How to eat for your cycle

by dr. alexandra power

 

In my practice, I frequently have women come to see me to help them feel amazing all month long, even during their ‘time of the month’. It feel so fortunate to be able to support women who are struggling with:

  • Menstrual cramps
  • Bloating / water retention
  • Excessive flow
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Food cravings
  • Irregular cycles
  • And many other things!

If any of these symptoms sound like something you need support with, or don’t want to live with anymore every month – you are not alone, and there are things you can do to help.

foods to help with period cramps

Your moon cycle

A ‘normal’ cycle is calculated by the number of days from the first day of one period, to the first day of your next period. This cycle should normally occur every 28 days on average and consist of bleeding for 3-6 days, with a blood loss of about 30 – 80 mL. It is normal to have one off occurrences of abnormalities of these normal guidelines, as so many things affect them, such as stress levels, emotions, exercise, dietary factors, travel, sleep patterns, illnesses etc. But repeated episodes of irregular cycles, really heavy or light periods, really long or short periods warrant further investigation.

“As women, we are so conditioned to believe that cramps, bloating, acne, fatigue and moodiness are normal to experience once a month, and that Midol, heat packs and sick days from work are the only options. I am here to tell you that this doesn’t have to be the case.”

I love starting with full assessment and optimization of patients nutrition, regardless of what they come to my office for, as I believe that food is the foundation to health.

 

foods to help with period crampsNutritional advice for a happy & healthy cycle

A great place to start when experiencing menstrual concerns is with nutrition. General nutrition advice for any time during your cycle includes the following:

Maintaining blood sugar levels

Stable blood sugar levels is an important aspect of keeping your periods regular, and preventing symptoms associated with PMS. Tips to help balance blood sugars include:

  • Eating breakfast
  • Snack on high quality protein / fat sources (ie: trail mix)
  • Combine carbohydrate rich snacks with protein (ie: apple + almond butter)

Maintain adequate nutrient intake and hydration

Achieving adequate nutrient levels is important to keep your hormones and your blood sugars balanced. This is usually achieved by following a diet focused on:

  • Fresh vegetables (especially dark leafy greens)
  • Moderate fruit and whole grain consumption
  • Adequate protein – primarily from plant sources
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Good quality unsaturated fats (cold water fish, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado etc.).
  • Adequate water intake – I usually recommend 2-3 L per day, depending on the person

 

A healthy body 

Achieving and maintaining an optimal weight unique to you is an important aspect of regulating your menstrual cycle.

 

Avoid foods that contribute negatively

foods to help with period cramps

Certain foods negatively affect your cycle, mostly due to the inflammation caused by them, and their ability to disrupt stable blood sugar levels. These foods may include: 

  • Fried and processed foods
  • Foods high in simple carbohydrates (bread, baked goods, pastas)
  • Foods high in refined sugars (ie: candy, soda, baked goods etc.)
  • Foods high in sodium (ie: chip, pre-made soups, some canned veggies)
  • Caffeine and alcohol also contribute to PMS symptoms in some women
  • Red Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Food Sensitivities – certain patients respond well to eliminating foods that they are sensitive to, especially those with PMS and digestive disturbances.

 

The 4 phases

There are technically four parts to your menstrual cycle, and your hormone levels change throughout these phases. These hormone changes lead to differences in your bodies nutrient requirements among other things.

The four phases are:

  1. Menstruation (Approximately Day 1 – Day 5)
  2. Follicular Phase (Approximately Day 1 – 13)
  3. Ovulation (Approximately Day 14)
  4. Luteal Phase (Approximately Day 15 – Day 28)

 

Phase 1 – Menstruation aka your lady business! 

foods to help with period cramps

What Your Hormones Are Doing

Your progesterone and estrogen are generally low during your period. These low levels trigger the production of a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) – which leads us to the next phase, your follicular phase.

You might be feeling:

  • Fatigue
  • Continued symptoms from PMS (ie: cramping, bloating, mood imbalances, acne)
  • Some people notice increased clarity due to estrogen decreasing (excess estrogen can cause brain fog)

Nutrients Your Body Needs:

  • Iron – this is the biggest nutrient to keep in mind during menstruation – this is because iron is lost through your blood.

 

Foods to focus on:

  • Seaweed, molasses, pumpkin seeds, beets, beans, whole grains and Pranin Organic’s PureFood Iron

 

Phase 2 – Follicular (Day 1-13)

What your hormones are doing:foods to help with period cramps

The FSH released in response to low hormone levels during your period trigger your ovary to mature and prepare a follicle (a little sac containing an egg) to be released. This causes your estrogen levels to increase, which helps thicken your uterine lining to prepare your body for pregnancy.

Symptoms you might be experiencing:

Most people don’t feel significant symptoms during this time. Since your estrogen levels start to increase, people generally feel energy start to increase, and also libido start to increase during this phase!

Occasionally – elevating estrogen can cause anxiety, so if you are someone who is prone to anxiety, you may notice you feel more triggered during this time of your month! Incorporating Pranin Organic’s PureFood B in for nervous system support, as well as taking time to meditate are useful way combat extra anxieties at this time. If anxiety begins to persist, please consult a health care practitioner right away. 

Nutrients your body needs:

In addition to the below, follow the general recommendations at the beginning of this article during this phase.

Indole-3-Carbinole (I3C)

I3C is a molecule that assists our body to detoxify excess estrogen, which is very beneficial during the entire menstrual cycle – but specifically the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.

Antioxidants

If you are trying to conceive – consider increasing your antioxidants! Our bodies are constantly exposed to oxidative stress that can damage our cells. Antioxidants help to overcome this oxidative stress, and have been implicated in improving fertility, and just healthy cellular function and optimal aging in general.

Foods Rich in I3C:

Broccoli, Cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, radish, turnips, mustard greens.

Top 10 antioxidant rich foods:

foods to help with period crampsGoji Berries

Wild blueberries

Dark chocolate 

Pecans

Artichoke

Elderberries

Kidney Beans

Cranberries

Blackberries

Cilantro (Which is an ingredient in Pranin Organic’s PureFood A to Z)

 

Phase 3 – Ovulation (Day 14)

What your hormones are doing: 

Your FSH levels and estrogen levels are at their highest at this point. This creates a rapid increase in a hormone called Luteinizing Hormone (LH) – which stimulates the release of the egg from this follicle. This ruptured follicle produces more estrogen and progesterone to continue to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If this egg is not fertilized (aka you don’t get pregnant), these hormone levels drop, and then slowly increase again during the luteal phase.

foods to help with period cramps

Your testosterone levels also increase during this ovulatory phase – which is why most women have more libido, and energy levels during this phase!

Symptoms you might be experiencing: 

This is usually the time during the cycle when women feel their best. This includes:

  • Increased energy
  • Increased libido

Some other general symptoms of ovulation (that don’t necessarily indicate anything is wrong) are:

  • Cervical mucus changes
    • looks more like egg whites (thanks to estrogen!)
  • Heightened senses
  • Breast sensitivity
  • Mittelschmerz sensation – a mild sensation in the lower abdomen (on the right or left depending on which side an egg is being released from!)

If you experience severe pain with ovulation – see a healthcare provider to rule out conditions such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts!

Foods to eat: Continue to follow the recommendations from the follicular phase during your ovulation phase – emphasizing those I3C rich veggies!

 

Phase 4 – Luteal (Days 15-28)

What your hormones are doing: 

The corpus luteum (or structure that is formed if you do not get pregnant in your cycle) begins secreting progesterone, making it elevated, and the dominant hormone at this time of your cycle. At the end of this phase, your progesterone levels lower, which is what causes your uterus to ‘shed’ its lining – aka: you get your period!

Symptoms you might be experiencing: 

foods to help with period crampsIf progesterone is either not elevating enough, or declining too rapidly in comparison to estrogen, you may notice: 

Depression / Moodiness 

Increased Anxiety

Migraines or other headaches

Breast tenderness

Acne breakouts

Sugar / simple carbohydrate cravings

Abnormalities with your period: 

  • Dysmenorrhea (painful periods)
  • Menorrhagia (excessively heavy periods)

Nutrients your body needs: 

foods to help with period cramps

Eat foods that help your body reach optimal progesterone levels to help with maintaining a stable mood, and decrease bloating and other PMS symptoms. This is the most important phase of the cycle for prevention of symptoms related to PMS!

Magnesium
Magnesium levels can be lower in people with PMS and painful periods, and optimizing levels decreased these PMS symptoms. FoodsRich in Magnesium: Nuts, whole grains, legumes, leafy green vegetables and cacao.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Cramping and pain during periods can be caused or exacerbated by inflammation – specifically inflammatory prostaglandins. Omega 3 fatty acids are demonstrated to decrease these prostaglandins, therefore reducing pain associated with the menstrual cycle. Foods Rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Wild fish (salmon, sardines, cod), flaxseed & flax oil (I recommend 2 TBSP of ground flax daily), coconut oil, chia seeds and more.

Zinc
Assists in the conversion to beneficial prostaglandins (aka: enhancing the decreased inflammation that is promoted when you consume omega 3 fatty acids). Foods Rich in Zinc: Seafood, meat, whole grains, wheat bran, legumes, peanuts, egg yolks, nuts and seeds.

B-Vitamins
B-vitamins are important for your immune system, skin and brain health, metabolism, hormone production, and so much more. I recommend most patients obtain optimal consumption of B-vitamins all through the month, but this time before your period is particularly important, as they have also been shown to assist in prevention of PMS – particularly Vitamin B6.

I3C
See above.

 

Supplements: 

Depending on your nutritional status and individual needs, some of these nutrients may not be able to be acquired from nutrition and food alone. I love supplementing with products that are food based, which is one of the many reasons I love Pranin’s product line. Here are a few supplements that may be useful for you throughout your cycle!

foods to help with period cramps

Pranin Organic’s PureFood B
This amazing, organic powder contains highly absorbable forms of the essential B – vitamins for your health. B-vitamins support energy production, and also as mentioned above – Vitamin B6 has demonstrated to be very beneficial in optimizing female hormones!

 

 

 

 

Pranin Organic’s PureFood Iron foods to help with period cramps
Talk to your healthcare provider to have an assessment of your iron levels and stores before beginning an iron supplement. These levels will determine proper dosing to ensure that your iron levels increase, and also prevent over supplementation. A good source for increasing or maintaining optimal levels of iron could be Pranin’s Pure Food Iron. I specifically like this supplement because it easily digestible, and doesn’t usually cause constipation or stomach upset (which lots of brands tend to do!). It also contains Vitamin C, which I love because it helps with the absorption of iron – leading to more effective supplementation!

 

 

foods to help with period crampsPranin Organic’s PureFood A to Z
For the patients that I recommend taking a multivitamin – Pranin’s Purefood A to Z is a great option. It contains blood sugar balancing nutrients (chromium), and nutrients to assist in decreasing PMS symptoms (Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, magnesium, calcium and Vitamin D). It is a well absorbed, organic and delicious option for those wanting a multivitamin!

 

 

Magnesium
Magnesium can be consumed all month long, or during the luteal and menstruation phases depending on symptoms. For benefits related to PMS symptoms – consumption ranges from 200 – 400 mg in research studies – and again, this will depend on your unique situation! *Note – PureFood A to Z contains 20% of your daily value of magnesium per serving, and their Raw Cacao Smoothie Boosters contain 60% of your DV. 

Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
As mentioned above – there are many great food sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. For some women, I recommend supplementation all month long if they are having any type of disturbance with their menstrual cycle. How much will depend on patients symptoms but it is often between 3-4 g / day – emphasizing EPA.

 

Know your cycle

There’s so much information available to women who are looking to track their cycle in a more detailed way. I encourage you to talk to your healthcare practitioner about more resources, education and share your findings with other women. If you have a favorite app, book or blog that helps empower you to learn more about your cycle, share it with us below! Wishing you a happy and healthy cycle. 

 

women in business

 

 

Dr. Alexandra Power is a Naturopathic Doctor in North Vancouver, BC and provides evidence based, naturally focused medical care – specifically focused on women’s health. You can learn more about her practice by visiting her website or engaging with her on Instagram and Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

References: 

https://www.superfoodly.com/orac-values/

https://draxe.com/top-10-high-antioxidant-foods/

Balbi C, Musone R. Influence of menstrual factors and dietary habits on menstrual pain in adolescence age. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Bio. 2000;91 (2): 143-148

Cross GB, Marley J, Miles H Willson K. Changes in nutrient intake during the menstrual cycle of overweight women with premenstrual syndrome. Brit J Nutr 2001; 85: 475-482

Gaby A. Nutritional Medicine. Fritz Perlberg Publishing 2001.

Harel Z, Biro FM, Kottenhahn RK. Supplementation with omega-3 PUFA in the management of dysmenorrhea in adolescents. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1996; 174: 1335-1338

Quaranta S, Buscaglia MA, Meroni MG, et al. Pilot study of the efficacy and safety of a modified – release magnesium 250mg tablet for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome. Clin Drug Investig 2007; 27:51-58.

Romm, A. Botanical medicine for women’s health. Elsevier 2018.