Over the weekend I was at a party and ended up chatting with a lovely woman. Over the course of the ‘getting to know you’ stuff, she asked, “so, what do you do for a living?”.
I explained that I’m a nutritionist who specializes in helping women have pain-free periods naturally without going on the pill.
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, she crossed her arms and her eyebrows went up. “Really? Is that even possible?” she asked me.
I admit, I was taken aback by her reaction. I live in my own bubble where my full-time focus is helping women with their period issues. But like most people, she didn’t think it was possible to reduce period pain unless you went on the pill. She had never heard of the therapeutic benefits of nutrition before.
In that moment I remembered that this isn’t mainstream knowledge.
The idea that a diet can be used for something other than weight loss really is an alternative approach to health.
So I decided to write this article to share what I know about a ‘period diet’, or reducing period pain with nutrition.
Will a period diet really reduce my pain?
Firstly, this period diet isn’t just for mild period pain, it’s effective for those women who throw back 2 ibuprofen hourly or else become paralyzed… and so it goes every single month because of their predictably painful periods.
This diet will also work to relieve symptoms of fibroids and endometriosis.
Finally, this is the same period diet I use with my clients in our program, the Complete Period Relief Solution. And if you follow my recommendations faithfully for 3 months, you’ll be just like one of my clients… on the fast track to pain relief.
The Pain-Free Period Diet
Warning! At first blush this diet may seem overwhelming because it is a far cry from the typical North American diet, but read on. Once you create a system around eating this way, it actually becomes quite simple.
There are 3 components to a pain-free period diet:
#1 Reduce Inflammation
Your period pain gets worse when inflammation is present. Basically, inflammatory chemical compounds are produced as a natural part of your period. If your inflammatory response is heightened, you will experience more period pain. This is also how inflammation makes endometriosis, which is thought to be an inflammatory condition, worse.
In addition, inflammation disrupts your hormones through the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Glands use hormones to communicate and when inflammation is present, communication gets disrupted. It’s like when you are trying to talk to a friend on the phone and there’s a lot of static or background noise… the cytokines are that noise that makes it difficult to have a conversation.
In this way, inflammation may increase estrogen dominance and lower progesterone which causes more period pain and PMS.
When it comes to diet, inflammation happens when the body reacts to inflammatory foods. The big ones are gluten, rancid oils, excess and refined sugar, alcohol and dairy.
According to Lara Briden, dairy products contain a protein called A1 casein which causes inflammation. “In some people, A1 casein cleaves in the digestive tract to form a potent opiate-type molecule (called casomorphin, or BCM7) that stimulates inflammatory cytokines, mast cells, and histamine.” (Source)
So the first step is to eliminate as many inflammatory foods from your diet, especially gluten, rancid oils, sugar, alcohol and dairy, and see what happens. Write it down! You’ll start to notice a pattern between inflammatory foods and pain. Understanding this link for yourself will help you make the choice to avoid fast, fried food and be dairy, gluten, alcohol and sugar-free when the going gets tough.
The second step is to add anti-inflammatory foods into your diet to reduce the inflammation that is already present. Colourful foods like parsley, avocado, fresh turmeric, fresh ginger, schizandra berry, blueberry, dark leafy greens, and oranges are some of our favorites.
If you want to read more on inflammation and period pain, check out our blog on the topic here.
#2 Balance Macros
Make sure you are eating balanced meals. This means all macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats and vegetables) should be represented in your meals. Make sure not to leave anything out! That means vegetables at breakfast and carbs with salads.
Protein is important because it helps keeps you satiated and ‘anchors’ your blood sugar. The classic palm-size portion of protein works well.
Carbs are necessary for energy and ovulation. Make sure to have ½ -1 cup of complex carbs like sweet potato, squash, beans, steel cut or old fashioned oats, and quinoa.
Healthy fats are hormonal building blocks, include around 1 Tbsp per meal. Eat a variety of fats from sources such as avocado, Brazil nuts, almonds, coconut oil and small, oily, wild fish.
Pro Tip: eating meals with balanced macros helps reduce sugar cravings that you get leading up to your period. This makes it less likely that you’ll binge on sugary treats.
#3 Include Micronutrients
The last essential step to promote hormone health and reduce inflammation is to get enough key nutrients. These nutrients are in the form of vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients.
For example, women need to get enough zinc for healthy ovulation. Zinc can be found in pumpkin seeds, seaweed, shellfish, bison and lamb. Dark leafy greens provide magnesium, which is essential to prevent period pain. You can also find magnesium in hemp seeds, quinoa, nuts and dark chocolate (yes!). Another key nutrient is vitamin B6, which is essential for normal progesterone levels. Get B6 from turkey, cod, sunflower and sesame seeds, and radishes.
You need to make sure you eat enough of the foods that have these minerals otherwise you need to consider supplementing.
How long will it take to see results?
When you eliminate inflammatory foods, add anti-inflammatory foods, include all of the macronutrients at every meal, and get the right micronutrients from your food, you should see a reduction in your period pain within 2 menstrual cycles/ a couple months. The thing is, you need to be honest with yourself about how closely you are following these recommendations. Anything less than 95% ‘good meals’ will delay your progress and you may not see results.
If you want to get relief from your period pain through your diet, we are here to help through our online coaching program, the Complete Period Relief Solution. It’s a LOT easier to maintain a pain-free period diet with done-for-you meal plans, simple recipes and hand-held support to get over obstacles. If you’re interested, reach out to us to see if our program would be a good fit for you.