Is your Diet Causing your Period Pain?Jan 07, 2020
I recently made the statement that food is the most powerful natural tool against period pain.
Let's take a look at why this is true and most importantly, what you can do about it.
If you're short on time and not interested in the details, skip to the bottom of the post for a summary of my diet recommendations to reduce your menstrual cramps.
What's causing your period pain in the first place?
Food impacts them both.
The first type is Primary dysmenorrhea.
This is “typical period pain”. It goes away with Iburprofen and although its painful, it doesn’t stop you from your normal daily activities.
This type of period pain is caused by too many prostaglandins. I'll explain about these in more detail below.
The other type is Secondary dysmenorrhea
This type of period pain is a lot more intense.
Iburprofen doesn’t usually provide much relief and the pain can be so strong that it often stops you from doing your normal daily activities.
It's caused by an underlying medical condition with inflammation and hormones playing a part.
PROSTAGLANDINS CAUSE PERIOD PAIN
Prostaglandins! They’re hormone-like lipids found in almost all tissue in the body and their job is to:
- Regulate inflammation
- Regulate your immune response
- Stimulate contractions, vasodilation and blood clotting
- Regulate tissue injury and repair (remember this bit!)
Part of what prostaglandins do is cause inflammation within your cells. Inflammation is redness, swelling, pain, and fever/heat. I know this sounds like a bad thing, but it’s actually a very natural part of your body's healing process. It needs to happen.
The link between prostaglandins and period pain
As your uterine lining begins to break down (before your period starts) the cells in the wall of your uterus begin to release prostaglandins - because as I mentioned above, they’re involved in tissue injury and repair.
As the prostaglandins are released, they stimulate muscle contractions in your uterus to help shed the lining.
This is all a normal part of having your period.
However, when there are too many prostaglandins, it causes inflammation to rise and contractions start to increase. This manifests as period pain and menstrual cramping.
So what causes high prostaglandins?
- Too many omega 6 fats in the diet and not enough omega 3's.
- High estrogen levels
- Histamine intolerance
Let’s specifically look at how your diet affects these three things.
1. Too much Omega 6 & not enough Omega 3
Prostaglandins are made from omega fats that are stored in your cell walls.
When your diet is high in omega 6's, there are more omega 6's used to make prostaglandins that are pro-inflammatory. However, when you have sufficient omega 3's in your diet, the prostaglandins made are anti-inflammatory!
This blog post explains the full benefits of Omega 3's for reducing period pain as well as how to effectively increase your omega 3's and reduce your omega 6's.
You'll also find supplement suggestions and important details for vegans and vegetarians in that same post.
Summary: Diet & Omega Fatty Acids
Eat more fatty fish and/or include a really high-quality fish oil. Then focus on removing vegetable oils from your diet.
2. How high estrogen affects your period pain
There’s a couple of things to think about here:
- High estrogen leads to higher prostaglandins.
- If your period pain is caused by endometriosis, then it’s going to flare up if your estrogen levels are high. FYI Endometriosis will get worse if you have a hormone imbalance, but it isn’t caused by a hormone imbalance. The growing consensus is that it’s due to immune dysfunction.
- “High estrogen” can mean a few things. It can mean that estrogen itself is higher than it should be, or it can mean that estrogen is high relative to your progesterone.
What diet has to do with high estrogen
If your diet is lacking the specific nutrients required for liver detoxification then your estrogen is going to start building up.
Consuming alcohol or xenoestrogens is going to impair your liver function and this can result in higher estrogen.
Here's a little factoid for you:
The reward centre of the brain is much more attuned to the pleasurable effects of alcohol when estrogen levels are elevated!
If you aren’t eating enough fibre to ensure you don’t get constipated then the estrogen your liver processed can be reabsorbed back into your body!
Or if you are eating a diet that results in a microbiome imbalance, then you may not have the healthy gut bacteria you need to assist in the process of estrogen elimination. Instead, your gut bugs might be reactivating the estrogen so it goes back into circulation.
And lastly, if you’re eating a diet that is causing you to gain or hold onto excess weight, then it’s going to be increasing estrogen.
Why? Because fat cells make estrogen!
Summary: Diet & high estrogen
High estrogen causes period pain. So, focus on nutrient dense foods to ensure your liver is getting what it needs to detoxify your body. Eat plenty of vegetables and avoid sugar and refined carbs so that you have a healthy gut microbiome and don't become constipated. Stop drinking alcohol!
3. How a histamine intolerance increases your period pain
Ok firstly, the term ‘histamine intolerance’ doesn’t actually mean you are “intolerant” to histamine. It just means you have a build up of histamine in your body.
Histamine is best known as an immune signalling protein that causes allergies and swelling. It’s why people use anti-histamines for seasonal allergy relief.
But histmaine has a lot of other jobs too, such as regulating stomach acid, stimulating your brain, boosting libido and it even plays a role in ovulation!
And, it causes pain.
The role of histamine and menstrual cramps
- Histamine increases estrogen which can put your estrogen to progesterone balance out of whack and that can lead to more prostaglandins.
- Histamine itself increases inflammation, which means more period pain.
What diet has to do with histamine
Dairy and alcohol stimulate histamine production.
Some foods such as smoked meat, sauerkraut, bone broth, hard cheese and red wine contain dietary histamines.
Also, having an unbalanced gut microbiome can increase histamines (because some gut bacteria produce histamine). Common causes of an unbalanced microbiome are a diet high in sugar and refined carbs.
Summary: Diet & histamine
Remove dairy, alcohol and high histamine foods. If you have gut issues, really focus on healing them.
Diet recommendations to reduce period pain
- Eat more fatty fish and avoid vegetable oils to help balance your Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio
- Eat a nutrient dense, high fibre diet to help your body detoxify and eliminate used estrogen.
- Don’t drink alcohol or eat foods containing colours and additives as these impair liver detoxification. Real food all the way baby!
- Avoid sugar and refined carbs to ensure you have a healthy gut microbiome
- Remove dairy, alcohol and other high histamine foods
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