Aside from child bearing, the biggest thing that separates men from women is, of course, menstruation.
And if you’re a woman, well… it really sucks. There’s no other way to put it. Between the cramping, the mood swings, and the bloating (not to mention the mess), women are forced to endure discomforts that would probably make most grown men cry — Every. Single. Month.
Of course, no one woman is the same.
Some can start menstruating as early as 11 years old and some might hit menopause as late as 60 years old. Some have longer cycles than the 28-day average, while others have much shorter. Despite these differences, we all share in the misery of our monthly companion to some degree or another. Certainly, most women can relate to the horrific emotional roller coaster that comes before, during, or after our periods. And an estimated 85 percent of women experience at least one symptom of PMS per month, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- Breast Tenderness
- Weight Gain
- Swelling in face, ankles, feet, and hands
- Aching in the back
- Cold sores (sometimes recurring)
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal cramps
- Light and noise sensitivity
- Food cravings
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Lack of coordination
- Muscle spasms
What most woman don’t know is that experiencing terrible PMS doesn’t just signal that your hormones are temporarily out of whack; it can also reveal energy stagnation (or Qi stagnation) in the body.
I know what you’re thinking: “I’m a woman! Duh! It’s supposed to hurt.” Well actually, no, it’s not. If you are fighting bad cramps every month, your body is telling you that something is going on that NEEDS your attention.
So aside from addressing the emotional component of terrible cramps, there are also physical ways we can ease the pain when PMS does strike.
I put together a list of food below with examples of how to help alleviate the stress your body experiences during this time. Not everything on this list will work for you, but a process of trial and error with each can certainly help you to be more self aware of what you consume and how your body reacts to it.
Nature’s gift to wo(man)! It comes as no surprise that water is essential to easing us through the most natural time in our life. It may sound counterintuitive, but drinking more water will actually help to release water retention and alleviate bloating. As health and fitness consultant Tari Rose explains, “Your body is retaining water because it’s afraid of not getting enough. So, if you give it what it needs (more water) it will release the water it’s holding onto.” Also, our bodies are losing copious amounts of liquids (or so it feels), so replenishing ourselves with pure water is our best bet; not to mention, water promotes regular and smooth bowel movements, which helps reduce stagnation in the abdominal area – a common concern before and during menstruation.
Women lose about 30-80ml of blood and 15-25ml of iron during each menstruation, so it’s important we replenish the iron we are losing with iron rich foods. But as with most things in life, it’s important not to overdo it, because too much of these foods can cause bloating.
Parsley contains apiol, a compound that has been shown to be highly effective at stimulating the menstrual process and relieving menstrual cramps.
Spinach contains an ample amount of nutrients like Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, and Magnesium, which have been shown to fight menstrual cramps.
An iron supplement could also help here, but you may have to try a few before finding one that doesn’t cause constipation.
Foods: parsley, spinach, kale, celery, collards, dried prunes, dried peaches, pumpkin seeds, raisins, brussels sprouts, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, artichokes, legumes, and more.
Women need at least 1,200 mg of calcium every day, according to certified holistic health counselor and nutritionist Latham Thomas. In one study, women who took 1,200 mg per day for 3 months experienced a 48% reduction in their PMS symptoms. Compare that to a 30% reduction for those taking a placebo (hello, power of consciousness!), and increasing your calcium intake starts to seem like a worthwhile endeavour. Further studies were conducted to prove the benefits of calcium in combatting PMS, especially during theluteal phase of your cycle.
Kale is one of the best plant-based sources of calcium and has the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) rating, which measures a food’s ability to scavenge free radicals — unstable molecules that can damage your body at the cellular level.
Broccoli is 91 percent water by weight, this helps eliminate bloating (fibre helps with this too) while getting rid of puffiness, gas, and fatigue. Broccoli has calcium, vitamins A, C, B6, and E, potassium, and magnesium — nutrients that help alleviate PMS symptoms.
Foods: kale, spinach, collard greens, broccoli, edamame, bok choy, figs, almonds, and more.
Sugar cravings are especially common during this time so it’s important we go for the right kinds of sugar and avoid the overly-processed sweets we often turn to. “Fruits, vegetables and whole foods are your friends always, but especially during menstruation. The fruit from sugar may help alleviate sugar cravings,” explains health and fitness consultant Tari Rose. The great thing about fruit, particularly at this time, is its high fibre content, which can help improve regularity.
Bananas can also help regulate your bowels, which is important for women who experience diarrhea during their period. Bananas are also known to help with cramps, thanks to nutrients like vitamin B6, but potassium is the real star here, as it reduces water retention and thus bloating as well.
Pineapple also helps to combat cramping because it contains bromelain, an enzyme that is thought to help relax muscles. However, most of the bromelain in pineapple is located in the stem, which is not as tasty as the flesh (but edible nevertheless).
Foods: cherries, blueberries, rasberries, apricots, oranges, plums, pears, cucumbers, and more.
Nuts & Seeds
The little guys are energy-dense little fuel sources, packed with concentrated protein, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients unique to the specific varieties.
Walnuts are rich in the healthy omega-3 fatty acids which are known to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Additionally, walnuts are loaded with magnesium and with vitamin B6 — one cup of chopped walnuts provides 31% of the recommended daily intake of B6.
Sesame seeds are full of nutrients that have been shown to reduce cramps affiliated with menstruation. They are a great source of vitamin B6, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, and contain certain healthful fatty acids that may help relax muscles.
Sunflower seeds are loaded with vitamin E, as well as the key anti-cramping minerals zinc and magnesium. These seeds also contain pyridoxine (vitamin B6), which helps relieve pain through its role in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter dopamine. In addition, pyridoxine has been shown to promote the absorption of zinc and magnesium.
Fenugreek seeds are little seeds with a pungent-sweet flavour that are also a popular remedy for menstrual pain.
Foods: almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, cashews, flaxseeds (ground), peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and more.
Cold and raw foods can be difficult for our bodies to digest, and warmth at this time serves our bodies tremendously. Herbal teas are the best to go for because caffeine can worsen cramps and PMS significantly.
Chamomile tea contains properties that relieve muscle spasms, and it helps reduce the tension that leads to anxiety and irritability. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory, reducing prostaglandin production and relieving menstrual cramps.
Peppermint is a natural muscle relaxer and appetite suppressant.
Cinnamon contains anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties that ease menstrual cramp symptoms.
Basil contains caffeic acid which has an analgesic or pain-killing effect.
Thyme also contains high caffeic acid properties which prevent menstrual cramps.
Ginger can help with nausea and bloating, and is an age-old remedy for menstrual cramps in China.
Green tea promotes lowers estrogen levels and this can help the endocrine system to function more efficiently.
Sage has active properties that regulate sweating and blood clotting. It’s great in baths, too, and rubbing sage oil on your abdomen can help with cramps as well.
Wheat germ is a nutrient rich powerhouse which contains a concentrated source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), with a mere cup of crude wheat germ providing a whopping 75% of the recommended daily intake for this important vitamin! Wheat germ is also an excellent source of other B vitamins, as well as zinc, and contains high amounts of vitamin E and magnesium.
Oats contain magnesium, which improves nervous system functioning, and this is particularly important during times of mental or physical stress. Magnesium can also help you sleep, can increase your energy, lower anxiety, assist in regularity, and prevent aches and moodiness. Oats are also one of the best sources of dietary zinc, fantastic for women who suffer from painful periods, and they provide adequate carbs to replenish lost glycogen in the body. This promotes energy and prevents moodiness. Oats are also full of easily digestible fiber, which will assist in eliminating excess estrogen in the body to help even out your mood even further.
It’s important that you consume either raw organic cacao powder or organic plain cocoa so your body can readily digest the proper nutrients — nutrients which milk chocolate cannot provide. Dairy is highly inflammatory and promotes unhealthy hormone levels, and chocolates with dairy often contain excess sugar as well. The processing this kind of chocolate goes through also kills most, if not all, of the beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Raw organic cacao powder is lower in fat, higher in antioxidants and fibre, an excellent source of iron, and combats cravings. Having a small piece of dark chocolate with 60 percent or higher cacao bean content every day on your period can help manage sugar cravings.
Cacao is a natural mood elevator because it boosts serotonin in the brain and contains magnesium, a mineral which helps regulate mood (see below). It’s important to choose organic, non-GMO, and raw varieties to avoid contaminants that can develop during cacao’s fermentation process. Cacao powder is an affordable superfood and a terrific source of beauty-promoting and mood-lifting nutrients including magnesium, sulfur, potassium, iron, Vitamin C, zinc, copper, and even some B vitamins.
As mentioned with oats, magnesium is a vital mineral to add to our daily diet to help with a variety of normal health functions. Magnesium deficiency can lead to headaches, insomnia, irregularity, moodiness, fatigue, general sadness or a lack of motivation, and even cramps or joint pain. Consuming magnesium rich foods or supplements can help lower anxiety, promote regularity, prevent aches and moodiness, and increase energy levels.
Foods: beans, tofu, leafy greens, bananas, nuts and seeds, whole grains, cacao.
Blood Nourishing Food
It’s important that women replenish their blood and iron during menstruation. Normally women lose about 30-80ml of blood and 15-25ml of iron each cycle. When the blood is strong, it can promote radiant skin, normal menstruation, and vital energy. And when blood is deficient, women may experience dizziness, blurred vision, fatigue, scanty or delayed periods, anemia, or even premature aging.
Foods: organic red meat, liver, egg yolks, spinach, collards, dried prunes, raisins, oysters, clams, scallops, turkey, chicken giblets, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, artichokes, carrots, peanuts, dates.
Vitamins + Supplements
Vitamin E can help eliminate some PMS symptoms; you’ll find it in avocado, hemp seeds, and egg yolk.
Vitamin B6 can help relieve bloating and boost your mood; find it in potatoes, bananas, and oatmeal.
Vitamin C and zinc support the health of a woman’s eggs and reproductive system. Find vitamin C ingrapefruits and lemons and zinc in pumpkin seeds and squashes.
Bioflavonoids are vitamins which help regulate hormone levels, leading to a more regular period. Ever notice the color of the membrane between slices of an orange or the stem of bell peppers? These are made up of bioflavonoids. Basically, they show up in foods that contain vitamin C, and they can decrease the amount of blood lost during your period as well as protect your capillaries.
Sabina can be referred to as a miracle cure, as it alleviates some of the toughest menstrual symptoms you can face, even for people with endometriosis, who are no stranger to the dark blood clots which seem to increase cramping and leave you feeling debilitated. This homeopathic remedy can even help with the most severe pain that spreads to the thighs.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids can help significantly with menstrual pain which was shown in a 1996 study published in Obstetricians and Gynecology. Women who received a daily dose of 6 grams of fish oil, providing 1,080 milligrams (mg) of EPA, and 720 mg of DHA, had experienced significantly less menstrual pain while taking the fish oil supplements.
These aren’t magical cures and it’s unlikely your body will respond immediately, but if you maintain this daily intake before and during your period, you have a good chance of lessening both pain and discomfort. Natural remedies take time, but they are worth the investment. In 2000, a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found a low-fat, vegetarian diet that emphasized the consumption of plant-based foods, significantly reduced pain and PMS for many women. The symptom effects could be due to the dietary influences on estrogen activity.
As mentioned earlier, a painful period can be caused by a number of emotional issues or physical distresses (liver) in the body, so it’s important to be proactive with your research, digging deep to look at your body as a whole. Our bodies have a unique intelligence and its various signs and responses are its way of telling us when something requires our attention. It’s quite fascinating!
If you have any yummy recipes that incorporate some of these foods, please share them below!