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Is your diet to blame for agonizing period pains – and which foods can ease them?

FROM debilitating cramps to crippling spasms, millions of British women are forced to put up with a plethora of period-related pains every month.

As standard painkillers fail to quell period pains for many, researchers have suggested a few simple diet tweaks could be enough to banish period cramps once and for all.

Foods high in omega-6, sugar, salt and meat all encourage inflammation
Foods high in omega-6, sugar, salt, and meat all encourage inflammationCredit: Getty – Contributor

In new advice, the North American Menopause Society suggest women should eat more fish and nuts in place of meat and sugary snacks to help ease agonizing pains.

This is because a growing body of research has found omega-3 and antioxidants help to reduce inflammation in the body.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to damage and it often results in pain.

Other foods high in omega-3 and antioxidants include plant oils, such as flaxseed oil, and seeds such as chia seeds and walnuts.

NAMS analyzed peer-reviewed studies which looked at diet and menstrual pain to see how anti-inflammatory food may relieve menstrual cramps.

The experts concluded that foods high in omega-6, sugar, salt, and meat all encourage inflammation.

During the menstrual period, the uterus contracts to help expel its lining with the help of an inflammatory hormone-like substance called prostaglandins.

These chemicals constrict the blood vessels in the uterus and make the muscle layer contract, causing painful cramps.

Higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more-severe menstrual cramps.

NAMS advises women to stay clear of foods that can cause additional inflammation, such as meat, oil, sugars, and salts.

Around 80 percent of British women experience period pain at some stage in their lifetime. 

And for five to 10 percent of women, the pain is severe enough to disrupt their life.

Serah Sannoh, a Rutgers University student and lead author of the advice, said: “Even if someone does not adopt a strict anti-inflammatory diet, decreasing your intake of inflammatory foods should help decrease the inflammation that causes menstrual pain.”

Some women experience milder symptoms, and others are faced with extremely painful cramps, abnormally heavy bleeding, uncomfortable bloating, and abdominal pressure.

However, what many women don’t realize is that period pain can be a symptom of other serious conditions that require proper treatment.

Here, we take you through the five things that your period pain could potentially be telling you…

1. Uterine fibroids and/or polyps

A fibroid is a non-cancerous growth that can occur anywhere in the uterus.

Symptoms vary depending on their size – the bigger they are the worse the symptoms can be.

Most women experience irregular bleeding, heavy periods, pain, and cramps in the pelvis.

In some cases, if they are left untreated, they can cause infertility, so if you have any symptoms speak to a GP.

2. Endometriosis

Painful periods are one of the main symptoms of endometriosis.

The chronic condition is known to occur when tissue from the lining of the womb is found outside of the womb – in areas of the body including the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, the abdomen and the bladder.

About two million women in the UK are affected by the agonising condition.

For those who have endometriosis, their period pain is often more severe than ‘normal’ period pain and lasts from a few days before the period until the end of the period.

Many women also have a low tummy and pelvic pain, which may be worse before and during a period, but can be there all the time.

3. Adenomyosis

Painful cramps and period pain might actually be a sign that you have the lesser-known “ugly sister” to endometriosis – known as adenomyosis.

Adenomyosis happens when the bits of tissue that line the uterus – known as the endometrium – grow into the muscle layer of the womb.

Like endometriosis and PCOS, it is thought to affect one in ten women.

It can cause feelings of fullness or bloating which means women with the condition are often misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

As it can lead to excess bleeding, women are also at risk of becoming anemic.

Because the cause of the condition is still unknown, there’s not a lot out there other than hormonal treatments and very invasive surgeries.

4. Ovarian cysts/pelvic masses

Cysts on the ovaries can cause cramping and irregular bleeding.

Most of them don’t cause any major symptoms unless they are quite large.

You may also feel bloated and heavy in your tummy if you have ovarian cysts.

They normally need medication or surgery to treat them, so speak to your doctor if you think you may have them.

5. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome affects one in five women and it affects how a woman’s ovaries function.

It occurs when the sacs the ovaries sit in are unable to release an egg, which means ovulation doesn’t happen.

Medics don’t yet know what causes polycystic ovary syndrome, according to the Mayo Clinic.

For many, the only hint of PCOS is irregular periods, while in more severe cases sufferers can be left with embarrassing hair growth on their faces, chest, back and backside.

Having polycystic ovaries also increases a woman’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep apnoea later in life, the NHS warned.

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