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Can Eating Certain Foods Make Period Pain Worse?

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Key Takeaways

  • New data suggests that a diet high in meat, oil, sugar, salt, and coffee could be linked to more period pain, specifically in adolescent females.
  • Eating more omega-3 fatty acids while limiting omega-6 fatty acids might be beneficial for combating menstrual pain.
  • While more research is needed, other data has suggested that eating more fruit, staying hydrated, limiting caffeine, and including dairy foods and fish could be beneficial for people who experience painful periods.

While junk food can hit the spot right before or during your period, it’s probably not doing you any good when it comes to quelling period pain.

An analysis of studies presented at the North American Menopause Society’s annual meeting suggests there might be a link between certain foods and period pain. The research was focused on teenagers, and does not encompass period pain due to an underlying medical condition like endometriosis.

Media outlets last week quickly latched onto the idea that a better diet can improve period pain; just scale back on meat, oil, sugar, salt, and coffee. But the findings were part of a conference presentation and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

That said, it’s not the only study that has shown a link between diet and menstruation pain.

Menstrual pain is the most common menstrual symptom in adolescent girls and young women, with as many as 50% to 90% of them experiencing painful periods. While period pain can stem from health conditions like endometriosis, most teenagers have period pain in the absence of other pelvic medical conditions—what’s called primary dysmenorrhea.

Period Pain: The Role of Fats

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both polyunsaturated fats that can be important parts of a healthy diet. But the analysis suggests diets high in omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, while diets high in omega-3 fatty acids reduce it. Inflammation may be a main culprit to feeling period pain, according to the presentation.

Being in an inflammatory state can promote the production of prostaglandins, a hormone-like compound. While these compounds are important for causing the uterus to contract and shed the lining during a menstrual cycle (resulting in bleeding), having levels that are too high can cause stronger contractions, which can be painful.

An imbalance of prostaglandins is also linked to decreased uterine blood flow and increased sensitivity, two other factors that can impact severity of period pain.

Foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids, and therefore may promote inflammation if they are not balanced out with enough omega-3 fatty acids, include many vegetable oils, certain meats, and a variety of baked goods (like many cakes). Sugar and salt intake is linked to inflammation as well.

Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish, avocado, and chia seeds.

“Even though these findings are preliminary, they are aligned with everything else we know about inflammation related pain in the body and how much it is affected by diet,” Carmen Stansberry, FNP-BC, WHNP-C, a nurse practitioner and clinical educator at UCSF Center for Reproductive Health, told Verywell.

What to Eat to Help With Period Cramps

While it is true that many menstruating people experience period pain every month, extreme discomfort that prevents proper functioning should not become routine.

Experiencing debilitating pelvic pain during a period cycle may be a sign of “underlying conditions like endometriosis, fibroids, or ovarian cysts,” Melissa Azzaro, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and podcast host at Hormonally Yours, told Verywell. “This should be evaluated by an OB-GYN to rule anything out. If you do not have any underlying conditions, making tweaks to your diet may help, and certainly won’t hurt.”

While more research is needed, there is some evidence that eating the following foods may increase your chances of having less pain during your period.


Fish, especially oily fish like salmon, is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Since omega-3 fatty acids can decrease the production of inflammatory prostaglandins, Consuming foods with these healthy fats may help reduce severe pain symptoms.

Past data links a high intake of omega-3 acids from marine sources—like fish—with pain reduction. And those who experience period pain appear to consume less fish than those who do not experience it.

If you are not a fish eater, leaning on other sources of omega-3 fatty acids, like chia seeds, walnuts, and avocado can still help you consume this healthy fat and help balance the omega 3 to omega 6 ratio in your body.


Dairy foods are natural sources of key micronutrients, like calcium. Calcium regulates the ability of muscle cells to respond to nerve stimulation. Therefore, decreased calcium levels can lead to muscle spasms and contractions.

Research has shown that calcium levels can play a role in pain intensity, including period pain.

Studies have shown a significant inverse association between the consumption of dairy products and period pain.

Milk, yogurt, and kefir may support period pain management, but avoid leaning on cheese as a dairy source. Older data suggests that people who have painful periods tend to eat more cheese.


Naturally full of micronutrients, fiber, and carbohydrates, many fruits can be a healthy part of a balanced diet. Some studies show people who eat more fruit don’t report painful periods as often as people who eat less fruit.

While any fruit appears to be beneficial for menstrual pain, strawberry consumption is specifically linked to less period pain. A smaller-scale study showed that eating dried figs during the menstrual cycle offered a similar benefit.


A simple glass of water may help offer some period pain relief—especially if a person is dehydrated.

Period pain can be made worse not only by prostaglandins, but also by the release of an agent that causes blood vessels to constrict (a vasoconstrictor).

Even having just slightly too little water in the body can set off a vasoconstrictor. One small study showed that people who drank more water required less pain medication during their menstrual cycles than people who weren’t as well-hydrated.

Drinking water can also help reducing uterine contractions linked to cramps.

Decaffeinated Drinks

As for other beverages, you might want to rethink your daily cup of coffee or tea if you have bad periods. Since it’s a vasoconstrictor, caffeine is associated with more period pain.

While small quantities of caffeine may not have a big effect on period pain, cutting back may offer some benefits. Research suggests that limiting your intake to under 300 milligrams per day could help stave off period pain.

Consider switching it up with herbal tea, decaffeinated coffee, and plain old water. Another option is 100% fruit juice, which can provide important vitamins and minerals as well as help you meet your daily recommended fruit intake, too.

What This Means For You

If you have painful period pain that isn’t caused by an underlying health condition, making some changes to your diet might help. Eating more omega-3s, fewer omega-6s, staying hydrated, and cutting back on caffeine may help with menstrual pain.