The monthly joys of womanhood are here again leaving you feeling less than your best. Approximately four out of five women experience period symptoms like bloating, irritability, and fatigue.1 Hormone fluctuations and changes in brain chemistry during your period can be partly to blame but so can lifestyle factors like diet.
Scroll down to find your common period pains and learn easy food solutions to help get you through the worst of it.
- On Edge Like Whoa.
For some of us ladies, having our period means feeling irritable or anxious. Don’t want to blow a fuse at work? Try cutting down on caffeine. Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system, potentially making you feel more agitated. Coffee isn’t the only culprit. Make sure to thoroughly vet your teas and even other brews considered healthy.
- Feeling Down.
Mood swings and depression are a common period frustration. One minute you’re fine and the next you’re crying over a copy machine malfunction. Wine at the end of the day may seem like the best way to relax, but alcohol is a depressant and can end up making you feel worse. Instead, treat yourself to a meal of tryptophan-rich foods. Tryptophan is a type of amino acid that converts to mood-stabilizing serotonin in the brain. Foods rich in tryptophan include nuts, chia and pumpkin seeds, eggs, poultry, oats, and fish like tuna and salmon. Salmon also has vitamin D, a necessary nutrient to convert tryptophan to serotonin, whereas pumpkins seeds contain depression-fighting zinc.2
- Snoozing At Your Desk.
Feeling tired during your period can be worsened by your meal pattern choice throughout the day. Eating large meals can lead to a carb overload, leaving you feeling sleepy. Instead, keep your blood sugar balanced and energy up by eating smaller meals and snacks throughout your day that are protein-rich and contain complex carbs and healthy fats.
- Food Cravings.
We’ve all had food cravings that just won’t quit and usually for the unhealthy stuff. Try for healthier versions and in moderation. If you’re craving fries, try baked sweet potato fries. Are you a chocolate monster? Instead of gobbling down a bag of candy-coated sweets, swap in some dark chocolate instead—a healthier tradeoff that naturally contains mood-stabilizing serotonin. Make sure to eat regularly to avoid being ravenously hungry. Keeping yourself fed can help you make healthy food choices versus grabbing junk food.
- Trouble Sleeping.
Try foods that help boost melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Tart cherry juice naturally contains melatonin and has been seen to improve sleep.3 Inside the body, melatonin is derived from the amino acid tryptophan, so having a balanced evening snack with tryptophan-rich foods can help your body make the conversion (refer back to #2 for tryptophan-rich foods).
Acne is caused in part by hormone fluctuations during your cycle. But it’s possible to consume food and drink that works with your skin instead of against it. Drinking plenty of water keeps you hydrated and skin moisturized. It also helps to flush toxins and wastes from the body that may contribute to acne. Avoiding sugar, refined carbs (think white pastas and breads), and dairy can also help keep skin clear.
- Upset Stomach.
An easy way to sooth an upset belly is to sip calming decaffeinated teas. Teas like ginger, mint, and chamomile can help with tummy distress. Peppermint tea may also help with relieving menstrual cramps.
- Bathroom Blues.
Having the period poops (or lack thereof) is the worst. If you find yourself with diarrhea, eating foods rich in soluble fiber (think oats, sweet potatoes without the skin, chia seeds, and bananas) can help. Soluble fiber works as a sponge, absorbing fluid in the gut that contributes to diarrhea.
Fiber can also help constipation. If you’re constipated, try consuming foods rich in insoluble fiber (think whole grains, nuts and seeds, and fruits with the skin). Prune juice is another option that works as a natural laxative. According to the Cleveland Clinic, drinking ½ to 1 cup of prune juice in the morning can help stimulate a bowel movement.4
No matter what ails you, staying hydrated is a must. Drinking eight or more cups of liquid per day is essential. If you have diarrhea, drinking plenty of water and sipping coconut water (with no added sugar) can help replace fluids and electrolytes. If you’re constipated, drinking water works with fiber in your diet to move stool along.
- Gassy Girl.
Beat the bloat by first staying away from foods that make you gassy. Foods like cruciferous veggies (think broccoli, kale, and cabbage), beans, and dairy may add to feeling bloated. Sugar, salty foods, and carbonated beverages can also worsen the problem.
It may sound counterintuitive, but drinking plenty of water actually protects against fluid retention. What’s more, eating foods like cucumbers, and potassium-rich foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, watermelon, and butternut squash can help reduce swelling and fluid retention.
- Pain in the…
Muscle pain is a common period symptom. Whether it’s menstrual cramps or back pain, magnesium may help relax muscles and relieve pain. Foods rich in magnesium include nuts and seeds, fish, bananas, peas, avocados, and dark chocolate.
- Brain Fog.
Your usual cognitive catlike reflexes are now mocking you. But combating brain fog doesn’t have to be a losing battle. It can be as easy as starting your day with a balanced protein-rich meal. Eating breakfast within the first hour of waking can help balance blood sugar levels, keeping your energy up and your brain sharp. Focus on foods rich in brain-boosting nutrients like omega-3s; magnesium; vitamins E, D, C; and the family of B-vitamins. Brain-boosting foods include: walnuts; pumpkin and hemp seeds; avocados; eggs; sweet potatoes; fruits like oranges, bananas, and berries; oats; and plant milks fortified with vitamin D.
Most of us can’t escape period symptoms completely. But knowing how to work with your body during this time of the month can help. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, visit your doctor and meet with a dietitian to make a specific health plan that’s right for you.
PLEASE NOTE: The above information should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a Freelance Writer and Editor, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering in her community. She is a paid consultant of Merit.
- Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. (n.d.) Menstruation and Menstrual Suppression Survey Fact Sheet: Women & Their Menstrual Cycles. Retrieved from http://www.arhp.org/Publications-and-Resources/Studies-and-Surveys/Menstruation-and-Menstrual-Suppression-Survey/fact-sheet
- Lang, U. E., Beglinger, C., Schweinfurth, N., et al. (2015). Nutritional aspects of depression. Cell Physiol Biochem, Sep; 37(3): 1029-1043.
- Howatson, G., Bell, P. G., Tallent, J., et al. (2012). Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr, Dec; 51(8): 909-916.
- Cleveland Clinic. (2014). Nutrition Problems & Their Solutions. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/nutrition-problems-and-their-solutions