Menstruation – something that all girls and women have to go through. On average, a woman spends seven years of her life menstruating. Menstruation is a natural and integral part of the reproductive cycle. However, the topic of menstruation is taboo in Bangladesh. Often, girls in Bangladesh are not prepared for their first period as they lack the knowledge of it, and the restrictions during their cycle prevent them fromlivingeveryday life.
Menstruation is still perceived to be a matter that should not be discussed publicly. It creates discrimination, heightens vulnerabilities, and lessens girls' opportunities to know about menstruation at an early age. Many treat menstruation as a "women's issue", and males avoid getting involved in conversations and gaining knowledge about it. However, menstruation is part of women's biological cycle and has importance to society as a whole. The matter should not be avoided, and males should be involved in conversations and gain knowledge to help promote gender equality and eliminate stigma and taboo.
Most people think that women are moody during their cycle. Hormonal changes drive the menstrual cycle, and it has various kinds of effects on women, both emotional and physical. During the period cycle, women also go through premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It is a combination of symptoms that many women get before and during their period. During this period, over 90% of women experience bloating, headaches, and other emotional stress. The severity of the symptoms varies and sometimes can lead to women missing work or school.
Another issue women face during their menstrual cycle is dysmenorrhea. It is mainly the pain that women suffer from menstruation. Dysmenorrhea is a widespread menstrual disorder, and more than half of the female population suffer from it. There are two types of dysmenorrhea – primary and secondary. The primary one is commonly known as menstrual cramps – severe pain during the cycle. The severity of the problems varies; however, severe pain, along with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, can have adverse effects on a woman's life, like unable to go to work or school. Secondary dysmenorrhea is usually caused by health problems like cysts, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis.
Amenorrhea is another menstrual health issue that is experienced by few women. Those who have missed their menstruation at least threemonthsin a row suffer from amenorrhea. Additionally, girls who don't get their period at the age of 15 usually have amenorrhea too.
Now the question arises, is there a way for women to tackle these pains and challenges? There are many ways to do it; some require medicines that can have side effects, whereas there are healthier options like consumption of functional foods.
Functional foods offer health benefits that extend beyond their nutritional value. According to the National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board in the USA, functional food is any modified food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains. Bio-active component of functional food plays a crucial role in solving the health problems within the biochemical process in the body. Companies who want to bring functional food in the market need to provide scientific evidences of its safety and efficacy to get approval from the authorities.
Functional food is hugely beneficial for the body and doesn't have any side effects. The popularity of functional food has recently increased globally, including in the USA, Europe, India, Japan, and China. The Food and Safety Standards Regulations were passed on functional food in India in 2016, which has been effective since 2018.
In addition to nutrient-rich ingredients like fruits and vegetables, the category also includes foods fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and fiber. There is a connection between the food people eat and the body's estrogen level. A higher level of estrogen can cause more pain during the cycle.
A healthy diet, including low-fat and high-fiber, can significantly reduce estrogen levels. A lower hormone level will have less effect on the uterine cell, which will cause women to either experience less pain or no pain at all. A higher level of nutritional value will help the body to tackle estrogen levels and, in the end, aid women to suffer less.
Since 1980, Japan has been playing a pioneering role in the research and development of functional foods. In 1991, authorities in Japan legalized it in the form of FOSHU (Food with Specified Health Use).
On the journey of reaching the pinnacle, the process of approval for this food starts in another new category called Food with Function Claims (FFC). India, Japan and China have been using special food items as an integral part of their health protection to prevent, mitigate and cure various diseases, including menstrual disorders as Hippocrates, the father of modern medical science, said around 2,500 years ago, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
Unfortunately, the concept of functional food and its benefits are not popular in Bangladesh. However, in recent years few universities are trying to include the idea in its curriculum. Moreover, Organic Nutrition Limited Bangladesh has been trying to promote the concept and its benefits across the nation.
Consuming functional food will help women to tackle menstrual pain and dysmenorrhea. Remember, menstruation is a biological cycle that women have to experience, and it is neither a topic of stigma nor taboo. To promote more gender equality in Bangladesh, people should openly talk about it and support women during their cycle. Moreover, awareness of functional food needs to increase to help women during their period and help others tackle various health issues.