The 5 Things That Can Make Cramps Worse

For me, cramps are an inevitable part of my period. I have two settings for them: bad and horrible. They are almost never mild. However, I have noticed there are a few things that if I exclude or at least minimize in my diet in the days leading up to and during my period that it can make the difference between those two levels. They are:

1. Salt

While many may claim to have a sweet tooth, I have developed and cultivated more of a salt-tooth as I have matured over the years. I love salty foods and have a potato chip problem. In some ways, salt is beneficial to me as I tend to have low blood pressure and so adding some extra sodium to my diet throughout the day can help stabilize me and keep me from feeling lightheaded and weak. However, in the days immediately preceding my period and during it, I find that indulging in really salty foods like chips actually can make my menstrual pain much worse. This is likely because adding salt can lead to the body retaining more water, and that can cause bloating. And while bloating may not feel like much during the rest of the month, when the body is already suffering from inflammation from cramps, bloating can put extra pressure on the abdomen, exacerbating the pain. So, I try to stay away from those chips during those dangerous days.

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2. Sugar

Okay, so I don't have the extreme sweet tooth I had as a child, teen, and early twenty-something, but I still do enjoy the occasional cookie, pastry, ice cream cone, or candy (usually a chocolate bar). But if I am about to bleed or already bleeding, I find these indulgences can quickly backfire in a few different ways. One, is that they do seem to sometimes make my cramps worse, but also, they can aggravate or cause GI symptoms, which I tend to be more likely to suffer from during menses. If I am in a "safer" time of the month, I can handle some of these treats, but when my intestines are already touchy due to the hormonal changes and pressures of my swollen uterus, these are just not good options for me. Chocolate in particular can make my cramping worse, as I've noticed several times, so I explicitly avoid it as well.

3. Caffeine

I am mostly 100% caffeine-free nowadays and have been so for the better part of the past several years. I only have a caffeine-drink maybe once or twice a month (usually a tea or iced tea) and the occasional chocolate treat. But back when I drank caffeine-containing beverages on a daily or near-daily basis, I noticed my cramps were terrible, in addition to my PMS being longer, more painful and abetted by swollen and tender breasts. Not only that, as with sugar, I found caffeine also made my GI issues worse during my period (and in general) and by not having caffeine, my IBS was much calmer during this usually-more-turbulent time of the month.

4. Fat

This one should be a no-brainer, but it took me a terribly long time to figure out on my own. I am a vegetarian, but I still have some foods I used to eat all the time regardless of what time of month that were pretty fatty. One of these dishes was fettuccine alfredo. I can recall ordering a big bowl of this at an Italian restaurant during my period- and my cramps going off the charts (and again, my IBS flaring very badly). Heavy, fatty foods are just not best choice for me (and I am guessing most others) during this time of the month. Remember I mentioned ice cream is bad for me during my period? Well, I think that's as much to do with the fat it contains as it does the sugar. So, I tend to stay away from foods that are fried or contain a lot of oil and animal fat. And I find my periods are more bearable as a result.

5. Alcohol

I am not a big drinker, but I do like to have a glass of wine or beer right before or during dinner a few nights a week most weeks. For the most part, this doesn't bother me. However, I find that if I've been drinking more than that during the month, especially in the week leading up to my period, I pay for it more. As such, I try my best to avoid alcohol altogether during the last week of my cycle and am completely hands-off while I am bleeding. Alcohol can have an estrogenic effect on the body (meaning it acts like estrogen, which often fuels endometriosis), so it's no wonder it seems to make my periods more painful. I am thinking of even trying to gradually minimize my alcohol intake even more till it is just a few times a month, rather than a week and see if I notice more improvements.

What about you? Are there certain foods or triggers that increase (or alleviate) your cramps?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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