Every month, girls and women of childbearing age experience menstrual symptoms ranging from mild cramps to bloating, headaches and nearly intolerable pain. While the menstrual cycle is a natural fact of life for women, nutrition and health status can be factors that influence the severity of symptoms you experience. Two minerals that may play an important role in alleviating symptoms are magnesium and potassium.
Menstrual pain, known clinically as dysmenorrhea, usually begins a day or two before your monthly flow, and may last another day or two into your period. Dysmenorrhea occurs when pain receptors are stimulated by elevated levels of prostaglandins, chemicals that cause your uterus to contract. Health professionals at the University of Maryland Medical Center note that menstrual pain does not usually indicate a more serious problem, although it is sometimes associated with endometriosis or uterine fibroids, which are noncancerous tumors. Practicing good nutrition throughout the month may help lessen the symptoms of dysmenorrhea.
There is some evidence that potassium may alleviate symptoms of dysmenorrhea. A 2009 placebo-controlled study published in "The Journal of Pain" assessed the effect of diclofenac potassium, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent, on exercise performance in 12 young women with dysmenorrhea. The study found that treatment with the potassium-based drug enabled the young women to perform during their periods at levels similar to the nonperiod, no-pain phase of their cycles, while the placebo group's physically performance was significantly decreased. Fruits and vegetables offer the richest sources of dietary potassium, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 essential reactions in human metabolism. For women, magnesium plays an important role in reproductive health. High doses of magnesium are traditionally used to treat eclamptic seizures that may occur late in pregnancy and during labor. The University of Maryland Medical Center advocates taking 360 mg of potassium daily for three days, beginning with the day before the onset of menstruation, to alleviate dysmenorrhea.
Other Contributing Factors
In addition to magnesium and potassium, other nutrients may help reduce the discomfort of dysmenorrhea. The UMMC lists omega-3 fatty acids, calcium citrate, vitamin D and vitamin E as potentially helpful. They advocate eating fruits and vegetables, healthy cooking oils, lean meats, cold-water fish, soy and six to eight glasses of filtered water daily. Avoiding refined sugars, processed foods, fatty meats, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco is recommended. Exercising at least 30 minutes daily, five days per week, may also help relieve symptoms.