While research is still in the early stages, some dietary changes may help reduce period symptoms.
In some cases, over-the-counter medications can help control symptoms such as bloating and pain. But a person may wish to take other steps to relieve symptoms and support their overall health during menstruation.
Some evidence suggests that specific foods may help alleviate certain period symptoms.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, about 90% of individuals experience premenstrual symptoms, such as:
- lower back pain
- mood swings
- constipation or diarrhea
- breast tenderness
The following are some generalized dietary changes that can combat period-related symptoms.
While fruits and vegetables are a vital source of nutrients and fiber in anyone’s diet, they may be especially helpful during menstruation.
A 2018 study of university students in Spain found that vegetarian diets and simply eating more fruits and vegetables corresponded to fewer cramps and reduced menstrual pain.
This was true in several studies the authors discussed, but it did not appear to improve symptoms in people with endometriosis.
Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation in the body, and may help tackle period pain.
An older study from 2012 looked at the effect of omega-3 supplementation on the intensity of menstrual pain in women aged 18–22 years old.
One group took omega-3 supplements while the other group received a placebo. The participants in the omega-3 group experienced a significant reduction in pain intensity. They also took fewer doses of ibuprofen to manage the pain.
Omega-3s are available in supplements and many foods, including:
- flaxseed and flaxseed oil
- chia seeds
- algal oil
- soybean and canola oil
- fortified foods, including some yogurts, juices, and plant-based milk
Menstruation causes iron levels to dip as a person loses blood. This can even contribute to anemia in people with very heavy periods.
According to the National Institutes of Health, females with heavy periods (menorrhagia) lose significantly more iron during their menstrual cycle than those with “normal menstrual bleeding.”
A 2013 study found participants who ate more non-heme iron, which is iron that comes from plant foods, had less risk of menstrual-related symptoms compared to the group that ate less.
Foods that are high in iron include:
- beef and beef liver
- fortified breakfast cereal
- beans and lentils
- dark chocolate
Lowering sodium intake can help reduce period-related bloating and weight gain.
A 2019 study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology indicates that increasing sodium intake may make a person more likely to experience bloating.
In general, the American Heart Association indicates that most people should eat no more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. Keeping sodium levels below the guidelines can help reduce bloating.
Just like some foods ease period symptoms, other foods may make them worse. These are usually foods that cause inflammation or bloating.
Some foods to avoid include:
- highly processed foods (also known as ultra-processed foods)
- foods high in sodium or sugar
- baked goods using white flour, such as white bread or pasta
- foods that cause gas, such as cauliflower or Brussels sprouts
While many menstrual symptoms are common, people should see a doctor about their menstrual cycle if they experience:
- bleeding after sex
- irregular periods
- spotting or bleeding between periods
- bleeding after menopause
- heavy bleeding
- bleeding that lasts longer than 7 days
- severe pain or pain that does not go away with over-the-counter pain relievers
Some dietary changes may ease menstrual symptoms in some people or help them stay healthy during their period.
For example, eating iron-rich foods can help replenish iron stores when a person is losing blood.
People should speak to a doctor about severe or irregular periods, as they may have an underlying condition that could benefit from medical treatment.