, qunioa, farro, barley, wildrice, amaranth, fonio and buckwheat are all good choices of whole grains.
Fruits are life savers and are super delicious. They are packed with several essential minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, that are great for our overall well-being. They’re great for hair, skin, gut and our immune system.
A report, found that young women who consumed low amounts of manganese had an increased menstrual flow of up to 50 percent. The report suggests that women with menstrual pains, should increase their manganese consumption. Pineapple, is one of the richest sources of manganese, it contains high levels of bromelain, an enzyme that helps relax muscles, thus prevents menstrual pains. The combination of calcium, magnesium and potassium have shown to relief the body of aches and pains during menstruation. They help soothe the muscles. The abundance of Vitamin C in strawberries, blueberries and raspberries may also help slow down wear and tear in the joints.
Potassium rich foods like banana and avocado helps balance the system, thus relieving the body of pains. Pears, melons, grapes and apples are rich in fiber, which helps the digestive system function properly. Even on a day-to-day basis, studies have shown that the more fruits we eat, the happier, calmer and more energetic we may feel that day and this positivity may spill over into the next day. A study that was also conducted, found that greater fruits consumption was associated with lower risk of depression, psychological distress, mood and anxiety disorders and poor perceived mental health.
Vegetables possess great healing properties rich in minerals, antioxidants and vitamins which is essential for our health and wholeness. They add colour to our meals and are gut-friendly. Like Dr Douglas Graham “Author of 80/10/10 diet” said “vegetables remain the optimum foods of choice for fulfilling all human nutritional needs”.
Green leafy and root vegetables are great for menstrual pains. Green leafy vegetables are high in potassium, calcium and magnesium which helps relieve and prevent headaches and the spasms that leads to menstrual pain. They also contain high amounts of vitamin K, which coagulates blood and prevent excess bleeding. Asparagus is a diuretic food that has prebiotic fibres which promotes healthy absorption of nutrients, thus preventing gas and bloating. As a lady starts shedding the lining of her uterine wall, her ovaries produces more estrongen. That change in hormones can cause pains, but vitamin A helps the liver process estrongen. Vitamin A are found in numerous root vegetables like sweet potato, beets and carrots.
Legumes are high in B vitamins, which prevents menstrual fatigue and pains. Peas and beans like chickpeas, black beans, lentils, soybeans, pinto beans, Lima beans, kidney beans and black-eye beans are really high in fibre and thus reduces the congestive symptoms of pains by producing bulkier stools with higher water content. This rids the body of excess fluid and also normalizes digestion, reduces diarrhoea and constipation, according to Dr Susan Lark, Author of “Dr Susan Lark’s Menstrual Cramps Self Help Book”.
A group of hormone like substances in the body called prostaglandins, are responsible for menstrual pain and muscle contractions. To curb prostaglandins effects, you have to consume Omega-3 fatty acids which have been found to be more effective in fighting menstrual pains. These nuts includes walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts etc. Magnesium in almonds, also helps to reduce symptoms such as menstrual pains and headache. Eating foods high in vitamin E also helps to reduce menstrual pains.
Dr Michael Greger, Author of “how not to die” concludes that flaxseeds are one of the richest plant sources of essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds contains one hundred times more lignans than other foods. Lignans are phytoestrogens that can dampen the effects of the body’s own estrongen. Flaxseeds are a first-line medical therapy for menstrual pain. Studies have shown that flaxseeds can inhibit the release of certain prostaglandins by providing Omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are also considered to fight menstrual pains. Other seeds includes pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds etc.
Taking these steps would go a long way to alleviating menstrual pain
Meat alternatives: tofu or mushrooms
Milk alternatives: plant-based milk, like banana, soy, oat, tigernut, almond, coconut and hemp seed milk etc.*