Premenstrual syndrome is a combination of distressing physical, behavioural and psychological symptoms experienced by women and girls before the onset of menstruation and regress by the end of the period. Commonly experienced symptoms are weight gain, bloating, breast fullness, mood swings, headache, depression, cramp-like pain in lower abdomen, back and thighs and since these symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe in individuals, females are advised treatment depending on their severity.
Menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea affects almost 70 per cent of women of child-bearing age in India. Characterised by painful cramps during the first few days of the period, dysmenorrhea can greatly impact women’s daily activities but health and fitness experts insist that help can be as near as your kitchen since food is medicine and is deeply linked to our physical and mental wellbeing.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Kavita Pujar, Senior Consultant – Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Bengaluru’s Kinder Women’s Hospital and Fertility Centre, revealed, “Consuming natural nutrients that reduce bodily inflammation will help in reducing menstrual cramps. These foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds whole grains will aid in reducing the cramps. It is advised to avoid animal products such as milk, meat etc and other oils that raises the estrogen levels. Increase in body’s estrogen level increases the risk of abnormal thickening of the uterus lining resulting in more pain during periods. It is also necessary to include nutrients such as magnesium, fiber, vitamin B, calcium in one’s diet to reduce muscular cramps and pain.”
Asserting that there are certain dietary and lifestyle changes that can be helpful in reducing these symptoms, Dr Preeti Raheja, Gynaecologist at Connect and Heal, listed the foods that can ease PMS:
1. Bananas – Bananas are rich in Vitamin B6, potassium and magnesium. They can reduce menstrual cramps and bloating.
2. Green and leafy vegetables – Vegetables like broccoli, spinach and kale are good nutritional inclusions to diet during periods.
3. Dark chocolate – Dark chocolate with 85% cocoa is rich in magnesium and fibre. Cocoa can help in reducing period cramps and satisfying cravings for sweets. Cocoa helps in uplifting mood.
4. Oranges – Oranges are rich in magnesium, potassium and Vitamin C. They reduce fatigue and improve moods.
5. Nuts – A handful of almonds, pistachios and sunflower seeds are good snacks during periods.
6. Chamomile and ginger tea – These have a calming effect and help in reducing nausea and bloating.
7. Water – Drinking enough water keeps the body hydrated and reduces fatigue.
Highlighting the foods to avoid during periods, Dr Preeti Raheja cautioned against fried foods, foods with high salt content, caffeine, milk and dairy products.
According to Pratiksha Kadam, Chief Dietitian at Navi Mumbai’s Reliance Hospital, plant-based foods should be included in the diet which will increase the fibre. A high fibre diet in combination with a low-fat diet can reduce the intensity of the pain during menstrual periods, she said.
Options to be considered:
1. Fruits – Two serves per day: Orange, sweet lime, banana, apple and all seasonal fruits can be consumed. Avoid fruit juices
2. Vegetables – Four serves per day: Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, tomato, carrots, sweet potatoes, Indian Yam or suran
3. Whole grains like less polished rice or brown rice, Wheat, Jowar, Rajagira atta, Nachani (in form of ladoos, dosa or chapatti), Daliya or oats
4. Legumes – Moong, red chawali, rajama, kulith, chola, chanaa, matki. Ensure the legumes are consumed as sprouts and are cooked well
5. Nuts (to be eaten in 4-5 in numbers) in varieties and seeds (Sabja seeds are popularly known as sweet basil seeds), acacia gum dinkk or gondh (can be made into a drink or ladoo)
6. Hydrate yourself with more liquids like water, curd, lemon juice (no salt), buttermilk, green tea
Pratiksha Kadam revealed that the food to avoid during and pre-menstruation to reduce pain include:
1. Avoiding salt can help reduce fluid retention, abdominal bloating, breast swelling and pain
2. High caffeine can cause irritability, poor sleep and menstrual cramps
3. Refined flour (maida) – white bread, biscuits, refined cereals, cakes, rusk pastries, etc.
4. Excess consumption of oily and junk food like burgers, samosas, vada pav, doughnuts etc.
5. Avoid excess consumption of red meat, pork, dry fish, and poultry
Pratiksha Kadam advised, “A balanced diet with high fibre and low fat can help in providing antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics, vitamins and minerals. Estrogen production is reduced by avoiding of excess non-vegetarian, processed foods, oils, fried food etc. Replace non-fibre foods with grains, beans and vegetables, fruits, nuts. One can try changing their diet gradually and monitor the next few menstrual cycles. The changes will be positive and will help in the reduction of menstrual cramps.”
Suggesting that the next time you are experiencing painful cramps, just reach out to the common ingredients on your kitchen shelves and help manage your pain by incorporating them into your daily diet, Prakriti Poddar, Global Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at RoundGlass, recommended:
1. Fenugreek Seeds (Methi Dana) and Cumin Seeds (Jeera) – This common ingredient is believed by researchers to contain chemical compounds called alkaloids that have an analgesic effect. They block sensory receptors, reducing the brain’s perception of pain. Fenugreek seeds can be consumed in form of a drink made from water used to soak them overnight or as a powder mixed with warm water. Cumin seeds are a powerhouse of anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic antioxidants. The best way to consume these seeds is to boil them in water and then drink it up like tea.
2. Turmeric (Haldi) – It contains curcumin a chemical known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Adding this golden spice to your meals or to your tea can help reduce uterine contractions and hence cramps.
3. Dark Chocolate – We never need a reason to eat dark chocolate, but nasty cramps totally merit snacking on this food, which is rich in magnesium. Known as ‘nature’s relaxant’, magnesium helps in relaxing muscles of the uterus and reducing prostaglandins – chemicals that induce uterine contractions causing menstrual cramps.
4. Fruits: Bananas and Muskmelon – Bananas are rich in magnesium, which helps in reducing the intensity of the pain and they also provide relief from bloating. Eating muskmelon helps in regulating menstrual flow and also eases pain from cramps.
5. Vegetables: Broccolli and Kale – Dark leafy vegetables are rich in magnesium and calcium, which help in reducing pain from menstrual cramps.
6. Chamomile Tea – There’s plenty of scientific evidence to show that this herbal tea reduces menstrual cramps. A 2010 study, found that drinking this tea one week prior to the period and for the first five days of the period for a month benefitted women who suffered from painful periods.
7. In addition, sipping warm water helps. It increases blood circulation and hence menstrual flow, which reduces the occurrence of cramps. To keep your energy up during these days, snack on dates and figs. In studies, dried figs have been found to reduce the severity of menstrual cramps.