Stuck on the couch with a heating pad every month when Aunt Flo comes knocking? You aren’t alone. Menstrual cramps can be a pain, but you may be able to ease them just by switching up your diet.
Certain foods can help with period pain by reducing the inflammation and muscle contractions associated with cramps, including one of the world’s fave treats. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can help ease cramps. Here’s the DL on how eating the right nutrients can help you fight period pain and get back to living your best life.
Period cramps (aka dysmenorrhea) can strike for many reasons, but inflammation is the main culprit. More inflammation in your body can worsen cramps by increasing prostaglandins, inflammatory hormones that increase uterine contractions while reducing blood flow to your uterus.
But bumping up your intake of certain nutrients can help, including:
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help keep inflammation in check. One study found that supplementing with omega-3 every day for 3 months reduced menstrual pain intensity. They can even help if your period affects your mood.
- Magnesium. Also known as the relaxation mineral, magnesium could help with pain by lowering prostaglandins and calming down uterine contractions. Plus, low magnesium levels are associated with worse PMS symptoms.
- Vitamin B6. One of the most popular nutrients for cramps and PMS relief is vitamin B6. It could help by boosting the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that help with pain relief and mood. Combining vitamin B6 with magnesium might be even more effective because B6 helps magnesium get into the cells more efficiently.
- Iron. Depending on your flow, you can lose a lot of blood during your period. Not everyone needs extra iron, but lower iron levels can cause more painful cramps.
- Vitamin E. This fat-soluble vitamin could make cramps more manageable if you take it consistently. A study on teenage girls found that taking vitamin E for 2 to 3 days before starting their periods over 4 months lowered pain scores while reducing how often they used pain meds and overall blood loss.
Many studies on period pain look at supplementing with nutrients. But you don’t have to take them in supplement form to get their benefits. Eating foods that are naturally high in these nutrients can also help.
Chocolate lovers rejoice. The nutrients in chocolate make it stand out as a top food to help with cramps. First, chocolate is a source of magnesium, which helps with muscle relaxation. This sweet is also rich in polyphenols, chemical compounds that turn down the inflammatory thermometer in your body. Chocolate could also increase dopamine production, which can help with your mood.
And since period cravings are related to drops in hormones and neurotransmitters, chocolate can fill that void when you find yourself searching through the cupboard for something sweet. Dark chocolate is especially nutrient-dense. Look for 70 percent cacao or above for the best bar for easing cramps.
2. Blackstrap molasses
Looking for another sweet treat to help with cravings? Consider blackstrap molasses. Blackstrap molasses is made from sugarcane, but it’s not quite as sweet (and it can be an acquired taste). It’s also a not-so-well-known source of magnesium — just one tablespoon provides 10 percent of your daily value.
And if you experience heavy periods, blackstrap molasses is a plant-based source of iron to help replenish your stores. Try it on oatmeal or, if you’re a fan of the taste, try taking it by the spoonful.
According to one study, ginger could help with inflammation and period pain as much as over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. You can enjoy ginger tea all month long if you like it, but you don’t have to. A review of seven studies on ginger and menstrual symptoms found that even just taking ginger powder for the first few days of your period could help.
Bonus: It also helps with digestion and bloating.
Salmon is on pretty much every list of superfoods, and for good reason. Fatty fish like salmon contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation and menstrual cramps.
You only need 2 servings per week, but it can take time to notice a difference, so consistency is key. If baked salmon isn’t your thing, or it’s cost-prohibitive, canned wild salmon is another great option to throw onto a salad or to make salmon burgers. Other fatty fish like tuna or sardines work, too.
If you don’t eat (or just don’t love) fish, walnuts are another way to boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts are also a good source of fiber which can keep you regular.
This can help ease period pain since constipation and bloat can make cramps feel worse. Eat a handful or two as a snack, or on salad or oatmeal. Walnut butter makes a yummy nut butter alternative.
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice found in many Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. The active form of turmeric called curcumin could help significantly with menstrual cramps, mood, and other symptoms of PMS.
One study found that taking turmeric supplements helped decrease inflammation and support neurotransmitter production to reduce pain. Using turmeric to spice up your cooking is a start, but you may need to consider adding supplements to get enough to make a difference in your symptoms.
7. Leafy greens
Adding a serving of spinach to your plate could support a less painful period. Leafy greens contain iron to replenish losses from menstruating. Greens are also high in fiber and contain many phytochemicals to support overall inflammation reduction. Try to include a variety of types of greens throughout the month like kale, spinach, or swiss chard.
Diet can be a helpful way to address period cramps, but it isn’t your only option. Here are some other drug-free ways to feel better ASAP.
- Exercise more. Some studies show that moving your body regularly could help with period pain. One review found that exercising 3 days a week — including low intensity workouts like yoga or higher intensity ones like running — reduced period pain.
- Limit fried foods. Fried foods can add to inflammation in your body. If you’re craving something fried, it may be a good idea to try baked (or even air-fryed) instead.
- Cut back on alcohol. You don’t have to skip your favorite sip altogether, but consider cutting back on your intake if you’re experiencing period pain. Alcohol can make things worse by altering your hormones, and hormone imbalances can worsen painful periods and PMS symptoms.
- Try acupuncture. A review found that acupuncture could reduce pain and period symptoms even better than OTC pain relievers. More research is needed, but it may be worth trying since acupuncture is also linked to relaxation and better sleep.
Period cramps are miserable, but chocolate may help. Foods that address inflammation can make a big difference in how you feel each month. Add on regular exercise or acupuncture, and you may be able to retire your heating pad for good.