New research: The link between weight and menstrual cramps

New research: The link between weight and menstrual cramps

I always dread bringing up the topic of body weight. It’s a touchy subject that can make many women feel anxious, depressed or just plain annoyed. And I don’t blame them–there’s just too much emphasis placed on body shape and female attractiveness.

Of course, this is unfair because of the unrealistic Photoshopped waif-thin models and celebrities we’re constantly pressured to hopelessly live up to in our real non-Photoshopped life, and because most times the same comparisons aren’t made with men and their shape. In fact, just to add insult to injury, men with burgeoning beer bellies–dubbed the “dad bod”–are actually now deemed more attractive than guys who are completely fit. I mean, c’mon!

Okay, so all that said, as a longtime women’s health journalist, I can’t ignore the many health benefits that come from maintaining the appropriate weight for your height–being neither underweight nor overweight. Countless studies prove it reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis pain, and the list goes on.

Most health experts agree there’s a certain weight range that helps your body run optimally. And, for the most part, you can find that sweet spot for your height by calculating your body mass index (BMI), which you can do here. (Athletic women with a more muscular shape may need to account for muscle tissue, which can add extra pounds.)

So, why oh why am I bringing all this up to you today? Because a new large-scale Australian study that followed 9,688 women over 13 years found a key link between body weight and menstrual cramps.

Turns out, women who are either underweight or obese based on their BMI are 34% and 22%, respectively, more likely to experience severe menstrual cramp pain than women whose weight falls in the normal or overweight BMI ranges–even after adjusting for factors that can impact cramp pain, such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption.

The link? As the researchers explain it, body fat impacts hormone levels–and having too much or too little can affect how much estrogen your body produces and how your body uses this hormone. This, in turn, can trigger more pain-causing compounds during your period, intensify pain sensitivity, affect the thickness of your uterine lining and disrupt your menstrual cycle, in general–which can all play a role in menstrual cramp pain.

The good news? Women who are obese and lose enough weight to reach a healthier BMI actually reverse this higher risk of experiencing severe cramp pain.

Unfortunately, for underweight women, while putting on enough weight can help improve other health factors, it does not lower your risk for severe cramp pain.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? 

If you experience severe cramp pain and you’re in the obese BMI range, consider taking practical steps to shed excess pounds, such as reducing calorie intake, increasing your activity level and talking with your healthcare provider. You might just discover that your monthly pelvic pain disappears.

And, remember, you don’t need to dip all the way down to the normal BMI range to experience cramp relief. Women in the overweight BMI range have the same lower menstrual cramp risk as those in the normal range, which might make it easier for you aim for and reach your pain-relieving goal.

[Photo: Alasam]

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