While research is still in its early stages, certain dietary changes can help to reduce periodic symptoms.
Can either eating nor avoiding certain foods relieve symptoms?
In some cases, over- the-counter medications can help control symptoms such as bloating and pain. However, a person may wish to take other measures to relieve symptoms and promote their overall health during menstruation.
Some evidence suggests that different foods can help to relieve symptoms of certain periods of time.
According to the Women’s Health Service, about 90% of individuals experience premenstrual symptoms, such as:
- Lower back pain
- Mood swings
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Breast tenderness
The following are some common dietary changes that may counter period-related symptoms.
Foods to Eat
Fruits and Vegetables
While fruits and vegetables are a vital source of nutrients and fiber in any diet, they may be particularly helpful during menstruation.
A study by university students in Spain in 2018 found that vegetarian diets and simply eating more fruit and vegetables corresponded to less cramps and decreased menstrual pain.
This was true in several studies discussed by the scientists, but it did not appear to improve symptoms in people with endometriosis.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can minimize inflammation in the body and may aid in the treatment of chronic pain.
An older 2012 study looked at the impact of omega-3 supplementation on menstrual pain severity in women aged 18–22 years.
One group took omega-3 supplements while the other group took placebo. The participants in the omega-3 group experienced a significant reduction in pain intensity. They also took smaller doses of ibuprofen to control the pain.
Omega-3s are found in supplements and in a number of foods, including:
- Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
- Chia seeds
- Algal oil
- Soybean and canola oil
- Fortified foods, including some yogurts, juices, and plant-based milk.
Menstruation causes iron levels to dip when a person loses blood. This can even lead to anemia in people with very long periods of time.
According to the National Institutes of Health, females with heavy cycles (menorrhagia) lose substantially more iron during their menstrual cycle than those with “normal menstrual bleeding.”
A 2013 study found that participants who consumed more non-heme iron, i.e. iron from plant foods, had a lower risk of menstrual symptoms compared to those who ate less.
Foods that are high in iron include:
- Beef and beef liver
- Fortified breakfast cereal
- Beans and lentils
- Dark chocolate
Reducing sodium intake will help reduce period-related bloating and weight gain.
A 2019 study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology shows that that sodium intake may make a person more likely to experience bloating.
In general, the American Heart Association recommends that most people should not eat more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. Holding sodium levels below the guidelines can help to reduce bloating.
Foods to Avoid
Just as some foods relieve period symptoms, other foods may make them worse. Typically, these are foods that cause inflammation or bloating.
Some foods to avoid include:
- Highly processed foods (also known as ultra-processed foods)
- Foods high in sodium or sugar
- Baked goods using white flour, such as white bread or pasta
- Foods that cause gas, such as cauliflower or Brussels sprouts.
While many menstrual symptoms are normal, people should consult a doctor about their menstrual cycle if they experience:
- Bleeding after sex
- Irregular periods
- Spotting or bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after menopause
- Heavy bleeding
- Bleeding that lasts longer than 7 days
- Severe pain or pain that does not go away with over-the-counter pain relievers.
Some dietary changes could reduce menstrual symptoms in some people or may help them stay healthy throughout their lifetime.
For example, consuming iron-rich foods will help to replenish iron stores when a person loses blood.
People should talk to a doctor about painful or prolonged cycles, as they may have a underlying condition that could benefit from medical treatment.