How Inflammation Affects Your Menstrual Cycle
In the realm of wellness, the concept of fighting inflammation gets a *lot* of attention. And for good reason, too—inflammation can mess with virtually every part of your body. This includes your digestive system, brain, skin, and (surprise!) your menstrual cycle.
In fact, inflammation plays a major role in how you feel during your period. How, you ask? Below, a full explainer on inflammation, plus how it impacts your cycle.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation helps your body protect itself. It allows your immune system to recognize infection or injury, and ultimately, start the healing process.
Specifically, inflammation involves a range of physiological changes like pain, redness, and swelling. These symptoms basically tell your immune system: “Hey, something is up!” From there, your immune system can take over and start repair—whether that’s fighting germs or closing up wounds.
In other words, inflammation isn’t always bad. Your body literally needs inflammation to keep you safe. Short-term, acute inflammation is crucial for good health.
The problem is when your body is in a constant state of inflammation. This can happen due to a range of factors, such as:
- Low estrogen
- Inadequate or poor quality sleep
- Poor nutrition
- Smoking cigarettes
Inflammation and Your Menstrual Cycle: What's the Link?
When it comes to your cycle, inflammation can wreak havoc in several ways. Here’s how:
1. Inflammation can worsen period pain.
As mentioned above, inflammation causes symptoms such as pain. This helps your immune system recognize injury or infection.
Your body does this by producing different substances. One example is prostaglandin, a hormone-like chemical that “notifies” your immune system.
In the female reproductive system, prostaglandins also induce uterine contractions, a.k.a. menstrual cramps. These contractions are responsible for shedding your uterine lining during menstruation.
Now, here’s where it comes full circle. If your body is in a state of inflammation, you’ll have higher-than-normal levels of prostaglandin. During your period, this will manifest as more severe menstrual cramps.
It’s worth noting that prostaglandin increases during your period, even if you’re *not* inflamed. That’s because progesterone, a female sex hormone, drops on the first day of your period. This prompts the release of prostaglandins, which triggers contractors and bleeding—a normal feature of menstruation.The problem is when your body is inflamed, and ultimately produces too much.
2. It can exacerbate other PMS symptoms, too.
Beyond menstrual cramps, inflammation is associated with other PMS symptoms.
According to the Journal of Women’s Health, high levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) increases the risk of PMS symptoms by 26 to 41%. This includes symptoms like:
- Breast pain
- Appetite cravings
- Unplanned weight gain
- Mood changes
- Back pain
In another study in the journal Human Reproduction, women with PMS were found to have higher levels of inflammatory markers (such as interleukin-2). The researchers also noted that the higher the inflammatory markers, the more severe the PMS symptoms.
3. Inflammatory conditions might flare up during menstruation.
So far, we’ve talked about how a general state of inflammation affects menstruation. But what happens if you have a pre-existing inflammatory condition?
In this scenario, it’s common to experience a flare-up during your period. Not only can this worsen symptoms of your condition, but PMS symptoms too.
One example is asthma, an inflammatory condition of the airways. According to Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine, some women with asthma experience more severe symptoms in the late luteal phase, just before menstruation. Similarly, it’s common for women with arthritis—or inflammation of the joints—to have flare-ups during their period, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
The exacerbation of symptoms are likely related to hormonal changes and their relationship with inflammation. Estrogen and progesterone, after all, have anti-inflammatory effects—but are low just before menstruation. It just goes to show how inflammation and your menstrual cycle are closely intertwined.
How to Reduce Inflammation
There’s no doubt that inflammation can mess with your cycle. But here’s good news: It’s totally possible to reduce it.
- Stay active. Regular exercise lowers your risk of inflammation and chronic disease. (It also does wonders for PMS relief, BTW!) Just be sure to avoid excessive exercise, which can actually increase inflammation.
- Minimize stress. While it’s easier said than done, de-stressing is key for controlling inflammation.
- Prioritize sleep. Sleep allows your body to rest and repair. This can keep inflammation (and your immune system) in check.
- Quit smoking. If you smoke cigarettes, do your best to quit. Smoking decreases your body’s natural production of anti-inflammatory chemicals.
- Limit or avoid alcohol. Alcohol induces inflammation, which may explain why alcohol intake is associated with PMS symptoms.
- Limit saturated fats. Your inflammatory response is influenced by the food you eat. Focus on “good” unsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids.
- Eat whole plant foods. Antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies can reduce inflammation. Replace refined grains with whole grains, which have anti-inflammatory nutrients.
- Supplement with multivitamins. It can be difficult to get your essential nutrients from food, so consider taking a multivitamin like Marea’s PMS Elixir. It contains a stellar cocktail of anti-inflammatory nutrients like magnesium, selenium, zinc, and vitamin D.
- Manage inflammatory conditions. If you have an inflammatory disorder, work with your doctor to manage your condition. This may involve medication, lifestyle changes, or dietary restrictions.
Remember, inflammation affects your entire body—not just your reproductive system. So, by managing inflammation through the above factors, you’ll be that much closer to achieving better overall health.