Sugar Worsens Cramps: Myth Or Truth? By Sandra Enuma

As a teenager, I was fortunate to only experience mild discomfort during my period and I used to think other girls that would skip out on school because of menstrual cramps were wussies and had low pain tolerance. I was especially befuddled when other girls my age would forego sugar in all forms because it apparently worsened their cramps. I would ask, albeit in an overly confident manner, what the correlation between sugar and cramps was. From the stance of a 15 year old, there really was no correlation between the digestive and reproductive organs, so why should something you ate affect your menstrual cycle? And then, why only sugar? What was so special about sugar? Of course, nobody amongst us had a valid argument to support these claims and the most skeptical of us, me included, chucked it up to being plain old wives’ tales and superstitions.

As was to be expected, I became pretty careless with my food intake, consuming sugar and gulping down fizzy drinks like it was no man’s business. Eventually, my good fortune ran out and my previously easy periods turned into a war zone. I would use up 2 packs of sanitary pads before the second day ran out, pain killers became my trusty companion. Even with all these symptoms, I was still adamant that sugar had nothing to do with heavy and painful periods. My friends suggested we do a control experiment and told me to lay off sugar for an entire month till my period came and take note of any changes. I listened and everything returned to normal. The old wives’ tale wasn’t so superstitious after all!

Like me, there are still many ladies out there struggling to find the correlation between high sugar intake and a heavier, more painful period. Thankfully, science and research has come to the rescue.

Normally at the beginning of a period, the endometrial cells that form the lining of the uterus produce large amounts of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are one of the more potent mediators that cause increased blood flow, blood vessel constriction, blood clotting, pain,  chemotaxis (chemical signals that summon white blood cells), and subsequent dysfunction of tissues and organs. When these cells are broken down during menstruation, the prostaglandins are released. They constrict the blood vessels in the uterus and make its muscle layer contract, causing painful cramps. Some of the prostaglandins also enter the bloodstream, causing headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches and pains. In fact, all of the symptoms of PMS are linked, directly or indirectly, to the over-production of inflammatory prostaglandins. Research has shown that the level of prostaglandins in women with menstrual pain is higher than that of women with little or no pain.

When you take a lot of sugar, your body produces a wide variety of inflammatory chemicals, including prostaglandins, as a response to raised blood sugar levels. This is your body’s response to toxic agents, and as long as the they persist, prostaglandins will continue to be produced and add to the inflammatory process.

In summary, the higher the levels of prostaglandins in your body, the more painful and heavier your period. Sugar increases the level of prostaglandin in your body and you should avoid eating them for a relatively easier and pain-free period.

Alexa Chukwumah