Menstruation is a natural, beautiful phenomenon of nature that also resembles the moon’s waxing and waning cycle. Some might not believe in speculation, but according to recent studies, the moon cycle has a great influence on our body, mood, and sleep. In contrast, menstrual for some ladies is a painful, discomforting, and mood-swing experience.
Everything has two sides, positive and negative, so menstruation. Nevertheless, here in this article, our focus is to know whether the onset of menstruation is related to weight gain. What foods can you eat to curb the pain and weight gain?
Does menstruation cause weight gain?
Some studies show that an increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) strongly correlates to menarche (onset of first menstruation). In fact, in
underweight girls maintain a lean body or excessively exercise, a delay/retard in the onset of menarche is noticed . In contrast, overweight girls attain puberty in early life and may be at risk of negative post-puberty outcomes.
During puberty, the increase in BMI is more related to menarche than the increase in age. According to studies, before menarche, body fat should be approx. 17% of body weight, but while hitting 18 years for regular/healthy maintenance of the menstrual cycle, the fat percentage should be 22% of body weight .
Hence, a legitimate moderate increase in body fat began at the age of 7 and continued till 16-18 years. This increase is mainly due to increased sex hormones, change in body proportion, and skeletal mass .
Effect of obesity on menstruation
A legitimate weight gain is the requirement of the situation during puberty. Still, foods high in saturated fats, bad carbs, sodium & sugar-containing foods & low protein intake may be due to genetic and clinical reasons; a girl or woman may gain extra weight with a higher than normal BMI according to age. This situation of being overweight or obese has an adverse effect on menstruation.
Obesity may impact endometrial function and is hence positively related to blood loss and may contribute to heavy menstrual bleeding in women [2, 3,8].
Another problem with obesity or being underweight is a higher risk of dysmenorrhea, i.e., severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain. In the case of obese women losing weight and attaining a normal BMI could diminish dysmenorrhea .
A study in Korea concluded that there is an association between overall obesity or abdominal obesity and irregular menstrual cycle; further, it was also stated that they are directly proportional .
Similar results were also put forth in another study that is obesity is associated with abnormalities in period cycle length, duration, and blood loss .
Therefore, maintenance of a healthy normal BMI is strongly recommended.
How to maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is the first mantra for women to avoid excess bleeding & irregularities and for pain-free periods. Since it has been observed that both underweight and overweight women may have a higher risk of increased frequency and severe menstrual cramps.
First of all, if you are planning to lose weight through high-fat diets like keto and Atkins, then let me warn you since eating a high-fat diet during menstruation is not advisable since high-fat foods delay the endometrial repair, which in turn increases blood loss [3, 8]. Therefore, people following this high-fat diet may experience heavy blood flow.
So, you must be wondering what to do to attain a healthy weight. Follow the thumb rule of a healthy diet and weight loss that balanced plate and calories in should be equal to calories out. For example, while planning your meal, care should be taken that half of the plate should be filled with non-starchy colorful fruits and vegetables, ¼ with whole grains complex carbs, and the remaining ¼ with protein.
Any seasonal colorful fruits & vegetables are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals; however, certain vitamins like B12 and D are
minimal in plant-based sources. Hence if you are non-vegetarian, you can get from Poultry and dairy products (which is also a source of protein); if vegetarian, go for sun-exposed mushroom or fortified foods.
The calories in are equal to calories out has a simple description, that is, whatever the number of calories you are eating, see that you are able to burn an equal number of calories throughout the day. To do so, you may adopt various methods like light exercise, portion control, and walking or jogging.
Mind you, here, along with the quantity of calories quality of calories is also important because not all calories are equal. For instance, the calories coming from whole grain flour will nourish you, but calories coming from processed flour will always harm you, so be wise to choose the right kind of calories for you.
Foods for regular pain-free periods
If we overlook the aim and beauty of the menstrual cycle another side of it is a pain and cramps females experience. For a few, it might not have any effect, but for others, it is so severe and uncomfortable that they experience it in doing day-to-day chores.
The irregularities are another problem, but the worst part is that the medicines we take to cure and get regular periods are full of side effects. Hence, what can be best than treating the symptoms of periods by diet with the least side effects?
Very few studies are done in this sector, but little we know is that generation to generation passed on dietary remedies, and certain research
proves those remedies.
One of such research says that the menthol of peppermint consumed in appropriate concentration can reduce the duration and severity of
dysmenorrhea hence the decrease in pain .
The best foods which can relieve menstrual pain are those that increase blood and tissue concentration of antispasmodic PGs (PGE-1 and PGE-3), and these PGs are made from essential fatty acids like the omega-3 family. Therefore, foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, like flax seeds, Avocado, fish oil, chia seeds, Hemp seeds, salmon, sardines, etc., can be excellent .
The most common advice our grannies gave to reduce period pain, cramps, and other symptoms are to have Dill, fenugreek & cumin seeds water.
Moreover, scientific research found the same results. Ginger is another readily available ingredient in the kitchen which can be effective as well [11, 12].
We all are aware of the versatility of turmeric, and not to miss, curcumin is also useful in reducing premenstrual syndrome (PMS), probably due to the modulation of neurotransmitters and anti-inflammatory effects .
Instead of individual foods, if looking at nutrients level, magnesium, high fiber, Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, K, B1, E, zinc sulfate, calcium, and boron are effective in the management of period pain and cramps. Therefore, the combination of foods containing these dietary nutrients can play a major role in giving you pain-free periods.
For instance, whole grains like brown rice, oats, millet, rye, amaranth, and buckwheat are rich sources of fiber, many micronutrients, and vitamin E and B-complex.
Eating vegetables like cauliflower, asparagus, beans, etc. and fruits like oranges, avocado, banana, etc., and sun-exposed mushrooms & yeast is a good idea since it is a rich sources of magnesium, potassium, vitamin D, E, K, B1, and protein.
The inclusion of nuts, seeds, and pure honey into your snacks during periods and a reduction in intake of high salt and sugar foods throughout the day can highly decrease the pain, cramps, and other symptoms.
Sobin S. Gupta (MSc)
Nutritionist | Researcher | Fitness Coach
Founder of Nutrition Meet