Dairy products, including ice cream, may increase menstrual cramping. Ice cream and other dairy foods contain an omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which may worsen inflammation and increase the release of prostaglandins, which cause cramping. Calcium, on the other hand, may improve menstrual cramping, but you'd need to eat a lot of ice cream to reach a therapeutic dose, which could cause bloating from the high sugar content. Bloating could, in turn, worsen cramping.
Causes of Menstrual Cramps
Prostaglandins are chemical in cells that can cause muscle contractions. Menstrual cramps occur when the uterus contracts to expel the excess blood and tissue that builds up in the second half of the menstrual cycle. The uterine lining thickens in preparation for embryo implantation, so if you don't get pregnant, the uterus sheds the lining when hormone levels drop if you're not pregnant. A rise in prostaglandin levels causes diarrhea and cramping. The arachidonic acid, an omage-6 unsaturated fatty acid, in ice cream could increase prostaglandin production.
Decreasing Prostaglandin Formation
Arachidonic acid, like other omega-6 fatty acids, activates inflammatory reactions needed to fight off pathogens. Your body synthesizes series-2 prostaglandins from AA. If you consume food high in AA, you may have excessive series-2 prostaglandin formation. Avoiding dairy products may prevent this. Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can also help decrease prostaglandin levels, and taking fish oil or eating fish and flaxseed high in linolenic acid may also help reduce inflammation. The oils in fish and flaxseed increase production of antispasmodic prostaglandins that decrease uterine cramping, nurse practitioner Pat Sonnenstuhl explains on OBGYN.net.
Calcium, which ice cream does contain, can decrease menstrual cramping, according to clinical studies. A United State Department of Agriculture study reported in the May 1993 issue of the "American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology" found that increasing calcium intake to 587 or 1336 mg over a 169 day period reduced premenstrual bloating as well as pain during the menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, to obtain even 500 mg calcium, you would have to eat around 3 cups of ice cream, since a 1 cup serving contains 84 mg calcium.
Cutting out ice cream and other dairy products may reduce cramping, but it may also lower your calcium intake. Since calcium may help relieve menstrual cramps, take 800 to 1,000 mg of calcium in supplemental form each day if you're one of the 60 percent of women who experience menstrual cramps, Sonnestuhl suggests. Reducing dairy intake may also help if you have lactose intolerance, caused by lack of the enzyme that produces lactase, which breaks down the milk sugar lactose.
- OBGYN.net; A Young woman's Guide to Painful Menstrual Cramps; Pat Sonnenstuhl B.S.N.
- Christian Broadcasting Network; Understanding (AA) Arachidonic Acid - (Omega 6 -- Pro Inflammatory Fat); Barry Sears
- Elmhurst College; Prostaglandins; Charles Ophardt; 2003
- "American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology"; Dietary Calcium and Manganese Effects on Menstrual Cycle Symptoms; J. Penland, et al.; May 1993