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FAQ - Advice for heavy and painful periods

By Alison Belcourt BA (Hons) DipION MBANT MAR

Expert nutritionists share their frequently asked questions…

Q - "My 19 year-old daughter is due to go back to university but she can miss several days of lectures each month due to very heavy and painful periods. Do you have any suggestions that may help her?"

A - To release the endometrial tissue during the period, the body produces several inflammatory molecules called prostaglandins. It makes these from a fatty acid found in dairy food and meat. It is these inflammatory factors that create the pain. In response to the prostaglandins, a bleed occurs and the muscle walls of the uterus contract, exaggerating the pain your daughter is feeling. Heavy blood loss will decrease her iron levels which, in turn, increases blood flow, creating a vicious cycle.

The good news is that we can produce other prostaglandins that help to calm inflammation down and reduce the pain. These prostaglandins are made from fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, vegetables and oily fish. They are collectively called omega 3 and 6 oils. A diet high in sweet foods and sugar may block this pathway from working properly.

Magnesium is a mineral that helps to reduce muscle spasm and cramping but we use a lot during stress or if physical activity is high. If she is worrying about her work and revision it may be that her magnesium levels are low.

Encourage your daughter to eat muesli for breakfast, maybe with rice or soya milk rather than dairy. Tell her to snack on nuts, seeds and protein bars, rather than biscuits. Suggest tuna, salmon and sardines in salads and sandwiches, rather than cheese. Give her more vegetables with her main meal for extra magnesium. She should avoid drinks like coca cola, other fizzy drinks, tea and coffee and should drink well-diluted fruit juices, herbal teas or, best of all, more water.

She can increase iron by eating lean organic meat, having beetroot, watercress and spinach in her salads and eating more pumpkin seeds or having pumpkin seed butter on her crisp breads or toast.  

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