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Teen Girls' Health

Complementary Treatments: Nutrition, Exercise, Heat, and Touch

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While there’s not much scientific evidence proving that food choices can reduce period pain, there’s no doubt that sensible, healthy eating in general is good for you. So I recommend that all my patients give healthier eating a try.

“Even if it doesn’t help your pain,” I told Olivia, “it will promote overall good health for life.” I added that a food strategy like this could also help her stay at her healthiest weight for life.

Exercise. “Yeah, right, gimme a break,” you’re probably thinking. “I can’t even stand up straight on the first day of my period, and Dr. Ashton’s telling me to put on my running shoes?!?” You’re 100 percent right: Exercise is not a quick fix for period pain. But aerobic exercise—running, biking, swimming, anything that gets your heart pumping—produces natural substances called endorphins. These endorphins produce a mild physical euphoria (ever heard of the “runner’s high”? Or notice how happy you are after soccer practice?). When you’re in pain, these endorphins act like a healthy version of morphine—they help you relax and they take the edge off the pain.

I’m not telling you to go jogging when you’re having bad cramps. But I am saying that a regular exercise routine incorporating thirty to forty-five minutes of aerobic exercise three to five times a week may help ease your symptoms over the long haul. I can’t promise it will help. So far conclusive scientific evidence is lacking. But regular physical exercise also happens to be one of the single most powerful things you can do to stay fit for the rest of your life. So what have you got to lose?

Vitamins and Supplements. According to the latest research, some dietary supplements might help with period pain. You can find these at any good vitamin store. Specifically:

Magnesium. Lots of studies have shown that magnesium can help lower levels of a certain type of prostaglandin and ease period pain for some patients. I recommended that Olivia try 500 to 1000 milligrams of magnesium. But I also warned her not to take more, since magnesium can be dangerous in higher doses. If you try magnesium, take it starting on Day 15 of your cycle until your period stops. And take it in magnesium glycinate form (other forms might cause diarrhea, or loose poops). And never take more than 1000 milligrams per day.

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