From "time of the month" to "Aunt Flo," there are plenty of nicknames for menstruation. But even though we have a slew of sometimes funny names for it, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women and girls don’t like to talk about how their periods make their day-to-day lives more difficult. In fact, the majority of the study’s 43,000 participants didn’t even want to tell their doctors if they were experiencing a heavy flow or discomfort.
"We think there is a taboo on menstrual symptoms, mainly because women think this is just a normal part of life," said Dr. Mark Schoep, the study’s author (via Reuters). When a girl is first taught about her period, she’s likely told about its possible symptoms like cramping and bloating. And when other girls and women in her life confirm how menstruation is unpleasant, it can seem like expressing real concern or frustration will come across as complaining about something uncontrollable. However, that’s a half truth.
Yes, there are aspects of menstruation that cannot be changed, but as Dr. Trine Stanley Karlsson of the University Hospital Karolinska in Stockholm, Sweden, told Reuters, "… many symptoms without any underlying medical condition can be effectively treated very easily." For example, certain foods and beverages might lessen or amplify menstruation-related symptoms. So, if your time of the month is making it harder to do what you want and need to do, simple adjustments to your diet could help.
Try: Chamomile tea
While it might not be possible to completely get rid of the painful cramps and bloating connected to your time of the month, the Mayo Clinic recommends "warm beverages" to help sooth these unpleasant period symptoms. But anyone who has been to a Starbucks can tell you there are a wide variety of warm beverages, some of which contain caffeine that can make menstrual cramps more painful (via Insider). Fortunately, there is a member of the tea family that’s not only caffeine free, but also has shown promise as a way to naturally help manage menstruation-related pain.
Indeed, research has found chamomile tea could be beneficial for a number of health concerns, including menstrual cramps. A study in the Iranian Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Infertility concluded that drinking chamomile tea might make cramps less severe both physically and emotionally. As it turns out, the true power behind chamomile’s ability to tame period pain might have to do with it improving the quality of sleep someone can get during their period (via Healthline).
Beyond potentially helping with sleep and fatigue, a study by the Korean Pharmacopuncture Institute found that chamomile tea might also reduce the heaviness of one’s period. So, if you have discomfort during your time of the month, you might want to brew yourself a cup of this tea. For the best results, drink your chamomile tea unsweetened, since sugar can also worsen period symptoms (via Cleveland Clinic).
Avoid: Too much caffeine
For many, their day doesn’t begin until they’ve had that first cup of coffee — or maybe those first two or three cups. Unfortunately, endocrinologist Dr. Rocio Salas-Whalen cautioned Insider that the caffeine in beverages like coffee can mean more cramps during your time of the month.
To fully understand how caffeine can make your period more painful, we need to talk about how your circulatory system works. Remember, your blood vessels don’t stay at the same size all the time. They can become wider or narrower, which impacts how your blood circulates throughout your body. Caffeine can cause them to narrow, and according to Dr. Salas-Whalen, that narrowing can make a case of period-related cramps more severe. So, consequently, the more caffeine you consume, the worse your cramps could become.
Although caffeine can negatively impact your period, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to cut it out entirely. For example, if you like three cups of coffee over a 24-hour period, Dr. Salas-Whalen recommends reducing that number to one cup during your flow. And there’s always decaf coffee, but don’t let the name fool you. As Nathan Arnold, a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration, told SELF, "It is almost impossible to remove all the caffeine from a coffee bean." So if you want to cut back on caffeine by switching to decaf, you still need to exercise good portion control.