By Sandee LaMotte, CNN
Around 85% of girls suffer from painful bloating, cramping and abdominal pain during their periods – and for some the problems can last for years.
“Given that period pain is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism among teenage girls, it is important to explore options that can minimize pain,” said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, director of the Center for Health from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., in a statement. . She did not participate in the study.
But there are behavioral adjustments girls and young women can make to reduce pain, according to a new analysis of studies. “Dietary modification might be a relatively simple solution that could provide them with substantial relief,” Faubion, who is also the medical director of the North American Menopausal Society, said of the research findings.
The abstract, presented at the NAMS annual meeting on Wednesday, explored the link between diet and dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful periods. Lead author Serah Sannoh told CNN she became interested in the subject because of her own period pains, which had plagued her since she was a teenager.
“I have found that diets high in inflammatory foods such as animal meats, oil, sugars, salts and coffee contribute to an increased risk of pain during a woman’s period,” Sannoh said. who conducted the research as an intern at Robert Wood Johnson of Rutgers University. New Jersey School of Medicine. She is currently a medical student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia.
“A lot of things young people like to eat are very inflammatory… lunch meats, foods high in sugars and trans fats. But if you follow an anti-inflammatory diet – fruits, vegetables, olive oil, like the Mediterranean diet – you will have less cramping,” said Dr. Monica Christmas, NAMS board member, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University. of Chicago, who did not participate in the study.
Scientific evidence has shown that a healthy diet, good sleep and exercise are effective measures to reduce the duration and severity of cramps, Christmas said. But she noted that it’s important for women to see a health care provider: “Make sure there is no other medical condition that could also be contributing to the symptoms.”
What causes the pain?
As your body prepares for its period, the endometrial cells that have built up a lining in the uterus to accommodate a fertilized egg begin to break down. In doing so, these cells release large amounts of fatty acids called prostaglandins to contract the uterine layer and expel unused tissue. The body also releases prostaglandins naturally during labor to open the cervix for birth.
Prostaglandins act like hormones, causing blood vessels and smooth muscles to constrict, resulting in cramps and pain. According to the American Association of Family Physicians, researchers have found that prostaglandin levels are higher and uterine contractions are stronger and more frequent in women with menstrual pain than in women with little or no menstrual pain. of pain.
Eating inflammatory foods only adds to the discomfort, studies show. Highly processed, high-sugar foods and greasy, fatty foods are common culprits — a 2018 study found college students who ate more snacks had more pain during their periods.
Another 2018 study of Spanish college students found that women who drank cola and ate meat were more likely to experience pain during their cycle than women who ate more vegetables and fruit. In fact, a 2020 study found that women who ate less than two servings of fruit a day were more likely to experience pain during their menstrual cycle.
Part of the problem is an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, Sannoh found. Omega-3 fatty acids – found in foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, oysters, walnuts, chia and flax seeds – are anti-inflammatory. Studies have linked them to a reduced risk of many chronic diseases triggered by inflammation.
Omega-6 fatty acids maintain healthy skin, hair and bones and help regulate metabolism, in addition to their role in the reproductive system. But too much of these fatty acids can cause inflammation when the body eventually breaks them down into arachidonic acid, which lowers the body’s pain threshold.
“Through my research, I discovered that people with a diet high in Omega-6 fatty acids, especially those derived from animal products, have a higher presence of arachidonic acid in the body, which increases the amount of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins that help the uterus contract” , said Sannoh.
“When you eat a diet that balances omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and decrease the amount of inflammatory foods you eat, it will reduce the painful period experience,” she added.
Two separate studies of 2011 and 2012 found that women who took omega-3 fatty acid supplements reduced the intensity of menstrual discomfort enough to reduce their use of ibuprofen for pain relief. And a 1996 study found a highly significant relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and milder menstrual symptoms in teenage girls.
Changing your diet is not the only way to fight menstrual pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, reduce the production of prostaglandins, which is why they’re a mainstay in the treatment of cramps, Christmas said.
However, these painkillers also have side effects. According to a 2015 Cochrane Library evidence review, NSAIDs are linked to bloating, diarrhea, dizziness, indigestion, headache, heartburn, high blood pressure, nausea , vomiting and, on rare occasions, increased liver enzymes.
Some oral contraceptive pills also reduce the production of prostaglandins in the uterine lining, which reduces both blood flow and cramping. Doses below 35 micrograms were “effective and should be the preparation of choice”, according to a 2009 Cochrane Library review.
But if you’re not interested in these methods — or want extra relief — try an anti-inflammatory diet. Sannoh put her research into practice by decreasing her intake of red meat and other inflammatory foods such as sugar and coffee, and told CNN it lessened her period pain.
There’s an added benefit to adopting an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, Christmas said.
“These diets are also associated with less high blood pressure, less cardiovascular disease, less diabetes, less arthritis problems, decreased morbidity and mortality, especially after menopause,” Christmas said.
“So if you can get young people to eat better, exercise and live a healthier lifestyle, they’ll do better as they age.”
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