Natural Ways to Alleviate Period Pain and Cramps, Backed by Science


Period pain, also known as dysmenorrhea, is a common occurrence among menstruating individuals. More than half of people who experience menstruation endure pain for up to three days each month. The pain is typically felt as throbbing or cramping in the lower abdomen. In addition to pain, digestive issues such as vomiting, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and a gurgling stomach can also occur during menstruation.

While there are various treatments available for period pain, not all of them are well-tolerated or effective for everyone. In recent years, there has been growing interest in understanding the role of food in influencing inflammation in the body. Could certain foods be beneficial in alleviating painful periods? Let’s delve into the research to find out.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, oysters, and edamame beans. These beneficial fatty acids are naturally present in oils such as fish, cod liver, algal, krill, flaxseed (linseed), soybean, and canola oils.

Numerous studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids affect cellular functioning and the signaling pathways associated with inflammation and pain. In a recent meta-analysis, researchers analyzed all available data on the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on period pain. The findings suggest that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids, including supplements of 300-1,800 milligrams per day over two to three months, may reduce pain and the need for pain medication in individuals with painful periods.

Vitamin D is another nutrient that may play a role in alleviating period pain. Foods high in vitamin D include trout, salmon, tuna, mackerel, fish liver oils, beef liver, egg yolk, cheese, and mushrooms. Vitamin D can also be obtained through sun exposure or supplements.

Research has shown that vitamin D may help reduce the factors that cause inflammation in the uterus, including the production of prostaglandins. A meta-analysis conducted in 2023 revealed that women who received weekly doses of vitamin D greater than 50,000 IU experienced relief from period pain, regardless of the duration and frequency of vitamin intake.

In addition, vitamin E has shown promise in reducing period pain. Foods rich in vitamin E include seeds (especially sunflower seeds), nuts (particularly almonds, hazelnuts, and peanuts), and vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kiwifruit, mango, and tomato. A well-conducted trial found that vitamin E supplements (90 milligrams, twice a day) taken for five days, starting two days before the expected start of the period, significantly reduced the severity and duration of period pain.

On the other hand, it is advisable to avoid highly processed foods. These include energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods like takeaways, chips, biscuits, doughnuts, processed meats, and soft drinks. While research findings on the impact of a processed food diet on period pain vary, some observational studies have suggested that higher consumption of processed foods may be associated with more intense period pain. Therefore, reducing the intake of processed foods is worth considering.

Caffeine intake has also been linked to menstrual pain. Caffeine, which can be found in coffee, energy drinks, and certain processed energy bars, is thought to narrow blood vessels and limit blood flow, leading to stronger cramps during menstruation. It is important to note that drinking alcohol is not directly linked to painful periods. However, chronic heavy alcohol use can deplete magnesium levels in the blood, which is essential for muscle relaxation and blood flow regulation.

While a healthy and balanced diet can support overall health and reduce inflammation in the body, it is important to understand that diet alone cannot treat all forms of menstrual pain. If you are concerned about your painful periods, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional to discuss your options.

In conclusion, incorporating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and vitamin E into your diet, while minimizing the consumption of processed foods and caffeine, may offer some relief from period pain. Remember that every individual is unique, and it is important to find what works best for you. If you need personalized dietary advice or a menstrual health meal plan, consider consulting an accredited practicing dietitian.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it