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Menstrual pain is caused by prostaglandins, fatty acid compounds found in cells throughout our body — and specifically found in the epithelial layer of the uterus. Prostaglandins play many roles in the body. Among these, they cause uterine contractions and inflammation. When the uterine lining is shed starting a woman’s cycle each month, prostaglandins are released, thus contractions ensue — what we know as cramps.
What’s less discussed, but very powerful, is which foods increase estrogen in our bodies. Estrogen is the hormone responsible for creating a thick uterine lining to support a healthy pregnancy. But too much estrogen means more prostaglandins in our uterine lining, and thus more period pain each month! So what do we do? We reduce estrogenic foods and increase foods that balance our hormones! Pretty exciting, right?
What are xenoestrogens? Xenoestrogens are natural or synthetic compounds, often found in our environment, that mimic estrogen, also creating hormonal imbalance within our bodies. Phytoestrogens are specifically disruptive estrogenic compounds found in plants.
Most of us witnessed the health epidemic of the early 2000s that ensued from too much soy. That was estrogen, specifically phytoestrogens. Soy is an estrogenic food. Men who drank soy lattes everyday were suddenly diagnosed with cancer. They created a hormone imbalance within their bodies through regular soy consumption.
Did you know there are other estrogenic foods that also wreak havoc and cause period pain?
As we’ve seen, these lists have ramifications beyond menstrual pain. Estrogenic foods and xenoestrogens also cause insomnia, cystic breast tissue, acne, fetal development dysfunction (lasting demasculinization in the male reproductive system), prepubescent development, female characteristics in boys and men, and certainly cancer.
This post breaks it down into two simple lists: estrogenic foods to avoid, or to consume only occasionally, and foods (and a couple of supplements) that promote hormone balance, helping the body to metabolize or detoxify excess estrogen.
It’s important to note that not all estrogenic foods have the same effect. Some foods, for example, are mildly estrogenic and may have no noticeable or little effect on the body, even when eaten regularly. Sensitive individuals should still watch the effect these foods have upon them. These foods include herbs like thyme and healing foods like garlic. Other foods with mildly estrogenic effects include all beans (legumes), chestnuts, pumpkin seeds, most nuts, dried apricots, dates and prunes, olive oil, winter squash, green beans, collard greens, peaches and strawberries. Herbs and spices to be aware of include red clover, marijuana, parsley, turmeric, licorice, verbena, cinnamon, alfalfa and alfalfa sprouts. (source and source)
Again, these (above foods) are not foods or herbs to necessarily avoid. Simply be aware of these ingredients if you are suffering from estrogenic symptoms. Large or regular doses of these foods may have an impact. (For example, garlic must be eaten in unlikely amounts to have any effect. However, seeds’ and nuts’ effects can be quite noticeable.)
There are other foods that consistently cause lasting and dangerous estrogen levels. These are the foods that regularly cause imbalances in women’s cycles resulting in varying symptoms, including painful menstrual cramps, and can even lead to cancer:
- soy (soy milk, edamame, tofu, soy formula for babies, soy protein isolate, tempeh, miso, soy sauce)
- flax seeds and flax seed meal
- wheat and other grains
- vegetable oils
- processed foods, including chewing gum
- bottled water
- tap water (receives run-off from confined animal feed lots)
- conventional meat and dairy
External exposure to estrogenic compounds also comes into play. Just briefly, use caution with a few essential oils: clary sage, geranium and jasmine (sources 1, 2, 3). Consider irregular use of these oils, instead of daily use. Limit exposure, too, to natural gas and propane (read more here), synthetic cleaners and beauty items, fragranced products including candles, vinyl shower curtains, #3 plastic wrap, #6 and #7 plastics and cash register receipts.
Estrogen Detoxing Foods
I have found two supplements that help my body usher out excess estrogen. They have reduced the cramps associated with perimenopause. They are DIM + I3C (Diindolylmethane + Indole-3-Carbinol) (find it here) and Calcium D-Glucarate (find it here). Definitely ask your doctor, especially before starting DIM. It may be too strong for some, and it’s best to get a doctor’s insight on your unique body.
There are several foods, too, that assist our body’s ability to metabolize estrogen:
- summer squash
- citrus fruits
- wild salmon and other oily fish, like sardines
- dandelion root (make tea, find it here)
- milk thistle (find it here)
- Chinese herbs (see this beautiful chicken soup recipe)
Depending on the source, there are other foods that some say improve estrogen detoxification, while others say they are estrogenic. These include the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. It’s a safe conclusion for most that these are healthful foods we should not limit in our diets. While they may contain more phytoestrogens than other produce items, they also contain phytonutrients, which help to fight cancer and inflammation. Certainly someone who is very sensitive can be watchful, but most of us should eat abundantly of these foods, while also eating great variety and in moderation.
As you’ve seen, this post isn’t just for women. Estrogens adversely affect all of us, and are prevalent in our modern world. While we need estrogen in our bodies, we want to avoid estrogen dominance. Make wise choices in diet and lifestyle to balance hormones, reduce pain and prevent cancer.
Period pain can also be caused by low progesterone. Read more here.
Which foods affect your period pain most?
Fetal development- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3196693/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12629420