How Omega 3's Reduce Period PainJan 01, 2020
If you're sick of suffering from menstrual cramps, understanding how omega 3's reduce period pain is going to be a game changer for you!
Recently I explained how prostaglandins are the cause of your period pain and I mentioned in that article the 3 ways to reduce the levels of prostaglandins in your body.
One of the suggestions I made was to fix your ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats.
In this article
We'll take a close look at:
- Why the Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio is so important
- What you can do to fix your ratio
- Why flax based omega’s aren't sufficient
Too much Omega 6 fat & not enough Omega 3 fat drives period pain
The ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is what really matters.
Both of these fatty acid groups are important for our health, but the ratio we are getting in our modern diets is a real problem!
When you have too many Omega 6 fatty acids in the body, it drives up the production of prostaglandins that are pro-inflammatory and this means more period pain.
If you increase your Omega 3 intake, this promotes the conversion of prostaglandins into less inflammatory substances in your body and that leads to less menstrual cramping.
What Omega fats have to do with your menstrual cycle:
If your cells predominantly contain omega 6 fatty acids, then the prostaglandins produced during your period are going to be far more inflammatory and cause more negative side effects.
The fat you eat determines which type of prostaglandin is made
If you’re a science nerd or you love to know how things actually work in your body, then you'll love what I'm about to explain.
Firstly, there are different types of prostaglandins and they have different purposes and effects on the body.
A simple summary:
- PG1 – reduces inflammation, inhibits blood clotting & reduces pain
- PG2 – increases inflammation, constricts blood vessels & encourages blood clotting
- PG3 – a mixture of the above functions as well as decreasing how many PG2 are made
The fat you eat plays a big role in determining which type of prostaglandin is produced.
An important note before we move - Omega 6 fats aren’t ‘bad for you’. No ma’am, we actually need them. Some of them are essential fatty acids!
But, you don’t need them in large quantities....this is where the problems arise for women with menstrual cramps.
There's a link between the type of omega and the type of prostaglandin that get's produced! Specifically, the Omega 6 fatty acid DGLA can be converted to either:
- PG1 which reduces inflammation
- Another Omega 6 called Aracadonic Acid (AA) which is the precursor to PG2 (which increases inflammation)
The conversion of Omega 6 DGLA into PG1 doesn’t require any enzymes. But conversion into AA needs an enzyme called delta-5 desaturase.
In other words, the omega 6 is easily converted to anti inflammatory PG1 but needs a special enzyme to convert to AA and then into pro inflammatory PG1.
Still with me? There’s an image below to help clarify all of this so keep reading :)
Here’s the important part – If your diet is high in Omega 3’s, your body automatically chooses to use the delta-5 desaturase enzyme in the omega 3 pathway first. So less enzyme is available to convert Omega 6 into AA which then becomes PG2.
More Omega 3’s basically means Omega 6’s will be converted into the anti-inflammatory PG1 instead of the pro-inflammatory PG2. Yes please!
Change your Omega ratio through your diet
There are lots of different Omega 3’s but the most important ones for health are EPA and DHA.
These two are found exclusively in seafood and marine algae.
Your body can actually make EPA and DHA from a shorter omega 3 called ALA – which is found in plant sources such as flax, hemp and pumpkin seeds.
But there’s a super important bit of information that doesn’t get spoken about enough:
The conversion of plant based ALA into long chain Omega 3 EPA and DHA is extremely low. If you're following a plant based diet this is so important to understand.
The conversion rate of plant based ALA into long chain omega’s EPA and DHA is really low.
Less than 5% of ALA is converted to EPA and less than 0.5% of ALA is converted to DHA.
To make sure you’re getting enough of these long chain Omega 3’s, you’ll need to eat more fatty fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna.
Omega 3 supplements
If you don’t like fish or can’t find good quality wild caught fish where you live, you might choose to supplement with a really high quality fish oil.
The emphasis is on ‘really high quality' because if you buy cheap, low quality fish oil you’re wasting your money & more importantly, you’re probably doing more harm than good.
For women on a Vegetarian and Vegan diet
As I explained above, flax oil, pumpkin seeds and hemp unfortunately just don’t provide the amount of long chain Omega's you need.
My personal recommendation as a Qualified Nutritionist is to get your Omega's from whole food sources - specifically fish.
But, I understand some women aren't willing to change their vegetarian/vegan diets and I respect your choice. So I did some further research and my current recommendation is that you supplement with an algae based omega 3.
Marine Algae is what fish and krill eat and this is where they get their omega’s from! This supplement is vegan, sustainable, gluten free and lab tested to show no ocean pollutants or heavy metals.
Reduce the Omega 6’s in your diet
Standard diets are way too high in omega 6’s and these fats compete with Omega 3 in the body.
Most importantly, they compete in the pathway that results in either pro inflammatory prostaglandins and anti inflammatory prostaglandins!
The main dietary source of Omega 6 fatty acids are vegetable oils.
I’m always banging on about the health hazards of vegetable oils because they do a hell of a lot more damage in the body than just cause period pain!
Here’s a list of vegetable and seed oils that I strongly recommend you avoid:
Rice bran oil
Not sure which fats and oils are healthy choices? I've put together a simple guide that shows you which fats are best for hot and cold use.
Summary of diet tips for reducing period pain
- Aim to eat wild-caught fatty fish at least three times per week.
- If you are going to supplement, remember that quality really matters.
- And lastly, you need to focus on removing vegetable oils from your diet.
If you'd like personal dietary advice from me as a Qualified Nutritionist, book a call with me here.
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