(CNN) — Around the 85% of adolescents she suffers from bloating, cramps and abdominal pain during menstruation, and for some the problems can recur for years. “Since menstrual pain is a leading cause of school absenteeism for adolescent girls, it is important to explore options that can minimize pain,” said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health. in Jacksonville, Florida, in a statement. She did not participate in the study.
But there are behavioral adjustments girls and young women can make to reduce pain, according to a new analysis of studies. “Diet modification could be a relatively simple solution that could provide them with substantial relief,” Faubion, who is also the medical director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), said of the results of the investigation.
The research abstract, presented Wednesday at the NAMS annual meeting, explores the connection between diet and dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful periods. Lead author Serah Sannoh told CNN that she became interested in the topic because of her own period pain, which has plagued her since her teens.
“I found that diets high in inflammatory foods, such as animal meats, oil, sugars, salts and coffee, contribute to a woman’s risk of period pain,” said Sannoh, who conducted the study. research intern at Rutgers University Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine in New Jersey. She is currently a medical student at Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
“A lot of the things that young people like to eat are highly inflammatory… cold cuts, foods full of sugars and trans fats. But if you follow an anti-inflammatory diet made up of fruit, vegetables, olive oil, like the Mediterranean diet, you’ll have less cramping,” said Dr. Monica Christmas, a NAMS board member and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, who was not involved in the study.
Scientific evidence has shown that following a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep and exercising are effective measures to reduce the duration and severity of menstrual cramps, Christmas said. But she noted that it’s important for women to see a health professional: “Make sure there isn’t some other medical condition that may also be contributing to the symptoms.”
As the body prepares to menstruate, the endometrial cells that built a lining in the uterus to house a fertilized egg begin to break down. In doing so, these cells release large amounts of fatty acids called prostaglandins so that the uterine lining contracts and expels unused tissue.
The body also releases prostaglandins naturally during childbirth to open the cervix for birth.
What causes the pain?
Prostaglandins act like hormones, causing blood vessels and smooth muscles to contract, leading to cramps and pain. Researchers have found that prostaglandin levels are higher and uterine contractions are stronger and more frequent in women with menstrual pain than in those with little or no pain, according to the American Association of Family Physicians.
Studies have found that eating inflammatory foods only increases discomfort. Highly processed and high-sugar foods, as well as fatty foods, are the most common culprits: a 2018 study found that college students who ate more snacks had more pain during their periods.
Other 2018 study on Spanish university students found that women who drank cola and ate meat were more likely to experience pain during their cycle than women who ate more vegetables and fruit. In fact, a 2020 study found that women who ate less than two servings of fruit a day were more likely to experience pain during their menstrual cycle.
Part of the problem is an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, according to Sannoh. Found in foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, oysters, walnuts, chia, and flaxseed, omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Studies have linked them to reduced risk of many chronic diseases caused by inflammation.
The omega-6 fatty acids They maintain healthy skin, hair, and bones and help regulate metabolism, as well as play a role in the reproductive system. But too much of these fatty acids can cause inflammation when the body eventually breaks them down into arachidonic acidwhich lowers the body’s pain threshold.
“From my research, I found that people with diets rich in omega-6 fatty acids, specifically those derived from animal products, have a higher presence of arachidonic acid in the body, which increases the amount of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins that help the uterus contract,” Sannoh said.
“When you have a diet that balances omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and you decrease the amount of inflammatory foods you eat, that will decrease the painful menstrual experience,” she added.
Two independent studies of 2011 Y 2012 found that women who took omega-3 fatty acid supplements reduced the intensity of menstrual discomfort enough to reduce the use of ibuprofen for pain relief. And a 1996 study found a highly significant relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and milder menstrual symptoms in adolescent girls.
Changing your diet isn’t the only way to combat period pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, reduce prostaglandin production, so they are a mainstay of treatment for menstrual cramps, according to Christmas.
However, these pain relievers also have side effects. According to one evidence review from the 2015 Cochrane Library, NSAIDs are associated with bloating, diarrhoea, dizziness, indigestion, headaches, heartburn, high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting and, rarely, increased blood pressure. Hepatic enzymes.
Some oral contraceptive pills also reduce the production of prostaglandins in the uterine lining, reducing blood flow and cramping. According to one revision from the 2009 Cochrane Library, doses below 35 micrograms are “effective and should be the drug of choice.”
But if you’re not interested in using these methods, or want extra relief, try an anti-inflammatory diet. Sannoh put her research into practice by cutting back on red meat and other inflammatory foods like sugar and coffee, telling CNN that it did decrease her period pain.
Adopting an anti-inflammatory lifestyle has an added benefit, Christmas said.
“These diets are also associated with less hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis problems, morbidity and mortality, especially after menopause,” Christmas said.
“So if you get young people to eat better, exercise and live a healthier lifestyle, they’ll do better when they get older.”