- Women's Health
Foods that Women should stay off when Experiencing Menstrual Cramps
Menstrual cramps can be very painful
As I write this post, I’m reminded of an old Lebanese friend who believes that all of women’s problems somehow begin with men. Mimi, as I affectionately called her, would tell me: “You know what, young man, just think of MENtal Illness; MENstrual Cramps; MENtal Breakdown; MENopause; and GUYnecologist, and tell me that men aren’t the cause of women’s many problems.”
But for GUYnecologist, which is actually an occupation to help women during pregnancy, I’d agree with Mimi’s proposition, mostly because she’d not give me what I want if I do otherwise.
Mimi passed away last year at the ripe old age of 99 years. To honor her memory, I’ll discuss the one issue that is naturally associated with womanhood, menstrual cramps.
My aim is to explore foods that are a faux pas for women experiencing menstrual cramps; but in doing so, I’d explain what menstrual cramps are and some of the common causes thereof.
What are menstrual cramps?
The female human anatomy is such that for a few days in every month, blood is shed from the womb and eliminated through the vagina. So that a woman can conceive a child, an egg in her womb must be fertilized by her male partner’s sperm.
The egg enters the womb every month and is destroyed and expelled, in blood form, from the womb whenever there’s no sperm to fertilize it.
This monthly expulsion of blood from the womb is referred to as menstruation. Menstruation usually comes with mood swings and other symptoms. One of such symptoms is menstrual cramp, a painful sensation, ranging from dull and annoying to severe and extreme, which women feel in their abdomen. Therefore, menstrual cramps are abdominal pains that women experience prior to or during menstruation.
Menstrual cramps are caused by the contraction and relaxation of the muscles/walls of the womb. In order for the destroyed egg, the egg that wasn’t fertilized, to be expelled from the womb, the walls of the womb contract and relax to cause movement.
Usually, most women don’t experience pain when the walls of the womb are moving in this pattern. Sometimes, however, the contraction and relaxation are so severe and frequent that blood supply to the walls is cut off temporarily. When blood supply is cut off, oxygen from the blood to the walls of the womb is also cut off, leading to pain in the abdomen area.
So what foods are forbidden for women experiencing menstrual cramps?
First on the list is sugar, and by that I mean free or added sugar, not natural sugar as is found in fruits and complex carbohydrates. During menstruation, the walls of the womb become inflamed; this can lead to more cramps. Eating sugar adds to the complication by causing the sugar level of your blood to spike; the body responds to too much sugar by becoming inflamed; and an inflamed system produces more pains for you.
Second on the list are caffeinated foods such as coffee, protein bars and sodas, just to mention a few. Caffeine is credited with constricting the blood vessels, thereby reducing the flow of blood to different parts of the body.
In the case of women who are experiencing menstrual cramps, constricted blood vessels are to be avoided at all costs. Remember the cause of the cramps in the first place; temporary loss of blood flow, and for that matter oxygen, to the walls of the womb? Drinking anything caffeinated adds insults to injury by narrowing the blood vessels and preventing them from sending blood and oxygen to the womb.
Another food to be avoided if you are experiencing menstrual cramps is fatty meat. Meats such as beef, pork and lamb are considered fatty because they are high in saturated fats. Saturated fats contain certain acids, which cause the walls of the womb to contract and relax all the more.
Considering that it is the severe and frequent movement of the walls of the womb that causes menstrual cramps, you want to avoid, if not reduce, such movements as much as you can. Hence, during this period it would not be advisable to eat a lot of fatty meats.
You also want to avoid processed or junk food if you are experiencing menstrual cramps. Processed foods are foods that have somehow been altered from their natural state, either for safety or convenience. While processed foods aren’t necessarily unhealthy, they may contain added sugar, salt or fat.
An example of such fat is hydrogenated oils, also known as Tran’s fats. Hydrogenated oils worsen menstrual cramps by inflaming the body from within; thereby giving you more pains than you should bear.
Finally, women who are experiencing menstrual cramps should cut back on salty foods – thus, foods that are high in sodium. High-sodium food in this context means food that contains more than 1.5g of salt per 100g.
When you consume too much salt, your body retains a lot of water as the salt reduces the ability of your kidneys to expel water. This causes parts of your body to swell up, leaving you with a lot of pain, in addition to your already-existing menstrual cramps.
Staying away or reducing the consumption of the above mentioned foods would help reduce the pains that most women go through during their menstrual period.