Period Problems? These Doctor-Recommended Nutrients And Foods Will Help
Menstrual pain is a common complaint I hear from patients in my practice. It can actually be debilitating for some women, causing them to miss work and negatively affecting their quality of life. But what a lot of women don't realize is that there are certain foods you can eat that actually improve menstrual pain and dysfunction—especially around the time of your cycle. Traditionally physicians will prescribe pain medicine and birth control pills to ease the pain, but I like to opt for a more natural approach. Try incorporating these nutrients and foods into your diet to improve your menstrual pain and get back to optimal health:
1. Healthy fats.
I encourage patients to incorporate an anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet—rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3s—into their lifestyle. A supplement, if approved by your medical provider, can also provide some extra-healthy fats. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation and pain associated with menstrual cycles and can be obtained by eating:
- Cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, or herring
- Green leafy vegetables
- Chia seeds
If you eat meat, I particularly recommend including two to three weekly servings of cold-water fish to optimize your omega-3-rich healthy fat intake.
Magnesium is a mineral that many women don't get enough of. It's also one of my favorite recommendations because it helps improve anxiety, sleep problems, headaches, and, of course—cramping caused by menstrual dysfunction and pain. Magnesium helps relax the uterine muscles, which is why menstrual pain occurs in the first place. Foods rich in magnesium include:
Try incorporating a few of these foods a day during your menstrual cycle and watch your pain improve.
3. All the B vitamins.
Many females have a B1 or thiamine deficiency that manifests as muscle pain, cramping, and sometimes fatigue—all symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Eating more foods rich in vitamin B1 can help alleviate these symptoms, such as:
- Lean pork
- Dried beans
- Fortified cereals
Vitamin B6 is another vitamin1 that tends to cause menstrual pain when levels are low because B6 helps magnesium get into the cells, helping the uterus relax. Foods that are high in vitamin B6 include:
- Fortified cereal
- Potatoes with the skin
- Chicken breasts
- Pork loins
Sometimes your provider will recommend a good complete B-complex vitamin, which includes both vitamin B1 and B6, but talk to your doctor before starting one on your own.
4. Vitamin E.
Vitamin E is a great supplement to include in your regimen. It improves menstrual pain via its anti-inflammatory actions2 and may help balance your hormones and menstrual flow. Try incorporating vitamin-E-rich foods a couple of days before your cycle for cramping, anxiety, and other symptoms. Foods that are high in vitamin E include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Fortified cereals
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant that fights free radicals that cause aging, making it one of my favorite anti-aging secrets as well.
So if you're experiencing unpleasant cramps during your period, consider adding more of these nutrient-rich foods to your week, and daily routine.
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who studied family medicine at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Georgia with a bachelor's of science in biology and psychology in 2004 and her doctor of medicine at American University of Antigua College of Medicine in 2010. She completed an integrative medicine fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil. She is also currently working on her functional medicine training with the Institute of Functional Medicine. Her interests include integrative, holistic, and functional medicine; women's health; preventive medicine; international medicine; and health care reform. She's also a certified yoga instructor and Reiki master. She enjoys writing and educating everyone on important health matters.