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How to reduce menstrual pain

A diet change for about a month could prove effective, writes Dr Anjali Mukherjee.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 17, 2007 13:52 IST

Some women go through excruciating pain and cramps during their menstrual cycle, so much so that they are unable to work. They just lie in bed feeling miserable and resort to painkillers. If you are plagued by a similar problem, try a diet change for about a month and take a few supplements.

A healthy diet of whole grains, fruits and pulses is very helpful. At the same time, you need to avoid oily food, nonvegetarian food, milk and milk products. Certain supplements such as calcium and vitamin B6 are also particularly effective in tackling PMS.

Calcium: Research suggests that increasing calcium intake can help reduce menstrual pain and PMS symptoms, however, certain lifestyle factors such as smoking, deficiency of vitamin D, consuming excess sodium, sugar, caffeine or animal proteins acceler ates calcium loss — nearly 70 per cent passes right through without even being absorbed by the digestive tract and a portion of what is absorbed is lost in urine. Thus retaining the calcium is equally important.

Animal protein, for instance, increases the amount of calcium the kidneys remove from the blood and excrete through urine.

By avoiding them then, you can reduce your calcium losses substantially. Instead increase your intake of green leafy vegetables and legumes such as beans, peas and lentils, which are good sources of calcium. Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 has shown to help in depression, irritability and in reducing pain by increasing the production of pain-inhibiting neurotransmitters.

A combination of 50-150 mg of vitamin B6 (the recommended dosage that should not be exceeded) and 200 mg of magnesium taken daily, could be effective in treating premenstrual headaches.

Good sources of vitamin B6 include whole grains, beans, bananas and nuts. A high protein diet tends to deplete vitamin B6.

Essential Fatty Acids: Most painkillers used to treat menstrual pain work by inhibiting the effects of prostaglandins, which cause the pain. Prostaglandins are made from fats stored in your cell membranes.

An adequate intake of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids found in green leafy vegetables and legumes rather than the fat found in meats, dairy products and added oils, not only encourages the production of helpful prostaglandins that inhibit inflammation but also reduces other menstrual symptoms.

In fact, you can counter the ‘bad’ fats found in meats and dairy products by adding extra omega-3-rich oils such as flaxseed to your diet.

Phytoestrogens: Legumes, vegetables, fruits and particularly soy products such as tofu contain phytoestrogens, which help in reducing the effects of estrogens, resulting in reduced menstrual symptoms and breast cancer risk.

To sum up, by following a low-fat vegetarian diet and eating plenty of fibrerich fruits and vegetables along with vitamin and mineral supplementation, you should be able reduce your menstrual misery.

(Dr. Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.)