Menstruation is the periodical discharge of blood and menses (mucosal tissue) from the inner lining of the uterus of a female through the vagina. The first occurrence of such periodical or regular discharge is called menarche. Normally it starts once a female attains puberty. Attainment of puberty means readying the body for sexual reproduction. Attainment of puberty is clearly evidenced by menarche.
In general the first menstruation commences in a female adult between the ages of twelve and fifteen. In rare cases it may also commence at the age of about eight or nine years.
Period of a menstrual cycle
Once commenced, the periodic menstruation keep on recurring in a cyclical order of about 28 days. The discharge is temporarily stopped during pregnancy and the initial months of breast feeding. It continues in most women up to the age of 45 and may be even up to 55 years. Thereafter the menstruation stops and it is called menopause (1).
In a reproductive women, one of the ovaries releases the egg around fourteen days of the menstrual cycle. Such formation and timely releasing of egg is essential for pregnancy (2). If pregnancy do not occur then the blood and menses lining of the uterus is discharged out through the vagina.
In most women the menses discharge duration is about two to seven days. While the discharge is for more number of days during the early years, as age advances the duration stabilizes to about three days.
That much said, menstruation is the normal biological process in a fertile woman. But there are occasions when such process is encountered with certain problems right from the premenstrual stage and throughout the menstruation years until menopause is attained.
Types of Menstrual disorders
Different types of menstrual disorders are identified and each type has specific causes and produce certain symptoms. Treatment of every disorder is based on the causes and symptoms identified. Some of the types of disorders are broadly classified as
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding including excess and irregular bleeding
- Lack of bleeding called amenorrhea
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Painful menstruation, menstrual cramps (3)
A number of symptoms surface evidencing menstrual problems. Such symptoms are fatigue, depression, anxiety, bloating, backaches, headaches, craving for eating, constipation, insomnia, stomach cramps and painful bleeding etc. The causes for menstrual problems are many and the symptoms are too many.
Treatment is given after appropriate diagnosis based on the symptoms. Treatment may vary based on the underlying cause of the menstrual problem.
One of the treatment methods to combat the problem before, during and after menstruation is by adopting appropriate food preferences. Some food varieties are detrimental which could aggravate the problem while some foods are beneficial in preventing as well as treating the menstrual problems.
Foods to treat menstrual problems
Some of the foods that are identified as best foods for the person suffering due to menstruation are discussed here.
Vegetables and Green leafy vegetables
Vegetables like Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, carrots and cantaloupe and green leafy vegetables like Spinach, kale and broccoli are known to provide significant benefit in relieving the disorders. Most of these vegetables contain vitamins A, B6, E, calcium, potassium and manganese which are helpful in providing the desired relief (4). The important factor here is that all these vegetables can be consumed on daily basis along with the normal diet or even as substitute diet. Particularly magnesium in the vegetables cures menstrual cramps and reduce the pain during menstruation. Moreover beta-carotene, vitamin C and antioxidants present in the vegetables have the potential to balance the hormones in the body as much of the disorders are due to hormone imbalances. Leafy greens can be steam cooked and consumed as any other vegetable or can be added to salads prepared with other ingredients.
Consumption of unripe papaya fruit either raw or cooked alone or by adding the same in other food dishes is helpful in contracting the muscles of the uterus which in turn regulates the blood flow during menstruation. In the alternate juice extracted from the unripe fruit also can be consumed (5). But all forms of papaya must be consumed before the commencement of each cycle and definitely not during the days of menstruation as it could cause heavy period. However, it is not advisable to consume papaya fruits during the cycle as it could cause excessive bleeding.
Ginger generally added to various dishes for flavor has anti-inflammatory properties. Consumption of raw ginger or juice with lemon during the cycle reduces menstrual pain and cramps effectively. It cures dysmenorrhea which is a disorder causing severe pain during the menstruation days. Just one inch of raw ginger will suffice. You can also add peeled and chopped ginger pieces to boiling water, strain and drink (6). Adding a slice of lemon to the boiling water will be an added advantage.
Yogurt is another natural food that is very helpful in addressing menstrual disorders, particularly menstrual cramps. Yogurt contains lot of good bacteria and it is a probiotic food. Probiotics are live microbial dietary supplements which improve the health of the intestines (7). Calcium present in probiotic yogurt with high level of beneficial bacteria reduce menstrual cramps and the pain associated with such cramps. Yogurt has the ability to provide relaxation to the muscles which is very important to get relieved from cramps.
Sunflower seeds with the good amount of vitamin E present is an excellent food to consume during the days leading to commencement of the regular periods. Sunflower seed is highly nutrient with vitamin E, copper, phosphorous, selenium and B vitamins (8). The seeds have the potential to cure sore boobs and cramps during the cycle. Breast disorders like tender or heavier breast or lumpier breast coupled with pain is one of the premenstrual syndrome symptoms. This disorder is called fibrocystic breast disease which is treated by consumption of sunflower seeds.
Omega 3 fatty acids are richly present in flax seeds. These fatty acids regulates the hormones. Lignans are special compounds present in flax seeds which balances the hormones including estrogen (9). With this particular property it has the potential to cure menstruation problems and also polycystic ovarian syndrome. Rich fiber and protein content in the seeds are also helpful in improving overall health of the person which is essential during the periods. Weakness during the days of menstruation leads to fatigue and irregular periods. Consumption of flax seeds, either as raw seed or ground flour or flakes on a regular basis reduce the disorders to a larger extent.
Use of turmeric as a spice in culinary is most common. Turmeric has wonderful health benefits. The herb has anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. Consuming about half a teaspoon of turmeric powder days before and during the periods prevent the pain. Even when there is pain the powder can be consumed with honey, jaggery or milk as an effective painkiller (10). It must be ensured that the turmeric powder so consumed is pure and unadulterated.
Consumption of whole grains, preferably sprouted, in addition to providing good amount of protein also provide vitamin E and other nutrients essential for maintaining hormone balance. Moreover whole grains contain B vitamins and are low in glycemic index. By enhancing overall strength of the body and enabling balancing of hormones, whole grains play an important role in regulating the periods. Consequently, disorders associated with menstruation are treated without using any other medicine. The other benefit of whole grains is that they enhance satiety which help in deferring food intake. Frequent craving for food containing carbohydrates might spike the blood sugar level which is detrimental.
Omega 3 fatty acids present in some varieties of fish has the potential to provide relief from menstrual pain. Some such varieties of fish are salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines etc. People who are not vegetarians can liberally consume the above varieties of fish at least twice a week in order to completely prevent the disorders prior to or during the menstruation cycle (11). Since the fats present in these fish are anti-inflammatory they could reduce the pain and cramps during the periods. Baked, grilled and steamed fish are known to provide better relief in comparison with other alternates such as red meat or poultry products. However, vegetarians can consume walnuts and avocado if they are averse to consumption of fish in any form.
Tea prepared from the herb, parsley can be consumed twice a day to combat problems due to menstruation. Parsley is normally used to garnish certain food dishes. But using it as a herbal tea provide immense benefit for those who have menstruation disorders. This herb has the potential to cure digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflex, inflammation, constipation and above all anemia (12). Parsley has been traditionally in use by various cultures to address the menstrual problems.
Besides the above specific food varieties, there are other options like almonds, eggs, carrots, aloe Vera and bananas all of which are helpful in addressing the problems faced during menstruation.