Fueling your way to a balanced menstrual cycle

Women’s Health

  7 Minutes
The menstrual cycle is a natural process that every woman goes through, and for many, it can be a challenging experience marked by a rollercoaster of physical and emotional symptoms. From cramps and mood swings to fatigue and bloating, it’s a monthly journey that can be a nightmare for many women.

While it may be tempting to reach for comfort foods or indulge in sugary treats during your menstrual cycle, iron-rich foods such as leafy greens, lean meats, and legumes can help combat fatigue and support healthy blood flow. Read on to learn more about how your diet can impact your menstrual cycle during each phase.

The impact of nutrition on the menstrual cycle:

Eating smart for a healthier you
Nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle, and unhealthy dietary patterns can lead to the development of menstrual disorders. For instance, a high intake of processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats can have an impact on the increased risk of irregular periods, heavy bleeding, and hormonal imbalances. On the other hand, a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins may help promote hormonal balance and reduce the risk of menstrual disorders. So, it is crucial to make informed food choices to support a healthy menstrual cycle.

By consuming a balanced diet that includes essential nutrients, women can support hormonal balance, reduce menstrual symptoms, and promote regular menstruation. Here’s how prioritising your nutrition and making conscious food choices can impact your menstrual cycle during each phase:

Menstrual Phase: Conquering hormonal balance

The menstrual phase, also known as ‘the period’, is a significant part of a woman’s reproductive system, involving hormonal changes and physical symptoms. One of the most common symptoms experienced during the menstrual phase is menstrual cramps, when these are severe it is known as dysmenorrhea. The intensity of these cramps can vary from woman to woman, with some experiencing mild discomfort while others endure more severe pain. Proper nutrition is essential for maintaining hormonal balance and promoting regular menstruation during this phase. Specific nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, play a vital role in hormonal regulation. During the menstrual phase, focus on foods that can alleviate common symptoms and provide comfort. Some excellent choices include:

  1. Iron-rich foods: To compensate for iron loss during your period, incorporate spinach, lean meats, lentils, and fortified cereals into your diet.
  2. Warm and comforting foods: Opt for soothing options like herbal teas, hot water with lemon, and nourishing soups to ease cramps and provide warmth.
  3. Magnesium-rich foods: Nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate can help alleviate mood swings and reduce muscle tension. Adding a variety of nuts and seeds to your diet can be highly beneficial during your menstrual cycle. Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are excellent sources of healthy fats, fibre, and essential nutrients. These foods can help regulate hormone levels, reduce inflammation, and improve mood swings commonly experienced during menstruation.
  4. Anti-inflammatory foods: Excessively painful periods can be a result of high levels of an inflammatory substance called PGE2 which causes excessive pain and spasms during the period. Include anti-inflammatory foods which lower PGE2 such as ginger and turmeric, as well as fatty fish and nuts which provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids.
  5. Hydration: Drink plenty of water to combat bloating and reduce water retention.
  6. Fruits and Vegetables: Incorporate nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables to support your overall well-being.

Follicular Phase: Energise and revitalise

The follicular phase is a crucial stage in the menstrual cycle. During this phase, several changes occur in the female body, leading to the maturation of an egg and the preparation of the uterus for potential pregnancy. This phase is characterised by the growth of ovarian follicles, which contain the eggs. One of the significant effects of the follicular phase is its impact on energy levels. As the follicles develop, they produce increasing levels of oestrogen. This hormone plays a vital role in regulating energy metabolism in the body. Maintaining a balanced energy intake is crucial for supporting a healthy menstrual cycle during this phase. Insufficient energy intake, commonly seen in restrictive diets or eating disorders, can lead to menstrual irregularities. When the body does not receive enough energy, it shifts its focus away from reproductive functions, resulting in hormonal imbalances and disruptions in the menstrual cycle. Conversely, excessive energy intake can also affect menstrual regularity, possibly contributing to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or amenorrhea (absence of menstruation). In the follicular phase, your body’s energy levels rise as it prepares for ovulation. To support this phase, focus on foods that provide sustained energy and essential nutrients. Here are some ideal choices:

  1. Lean Proteins: Include sources like chicken, fish, lean beef, tofu, and legumes in your meals to provide the protein your body needs to maintain energy.
  2. Fruits and Vegetables: Opt for a colourful array of fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and essential vitamins to keep your energy levels high and support overall health.
  3. Whole Grains: Incorporate whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and oats to provide long-lasting energy throughout this dynamic phase. Opting for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats instead of refined grains can provide a steady release of energy and help stabilise your blood sugar levels. Whole grains are rich in fibre, which aids in digestion and prevents bowel movements, a common issue during the menstrual cycle. Additionally, they contain B vitamins that support overall well-being and help combat fatigue.

Ovulatory Phase: Radiate with Confidence

The ovulation phase, is a crucial stage in the menstrual cycle of a woman. It typically occurs around the middle of the menstrual cycle, roughly two weeks before the start of the next period. During ovulation, a mature egg (ovum) is released from one of the ovaries and travels down the fallopian tube, where it can potentially meet with sperm for fertilisation.

The key characteristics of the ovulation phase include:

  1. Rising hormones: In preparation for ovulation, levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) rise, triggering the release of an egg.
  2. Release of the egg: The mature egg is released from a fluid-filled sac called a follicle on one of the ovaries. This release is known as ovulation.
  3. Fertile window: Ovulation marks the most fertile period in a woman’s menstrual cycle, as the egg is available for fertilisation for about 12-24 hours after release.
  4. Possible conception: If sperm successfully fertilises the egg in the fallopian tube, it can result in pregnancy.
  5. Hormonal changes: After ovulation, there is a shift in hormones, with increased progesterone production, preparing the uterine lining for the potential implantation of a fertilised egg.

The exact timing of ovulation can vary from woman to woman and from cycle to cycle. Many women experience physical and emotional changes during this phase, such as increased libido, changes in cervical mucus consistency, and even slight discomfort or pain on one side of the lower abdomen (referred to as mittelschmerz). During the ovulation phase, it’s essential to support your body’s heightened energy and hormone levels to optimize your chances of conception. Here are some foods to consider during this phase:

  1. Healthy fats: Incorporate foods rich in healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats support hormone production and balance.
  2. Omega-3 rich foods: Consume sources of omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, chia seeds, and walnuts. These nutrients help reduce inflammation and contribute to balanced mood and hormone regulation. Including fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines can provide a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats have anti-inflammatory properties that help alleviate menstrual pain and reduce bloating. Moreover, fatty fish is a source of vitamin D, which plays a role in improving mood and reducing feelings of anxiety or depression.
  3. Proteins: Lean proteins, such as fish, chicken, tofu, and beans, can provide the amino acids necessary for overall energy and well-being.
  4. Dark leafy greens: Packed with essential nutrients, dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are excellent choices during your menstrual cycle. These greens are rich in iron, which can help replenish the blood loss that occurs during menstruation. Additionally, they contain magnesium and calcium, which aid in reducing muscle cramps and promoting relaxation.
  5. Fibre: Maintain a fibre-rich diet with whole grains, legumes, and vegetables to support digestion and maintain overall health.

Luteal Phase: Taming the PMS symptoms

The luteal phase is a crucial part of the menstrual cycle that occurs after ovulation and before the start of menstruation. It is during this phase that the body prepares for a potential pregnancy. The luteal phase typically lasts around 10 to 14 days and is characterised by the production of the hormone progesterone by the corpus luteum. The luteal phase plays a significant role in the development and manifestation of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptoms. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a common condition characterised by physical and emotional symptoms that occur before menstruation. Proper nutrition can help alleviate these symptoms. For example, calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products and leafy greens, have been shown to reduce mood swings, bloating, and food cravings associated with PMS. Consuming nuts and seeds may help reduce menstrual pain and muscle cramps as they are rich in magnesium. During the luteal phase, which is the latter part of your menstrual cycle, you can focus on foods that help manage common PMS symptoms and promote well-being. Here’s what to eat during this phase:

  1. Fibre-rich foods: Incorporate foods high in fibre like whole grains, legumes, and a variety of vegetables. Fiber supports digestive health and can reduce bloating and discomfort.
  2. Calcium sources: Include calcium-rich foods such as dairy products or fortified plant-based alternatives like almond or soy milk. Calcium can help alleviate cramps and mood swings.
  3. Magnesium-rich foods: Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of magnesium, which can further support mood stability and overall comfort.
  4. Limit caffeine and sugar: Reduce your intake of caffeine and sugary foods to help manage irritability, breast tenderness, and other PMS symptoms. Sipping on herbal teas like chamomile, ginger, or peppermint can provide soothing effects and help alleviate menstrual discomfort. Chamomile tea has anti-inflammatory properties, and ginger tea can help reduce nausea and bloating, while peppermint tea can help ease menstrual cramps. Hydrating your body with warm herbal tea can also help promote relaxation and reduce stress.

Remember, everyone’s body is unique, so it’s crucial to pay attention to your own needs, especially if you have specific dietary concerns or health conditions.

Natural remedies to help you navigate your menstrual cycle:

Navigating your menstrual cycle can be made more comfortable with the help of natural remedies that address common symptoms and promote overall well-being. Here are some natural remedies that Living Naturally recommends:

  1. A.Vogel Menstruation Formula: Menstruation Formula has been the solution for many women who experience painful, irregular or heavy periods and premenstrual tension. Used for three months, Menstruation Formula helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and normalise the menstrual flow and relieve pain. (Please note, this product can’t be used by women using hormonal birth control.)
  2. A.Vogel Molkosan: Use A.Vogel Molkosan to help reduce bloating and any other digestive discomfort. Molkosan is a prebiotic food supplement that is rich in L+ lactic acid which supports the growth of good gut bacteria. Molkosan helps promote good digestion, regulates bowel movement, and relieves symptoms of irritable bowel conditions like bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhoea.
  3. Bio-Strath: Bio-Strath can help nourish the body, especially the central nervous system. Bio-Strath is a well-researched Swiss herbal nutritional supplement that provides 61 of the 100 nutrients our bodies require daily, in a perfect form. It helps reduce fatigue and stress, strengthens and supports the immune system, helps to restore and maintain natural energy, increases vitality, and assists with the absorption of nutrients.
  4. A.Vogel Neuroforce: A.Vogel Neuroforce is indicated for emotional ups and downs. This remedy assists with the treatment of mild anxiety, nervous stress and mental fatigue. It helps balance the nervous system during stressful and emotional periods and during recovery from trauma and shock.

Your menstrual cycle is an intricate process, and the foods you choose to eat can have a significant impact on how you feel during each phase. By choosing the right foods during each phase of your menstrual cycle, you can empower your body to function at its best. Keep in mind that individual needs can vary, so it’s essential to pay attention to your body’s signals and adjust your diet accordingly. When you eat for your menstrual cycle, you’re taking a proactive step toward enhancing your overall well-being and conquering those monthly challenges with grace and vitality.

References and additional reading:

  1. What to eat during each stage of your menstrual cycle (2023) Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/health/womens-health/what-to-eat-during-menstrual-cycle-phases/
  2. Carroll, S. (2023) Eating for different phases of your menstrual cycle, Vogel Herbal Remedies. Available at: https://www.avogel.co.uk/health/periods/eating-for-different-phases-of-your-menstrual-cycle/