Foods to support healthy menstruation

Written for Nature & Health Magazine 

Hormones are our body’s chemical messengers that relay vital information to our cells and tissues, ensuring each of our systems function efficiently.

 

Many women suffer with menstruation problems, from irregular periods to pre menstrual syndrome (PMS) in the second half of their cycle (luteal phase) that affect them emotionally, physically or behaviorally. These symptoms are very common, however that doesn’t mean they are normal and thankfully it is possible to have a symptom-free, regular cycle. A wonderful place to begin to support your cycle is by looking at your diet and incorporating these hormone-loving foods wherever possible.

 

1. Magnesium-rich foods (cacao, green leafy vegetables, legumes, almonds) – A fluctuation in serotonin (one of our neurotransmitters) has been associated with menstrual migraines and emotional stress. Magnesium has been shown to reduce the severity of serotonin fluctuations and therefore PMS symptoms via the minerals calming effect on the nervous system. Additionally, magnesium is a great muscle relaxant, so increasing these foods may help reduce uterine cramps and menstrual migraines.

 

2. Calcium-rich foods (sardines, seeds, broccoli, egg yolk) – Research suggests women suffering with PMS have lower levels of calcium than women with PMS free cycles. Oestrogen has a regulatory affect on calcium, so when oestrogen declines in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, calcium levels also fall. Interestingly hypocalcaemia and emotional PMS symptoms are very similar. Clinical trials have shown that supplementing with calcium successfully alleviates the majority of mood and somatic PMS symptoms. 

 

3. Zinc-rich foods – (beef, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, oysters, whole grains) – Zinc is required for healthy oocyte development and ovulation; deficiency during pregnancy can lead to abnormal fertilization or embryo development. Zinc is an anti-inflammatory and has been shown to help reduce dysmenorrhea (pain and cramping associated with menstruation). Additionally, zinc helps reduce hormone related acne through its anti-inflammatory, wound healing and collagen promoting properties. 

 

4. Iodine-rich foods (mushrooms, seaweed, dairy products, seafood) – The ovaries contain the highest concentration of iodine after the thyroid gland. Iodine deficiency can be a factor associated with PCOS (which causes irregular menstruation, cysts and scar tissue on the ovaries); therefore adequate iodine intake improves ovulation and reduces the risk of PCOS. Iodine deficiency is linked with fibrocystic breast tissue, pain and an increased risk of breast cancer. Following iodine supplementation breast pain, tenderness and nodules were reduced. 

 

5. Complex carbohydrates (brown rice, sweet potato, oats, legumes) – Normal menstruation is impaired when there is a restriction in dietary energy and nutrients due to the stress it puts on our body. Complex carbohydrates are our main source of fuel required to regulate our blood sugar; when we restrict carbohydrates our blood sugar drops, triggering one of our stress hormones cortisol to be released. Prolonged release of cortisol places our body in a ‘fight or flight’ nervous system state, which over time interferes with the hormonal cascade required for menstruation, leading to irregular periods.