Diet might help you wave goodbye to painful periods

Period pain can be a total nightmare when the time of the month comes round and it would be great if we could just wave goodbye to painful periods. They’re so common that most women don’t seek treatment – it’s just part of being a woman. However there are ways to improve the situation, starting with a healthy diet. According to research, women with very painful periods have more inflammatory prostaglandins, which cause pain. So if you focus on consuming foods that reduce inflammation, this can reduce the pain.

First you should avoid foods that increase inflammatory prostaglandins, such as fried food, processed meat, dairy produce, and alcohol. Excluding sugar from your diet and reducing carbohydrate consumption can have a dramatic effect too. Some women benefit from excluding gluten from their diet.

You should then review what you’re eating and try to include some healthy oils, such as hemp oil, which you can pour on salad – it’s a source of omega 3. Ground flaxseed or walnuts are also good sources of omega 3, as is oily fish.

Eat lots of fresh vegetables, especially greens. The fibre in fresh vegetables helps balance hormones and cruciferous vegetables may help to keep certain hormone-related cancers away too. Fresh produce is nutritionally dense and studies show that a high level of nutrients may reduce your susceptibility to menstrual pain. Make your own meals from scratch, as they will be more nutritionally dense than convenience foods. Zinc, beta-carotene, and vitamin E are particularly important, so eat nuts or seeds for their zinc content. Eat carrots, sweet potatoes and dark leafy greens for betacarotene. Almonds, eggs, and greens are all good sources of vitamin E. A good selection of mixed salad, vegetables and fruit should give you the nutritional boost you need.

Supplements of ginger, magnesium, fish oil or cramp bark may help too, but they don’t come close to eating a healthy diet.

My story

I used to have the most painful periods. They lasted two weeks, were unpredictable in their timeliness and would sometimes occur as frequently as every three weeks. This meant I was in agony with horrendous cramps for most of my miserable existence, and it went on for years. Painkillers were totally ineffective; nothing touched it. My lower back ached. I couldn’t sleep. My body was screaming.

This all started at the age of 10, but I was brought up to ‘pull my socks up’ and stop moaning, so I got on with life. I mean, what can you do? I thought it was normal. Every woman had period pains, right? I was younger than my peers when it all began, so I had no point of reference. I stretched my back trying to stop the muscle ache, and curled up on my bed, trying to find any position that would alleviate the pain. At times, it felt like someone was twisting a dagger in my abdominals, or I was in the throws of childbirth – it was sheer agony.

When I was 14 years old, I dared to go cycling with the church youth group. I was protected by a super sized tampon and a really huge sanitary pad; I thought this would be enough to see me through the afternoon. We cycled hard and I was perspiring, so the damp in my crotch didn’t raise alarm bells. Besides, the pad was designed to absorb any mess. A pool of red blood crept up my white shorts and it wasn’t until we stopped that I saw the huge crimson stain covering the lower half of my shorts, front and back! It was a hot day, so I had no spare clothes to cover myself up. I cycled miles home wearing my now crimson shorts. It was the most embarrassing experience of my life, which frankly, is saying something.

At the age of 15, I was disciplined at the shop where I worked for looking miserable. I was in so much pain, I was being bullied at school and was chronically tired. I plastered a fake smile on my face and carried on working. People said take painkillers, but they didn’t work. It was as much as I could do to get to work and function. I probably had anaemia from excessive blood loss too. The horrendous periods continued.

In my late teens or early 20s, I asked my doctor for a hysterectomy, but he thought I was too young and should wait. When I got married, at the age of 25, I had a Mirena coil fitted for contraception. They said it might reduce the severity of my periods, and it had a remarkable effect. The coil releases small amounts of progesterone to prevent pregnancy, and has the effect of reducing or eliminating periods too. My periods disappeared completely and I was ecstatic.

I eventually had the coil removed because I was battling with a health problem that was exacerbated by artificial hormones. I prepared myself mentally for the return of heavy painful periods, but what happened was quite unexpected.

My periods remained light; they lasted just a day or two and didn’t cause me any serious pain. I had a few aches and twinges but they were short lived. I wasn’t sure if this situation would last. The doctors had been quite insistent that the full horror of my two-week periods would be unleashed again if I didn’t keep the coil, so I still thought they’d return at some point.

However, I’d changed my diet to try to eliminate a fungal infection. It meant I cut out most processed foods and carbohydrates from my diet. I think this had more impact on my periods than the doctors could have known.

12 years later, my periods are still very light. I still follow a plant-based low-carbohydrate diet, and make most of my meals from scratch with raw ingredients, not processed foods. I’m now of the opinion that my diet has had a dramatic effect on improving my periods, and it was not so much the enduring effect of the Mirena coil, as the healthy diet that has had this long-lasting effect. It’s also had the knock on effect of boosting my immune system.

So I don’t need a hysterectomy. The pain has gone, the bleeding is minimal. Now I think this is normal. Funny eh, how no-one talks about these things, so we all think what we experience is normal.

My suggestion for anyone experiencing horrendous periods, is to try changing your diet. Fill up on fresh foods from the fruit and vegetables aisle – it might make a big difference to your life and it won’t be bad for your health, whatever happens!


Susie Kearley is a freelance journalist and writer who is also a qualified nutritionist, she writes regularly for a variety of publications on health and nutrition.

(Image courtesy: Silviarita @

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