Our diets play the biggest role in our overall health and wellbeing so, suffice it to say it plays a significant role in how we feel during menstruation. But to what extent? We speak to registered nutritionist and hormone health expert, Abby Foreman, who advises that painful periods should not be ignored, nor are not destined to suffer each month just because we have a menstrual cycle! Here, Abby shares some insight into the role of diet and how the foods we eat and the nutrients we get (or are lacking) can affect how we feel. Abby has helped hundreds of people reclaim a healthy menstrual cycle using real food in everyday life, and she shares her most successful tips below.
Limit the use of seed oils in your diet
Cooking oils like rapeseed, sunflower and soybean contain a high amount of polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats are a natural part of food, but a diet high in these processed oils can contribute to an overproduction of prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that respond to inflammation in the body. They also initiate menstruation by contracting your uterine lining, making it shed. When too many prostaglandins are present this can lead to debilitating period pain, back ache, leg pain and even bowel irritation!
Prostaglandins are shown to be high in those with endometriosis. They play a role in the swelling, inflammation and pain messengers associated with endometriosis, which is reported as one of the top 20 most painful conditions.
Opting for extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and grass-fed animal fats like butter or tallow are more nutritious alternatives that offer a balance of fatty acid profiles.
As seed oils are cheap, they are also found in the majority of store bought, pre-packaged food and condiments, so make sure you’re reading labels!
Swap margarine for block butter
Margarine is usually a blend of rapeseed and sunflower oil, so if we’re using this spread daily it could be contributing to an overproduction of prostaglandins. Opting for a grass fed butter such as Kerrygold offers beneficial fatty acids and essential fat soluble vitamins when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet.
Add some gentle fiber to your meals each day
Fiber is a great nutrient to help bind to hormonal waste in the digestive system and encourage its elimination through daily bowel movements. Oestrogen is a hormone of growth and proliferation and it is very much an important part of a healthy menstrual cycle. However, if we’re not eliminating it efficiently it can lead to hormone imbalances and painful bleeds.
Too much raw fiber can be irritating, so make sure to prioritise well-cooked root vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot, beetroot, parsnip, turnip and potato alongside some ripe, seasonal fruit. Introduce these foods to your diet slowly to help your body build tolerance to added fiber.
Magnesium rich foods to eat daily
Magnesium is responsible for muscle relaxation. It is a mineral we lose quite rapidly from daily stressors, and our soil is no longer rich in it meaning it is difficult to replenish if we’re not consciously trying to do so.
Dark chocolate, well cooked spinach, plantain and animal protein such as beef, liver and mackerel are good sources of magnesium from digestible foods.
Drink red raspberry leaf and ginger infusions daily
Red raspberry leaf tea contains a compound called fragarine. This is known to help tone the uterus and other muscles in the pelvic region, preventing spasms that can lead to uterine cramping and tension.
The tea also helps to replenish the body with many nutrients such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium! These minerals, along with tannins from the tea, also help tone the smooth muscle layer of the uterus which can help reduce cramping.
Ginger is widely known for its pain relief benefits, and it’s shown to be more effective than NSAIDS in reducing pain, swelling and inflammation when consumed in therapeutic amounts.
I recommend taking 2 tbsps each of freshly grated ginger and loose red raspberry tea leaves and brewing them in 1 litre of warm water for an hour, then sipping on this throughout the day.
It is important to implement the above steps throughout your whole cycle, and not just when you’re bleeding. These practices are part of a bigger lifestyle change towards helping you take back control of your long-term health.
If you want more specialist advice from Abby, join her in The Hormone Club, a monthly membership which will teach you about female physiology and nutrition. You get some really valuable content and get to be part of a community that is changing the female health narrative.
Pain free periods are possible, I’ve seen it first-hand!