Can Your Diet Affect Your Period?

If Aunt Flo isn't your favorite relative, you're not alone. Even though periods are totally natural and even seen by doctors as an essential vital sign, they're not always pleasant. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Pain Research found that 84% of menstruating women experience period-related pain (and 43% notice pain every single month). Additionally, between 14% and 25% of women have abnormal bleeding, resulting in periods that are unpredictable, long, or heavier than average, according to a 2016 study published in Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

Several factors can influence your periods, including things that are out of your control like age or certain health conditions. However, lifestyle habits — including your diet — can also play a major role in period symptoms. Here's how what you eat affects that time of the month, and the diet tweaks that could make it easier to deal with Aunt Flo's visits.

Some diet choices may make periods irregular

A balanced diet is important to maintain overall health, and checking off all your nutritional boxes may also matter when it comes to keeping your cycle regular. If your diet has shifted to allow more heavy, fatty foods and you've gained weight as a result, you may notice heavier or more frequent periods, as Dr. Scott Sullivan, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, explained to Time. Alternatively, your period may become irregular.

On the other hand, if you restrict too many food groups and start losing weight, you can also expect menstrual changes. "In general, if your nutrition is poor and you're not getting enough calories, periods tend to go away for a while," Dr. Sullivan shared.

One example of a restrictive diet, according to Healthline, is the ketogenic diet. If you stop eating carbs or consistently don't consume enough carbs, your body may no longer be able to produce enough leptin, a hormone that plays a role in menstruation. Your periods may become irregular or even disappear for months.

While having no period may seem like a lucky side effect, it's really a sign that your system is no longer functioning as it should. Ditch any diet that interferes with your menstrual cycle, and talk to your doctor if your period goes MIA.

Certain foods can improve period symptoms

A varied diet is essential to your menstrual cycle, but what exact foods should you load up on when filling your plate? If you experience menstrual cramps and other pains during that time of the month, consider reaching for omega-3s, says researcher and medical student Serah Sannoh (via Everyday Health). This includes foods like fatty fish, walnuts, canola oil, and dairy fortified with omega-3s. However, watch out for omega-6s, warns Sannoh — these fatty acids and other inflammatory ingredients and foods like sugar, salt, and coffee can exacerbate period pain.

When possible, grab whole, unprocessed foods during your period. Fruit can keep you hydrated, while leafy green veggies offer fatigue-fighting iron, per Healthline. Replace red meat, which can cause period cramps, with chicken, fish, or tofu for protein. And don't forget to drink plenty of fluids — water is always a winner, but also give ginger tea and peppermint tea a go. Both drinks are known to ease menstrual symptoms.

Finally, give in to some chocolate cravings, especially before your period. A 2015 study published in Health Promotion Perspectives found a link between magnesium deficiencies and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Besides being super comforting, dark chocolate contains magnesium that can help you feel better when PMS strikes. Several small studies have found that eating 40-120 grams of dark chocolate may also help alleviate period cramps, notes Healthline.