Written by Kathy Feng
Menstruation, colloquially known as a period, is when a woman has a monthly cycle in which she sheds the lining of her uterus. This shedding of the lining of the uterus is due to a drop in hormone levels when a woman is not pregnant. The lining of the uterus includes blood, which is why women bleed during their menstruation cycle.
In countries such as China or Hong Kong, there is a widely accepted belief that there are certain foods and even activities that women should steer clear of when they are menstruating. In particular, many women in these countries believe that eating ice cream or anything cold will cause or worsen menstrual cramps. When writer Eric Brand explained to his students in a class at Chang Gung University in Taiwan that “Westerners never think about the effect of iced drinks during menstruation”, they were baffled. There must be a discrepancy or explanation as to why many Western women are able drink iced drinks or eat cold food during their menstruation cycle without any worsening of their cramps and women in other countries cannot. The question is: Does the belief that ingesting cold drinks and food cause menstrual cramps, or is it merely just a belief?
What is the cause of menstrual cramps? Prostaglandins in cells are the cause of muscle contractions and ultimately, menstrual cramps. Dairy products such as ice cream contain arachidonic acid, an omega-6-unsaturated fatty acid, which could increase in prostaglandin production . However, dairy products also contain calcium, which relieves menstrual cramps. Research from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows that a calcium intake of 537mg to 1336mg over a 169 day period reduced premenstrual bloating as well as pain during the menstrual cycle . The downside to this is that in order to digest enough calcium to improve menstrual cramps, we would have to eat many cups of ice cream in order to reach the appropriate calcium intake levels. Also, there are no research studies to be done for the effects of iced drinks on menstrual cramps. This may be due to the fact that a study on the effects of cold drinks and menstrual cramps would not bring any companies that pursue this research any profit. In this sense, there are no studies that either prove or disapprove the belief that menstrual cramps are caused by cold drinks and food. There is evidence however, that sugar intake and dairy products can lead to bloating and muscle contractions, which attribute to menstrual cramps.
The bottom line is this: there are no studies that prove or disprove the effects of cold drinks or foods on menstrual cramps. If women experiencing menstrual cramps want to take extra precaution, they should drink warmer liquids during their menstruation cycle.