Dysmenorrhea and Diet

Healthy habits are key to prevention of pain and cramping at any point in the menstrual cycle.  Regular light exercise, good diet, and a tempered emotional life are important but sometimes hard to maintain in the real world.   In this article, I talk about how you can help dysmenorrhea, painful periods, with diet.

If you have pain or cramps anywhere in your cycle, the advice in the article on What to Eat and Not Eat to Support Healthy Menstruation still applies, make sure you read that.

On top of that, here is some more information, specific to pain related to menstruation, using both the Chinese Medicine perspective fused with Western med information.  First if you’ve been having problems for more than just a month or two, please make sure to get professional medical advice and treatment.   Sometimes issues like a deficient thyroid will cause cramps and/or make your cycles painful, so you want to make sure to get a correct diagnosis, and treatment.

Natural medicine supports the body’s own natural regulation and healing processes.  The advice in this article, and the practices of Chinese Medicine in general are geared to regulate the body’s processes – so you can use them for support alongside other therapies.  In the case of pain associated with the menstrual cycle,  diet can go a long way to help ease the pain.

In Chinese Medicine, there is a saying that where there is pain, something is not flowing right and is being obstructed.   In the case of dysmenorrhea, most often its blood that is obstructed. Though the cause of painful periods can be generically divided into two distinct cases, often what actually causes the pain itself is hindered flow of blood.   So there is treating just to get rid of the pain, and then there is treating the actual cause (which will get rid of the pain too).  Here are the two distinct causative scenarios:

Cold/Deficient Type

  • little bleeding;  blood darker color if more cold, paler color the more deficient
  • cramps better with heat
  • could urinate a lot
  • maybe weak/fatigued, or pale face

Heat/Excess Type

  • early, heavy, bright red, or dark bleeding
  • or maybe scant dark red bleeding, sore breasts
  • urine maybe dark, scant
  • maybe thirsty, constipated, likes cold drinks
  • tongue is excessively red, or has a thick tongue coat – these things are hard to judge unless you’re trained!

Differentiate between the two basic types.   Sometimes your only clue might be that a hot water bottle makes you feel better.

If none of the above information matches your case, then make sure you have seen a medical professional to rule out other conditions.    If you only experience pain in the week before your period with none of the above signs and symptoms, then see also the article on PMS and diet.   If your pain occurs especially in the week or two after the period, then its likely a deficient type.

Most often menstrual pain is due to the cold/deficient type combined with the ensuing clotting of blood.

Treatment of Painful Periods

General Info

  • Calcium, Magnesium, and the essential fatty acidsare helpful for treating acute menstrual pain;  increase consumption of whole grains, green vegetables, legumes, and seaweeds
  • Cold or sour foods should be avoided, especially one week prior to or during menstruation. Cold and sour foods create more stagnation, and may worsen the pain.
  • Coldness and deficiency both cause the blood to clot and coagulate, and often pain is the result – treating for stagnant blood could help treat acute pain quicker than treating underlying deficiency or cold.  Sometimes just making sure to get exercise especially in the week before the period will ‘move the blood,’ and help with cramps and pain.
  • Drink a larger quantity of distilled, room-temperature water daily –  before, during, and after the menstruation.
  • Caffeine should be avoided as it acts as a stimulant to excite the central nervous system, and as a diuretic depleting nutrients.  Coffee is double plus bad!
  • Decrease eating salt, red meats, processed foods, junk foods, and foods with unhealthy oils.
  • Women are exposed to toxic chemicals and substances which disrupt normal hormonal balance through everyday cosmetics!!  Learn what cosmetics are safe and not safe.

Cold/Deficient Type

  • Avoid raw and cold-temperature foods; dont eat a lot of fruit, especially citrus
  • Choose warmer foods and spices: oats, sweet rice, dill, caraway, basil, black beans, butter
  • small amounts of dairy might be beneficial
  • Keep body and extremities warm!  Use a hot water bottle(or potato!)  to warm your lower belly for 5 minutes twice a day a few days before the period comes.
    • Hot baths or hot showers aimed at the abdomen can help tremendously
  • Recipes
    • cold type: Boil some fresh ginger, add a little red-pepper if you have it,  and also some red dates if you have to make tea.
    • deficient type: add some brown sugar to above recipe and leave out the red-pepper
    • deficient type: Wash 250grams Leeks and pound to produce juice to drink with boiled 50g brown sugar.  Once a day for 2-3 days before menses.  Lie on your stomach for a while after drinking the leek juice.

Heat/Excess Type

  • Eat more spinach, lettuce, celery, chard, kale, collard greens, parsley, carrots, mung beans, spirulina, millet
  • Eat less red meat, dairy, eggs, sweets, hot greasy spicy

Grandma Wong’s Home cures:

  • Boil 50grams fresh parsley in 3 cups water until water is boiled down to 1 cup; crack 1 egg into the water.  Can add seasoning.
  • Thinly slice some fresh ginger and/or green onion stalks and mix with a bunch of a salt.  Stir fry 5 minutes and then wrap in a towel and apply to painful spot.  Dont burn yourself.


    Thanks for the information. I’v been an ovo_lacto vegeterian for 6 months. I have a very harsh dysmenorreha in first day of menstruation just like my mother. Reading the article, I guess I’m a cold, deficient type. Beside this article, is there any special tips you could give me to get rid of this pain? I’m 30 and my cramps are getting worse and worse each month.

      Afshin Mokhtari

      Did you have these problems before you were vegetarian? If no, then clearly I would say you need to start eating meat again! But probably you had these problems before that… Without seeing you its very hard to impossible to be able to understand what is going on with you. Please follow the advice in the article and find a good Chinese Medicine practitioner to help you. Sorry I can’t be much help long-distance and with no other information to go on!


    I used the tips in the article and I experienced less pain this month. Thank you so much. It was really helpful 🙂

      Afshin Mokhtari

      Awesome. Keep at it, there is no reason why you should experience ANY pain.

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