Anti-Inflammatory Diet

All health care starts with diet. My recommendations for a healthy diet are here:
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Lifestyle.
There are over 190 articles on diet, inflammation and disease on this blog
(find topics using search [upper left] or index [lower right]), and
more articles by Prof. Ayers on Suite101 .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Menstrual Pain is Inflammatory

Inflammation is essential to the menstrual cycle. At key points inflammatory prostaglandins are made from omega-6 arachidonic acid to trigger ovulation and menses, the discharge of the blood-engorged lining of the uterus. Chronic diet-based inflammation can result in disrupted ovulation, infertility due to an inability to suppress an inflammatory response to egg implantation, menstrual pain/cramps and premature birth.

Several studies have shown that reducing diet-based inflammation by eating supplements containing long chain omega-3 oils, e.g. fish oil, decreased menstrual pain and cramps. The reduction in chronic inflammation was associated with decreased production of inflammatory prostaglandins that are the cause of the pain and intense uterine contractions. Normally, the diet would provide a balance of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, which would yield a mixture of anti-inflammatory and inflammatory prostaglandins, and produce an effective discharge through more moderate uterine contractions.

A more recent evaluation of numerous studies on the impact of omega-3 oils on pain associated with menstruation, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, etc., showed a uniform decrease in inflammation and pain. The simple summary is that an inflammatory diet rich in omega-6 vegetable oils leads to pain, suffering and premature aging. A more normal diet with a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids leads to health and reduced aging.

Typical symptoms of an inflammatory diet are: menstrual cramps, infertility (gestational problems: preeclampsia, prematurity), joint pain, back pain/sciatica, acne, allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases. There is increasing evidence that obesity not only produces inflammation, but that an inflammatory diet can lead to obesity. An inflammatory diet, especially if augmented with antibiotics, disrupts the normal gut flora and leads to an inflammatory replacement flora that supports chronic inflammation throughout the body.

Chronic inflammation and much of the damage caused by chronic inflammation is reversible by a shift to an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle (described elsewhere on this blog.)

Deutch B. 1995. Menstrual pain in Danish women correlated with low n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake. Eur J Clin Nutr. 49(7):508-16.

Goldberg RJ, Katz J. 2007. A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain 129(1-2):210-23.

Bell RF. 2007. Food and pain: should we be more interested in what our patients eat? Pain. 129(1-2):5-7.


Sarah said...

Hello, Dr. Ayers,

I've recently found your blog and have found it immensely helpful.

I was wondering if you might be able to help me understand the cause (or at least the process) of menstrual-related pain in my varicose veins. I've had difficulty getting pregnant and staying pregnant in my childbearing history, but have managed to birth 4 beautiful and healthy children as well. In the process, I've developed numerous varicosities, which, after my last birth, became severely inflamed and occluded with thrombophlebitis. I'm in the process of having them taken care of surgically, but even so, I still have terrible and debilitating vein-pain during the first day or so of my cycle, which happens to be the day I have the worst menstrual pain/cramping as well. None of my doctors have been able to explain to me why this happens and even the vein specialist said I might just have to deal with this pain until I go through menopause (I'm only 31).

Taking large doses of Ibuprofen on the worst days almost entirely eliminates the pain, yet I know I'm not getting down to the root of the problem and would rather not have to use the ibuprofen on a regular basis.

So if you could shed some light on perhaps why I developed such terrible varicosities (is that an inflammatory process or a mechanical process due to increased blood supply and a 8-9 pound baby in the pelvis toward the end of pregnancy) at such a young age and/or why I get such excruciating pains in my legs on certain days of my cycle, I would be indebted.

Sarah said...

Hi, again,

Just bumping here to find out if the prostaglandins that create menstrual pain are also responsible for creating the menstrual-related varicose vein pain. Also wondering if the anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle would help reduce both types of pain. My suspicion is that they are very much related, based on my experience of relief with large doses of ibuprofen during those painful days.

Also, curious as to how varicose veins form in the first place in someone like me. Does inflammation begin in the vein first, or does the mechanism of an increased blood supply, hormonally influenced relaxation of the smooth muscles of the vein, and a baby in the pelvis cause relaxation and stretching/injury to the vein, causing dilation and inflammation?

Thanks again for your blog. It has been somewhat of a turning point for me in my thinking about the root of our health problems.

Anonymous said...

I am so pleased to have read this. I have a problem with varicose veins and had an operation in Feb 2011 to have the problematic varicose vein removed. 6 months after the operation, I started to have dreadful pains when menstruating in my veins in the same leg that the vein was removed. This has gone on for a year and I finally went back to the hospital to speak to the surgeon about it. He is totally baffled and has no idea why that could be. I am to be referred to another doctor to see if it is related to my back?? But the first 2 days of my period I have to wear a support stocking because if I don't, it feels as though my veins are exploding. I do get lots of little red spider veins popping out during this time, which disappear at the end of my period. I would love to know what is causing this.

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