According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than half of women experience period cramps for one or two days each month. The medical term for severe menstrual cramps and painful periods is called dysmenorrhea. Despite how common the condition is among women who are menstruating, did you know that certain habits, foods and activities could actually make your cramps worse? Here to break down the five things that can make your period even more of a nightmare is Dr. Nita Landry, OB/GYN and co-host of the Emmy Award-winning talk show, The Doctors.
1. Eating the Wrong Foods
Dr. Nita recommends being mindful of what you eat during your menstrual cycle. Salty foods increase water retention and cause bloating, whereas fatty foods increase prostaglandin production, which causes the uterus to contract.
“Salty foods increase water retention, and the more you retain water, the more you bloat, which causes painful period cramps,” Dr. Nita tells ESSENCE. “Fatty foods increase prostaglandin production. Prostaglandins are chemicals that cause the uterus to contract. More uterine contractions equals more period cramps.”
2. Lack of Exercise
“A healthy exercise regimen can actually help to decrease your menstrual cramps,” says Dr. Nita.
Even if you don’t feel like it when it’s that time of the month, she recommends doing a light form of exercise like yoga or pilates.
3. Not Getting Enough Sleep
One more reason to get a good night’s sleep: Sleep deprivation leads to stress, which then leads to cortisol (known as the stress hormone) being released.
“Cortisol directly affects the pituitary gland that controls your hormone levels,” suggests Dr. Nita. “A hormone imbalance can lead to heavier and more painful periods.”
4. Drinking Caffeine
Coffee, soft drinks and other caffeinated beverages can cause your blood vessels to constrict and decrease blood flow to your uterus.
“This lack of blood flow can increase your period cramps,” advises Dr. Nita. “Even if your period cravings won’t let you cut caffeine out entirely, gradually reducing your intake might help.”
5. Smoking Cigarettes
“Just like caffeine, nicotine causes uterine blood vessels to constrict,” Dr. Nita explains. “This slows blood flow to your uterus and makes your annoying period cramps even worse.”
Dr. Nita says that if you’re experiencing severe cramping during your period, it could be a sign of something more serious. So don’t be afraid to speak up and ask your doctor if you have any concerns.