Supporting A Healthy Menstrual Cycle
Supporting a healthy menstrual cycle can be done by using the four phases of your cycle as a blueprint to your life. To understanding your hormones and body and simplifying the best food, lifestyle and physical activity choices for each phase. A normal menstrual cycle should arrive on time without significant symptoms but unfortunately this is not the case for most women. Painful and excessively symptomatic menstrual cycles are common and a sign that something is out of balance. The first step toward correcting these imbalances is learning how to identify and listen to the signs from the body. Then work on correcting these imbalances and living your life according to the four phases of your menstrual cycle.
What is a healthy menstrual cycle?
A healthy menstrual cycle is one that occurs regularly and falls within 21-35 days. Your period should last between 3-7 days and the bleeding, cramping, and mood changes should be mild. Symptoms that get in the way of normal daily activities, however, are not normal and are a sign that underlying imbalances need to be supported.
3 Types of Premenstrual Pain
While premenstrual pain comes in many different forms, there are 3 main types. All three of these are used to describe unpleasant physical, mental, and emotional symptoms experienced in the second half of a woman’s cycle. Symptoms can vary from bloating, water retention, weight gain, food cravings, headaches, depression, anxiety, irritability, and crazy mood swings. Having these symptoms is an indication of imbalance within in the body.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): combination of distressing physical, psychologic, or behavioral changes that occur during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Symptoms of PMS are diverse and include pain, water retention, anxiety, cravings and depression. They usually diminish two or three days after the period begins.
Premenstrual Tension (PMT): It refers more explicitly to the emotional tension women experience before the onset of the period.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD): is a condition that leads to severe depression symptoms, irritability and tension before menstruation.
While there is no root cause for the above there are 4 unique themes that can contribute to the above conditions. 1. Sluggish Liver (stress, low methylation, toxicity, emotional issues) 2. Weak Blood (Iron and, or B12 and Folate deficiency, restrictive diets) 3. Kidney weakness (adrenal fatigue aka burnout, poor lifestyle choices) 4. Weak digestion (dietary restriction, leaky gut)
The Four Stages Broken Down
We can address, and correct, the above themes by living according to the four phases of our menstrual cycle.
Note: there is some variation in the number of days each woman spends in each phase of the menstrual cycle. The typical/average cycle is outlined below.
*Self-analysis, journaling, and clear intuitive. Slow down and listen in.
The first day of bleeding marks Day 1 of your entire cycle. During this phase, if an egg isn’t fertilized progesterone production drops off which triggers the shedding of your uterine lining. The bleeding that we call menstruation is really the endometrium (aka the uterine lining) shedding. Because pregnancy hasn’t taken place, levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone drop.
While you’re bleeding, your hormone levels and energy are at their lowest. Common to feel depleted and its not the time to be exercising, socially overcommitted or taking on excess work. These are vulnerable days where we may feel highly intuitive and introspective. Any form of high intensity exercise will backfire by turning on fat storage, and stressing your cardiovascular system. Instead, this is a time for reflection, rest and restoration. Self-care should be at the top of your list. The communication between the right and left hemispheres of your brain is very powerful in this phase and this is the perfect time to evaluate your life and the direction you are heading, as well as new perspectives on personal issues. This is the detox phase of your cycle so focus on foods that help with detoxification like beets and foods that will help replenish minerals like iron and zinc which are seafood and sea-based veggies. Focus on warming, grounding soups and stews and avoid rougher, colder meals like raw salads and frozen smoothies.
*Most active, creativity and new beginnings and experiences.
The hypothalamus (body’s hormone control center) sends a message to the pituitary gland at the base of your brain to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to ovaries. FSH stimulates your ovaries to produce tiny pods called follicles and inside each follicle sits an immature egg. During this cycle, several egg follicles start to swell in preparation and estrogen increases so you can host an egg. The higher estrogen levels make your uterine lining grow and thicken for a possible pregnancy. Your energy levels will be at their highest so this is the phase where you are most social and active for more challenging workouts. As this phase continues, more intense workouts will help you boost metabolism, shed weight, and build lean muscle. Also, creativity and new beginnings characterize this phase. This is the time to direct your energy into stimulating projects at work and at home. If any strong intuitions, or feelings came through during the Menstrual Phase, you are now supported with the energy to weave them into being. Fresh, vibrant, light foods make you feel more energized during this phase. Indulge in fresh salads, raw or lightly cooked veggies, plenty of fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi, sprouted nuts and seeds and dense, and energy-sustaining grains like quinoa.
*Heightened communication skills
A sharp rise in follicle-stimulating hormone followed by an increase in luteinizing hormone, also from the pituitary, stimulates one follicle to swell further and burst which releases an egg to one of the fallopian tubes which then travels to the uterus. The egg then has about 12 to 24 hours to become fertilized by sperm to initiate pregnancy. If fertilized, it will implant in the uterine wall. If not, the egg will begin to degrade. Estrogen levels continue to increase and progesterone begins to build. Progesterone is what maintains the endometrial lining and if its levels are too low, you might experience spotting. You may feel pelvic pain with the release of the egg as well as a surge of energy or a sense of depletion, along with cravings or a headache. Connecting with community is at the heart of this phase. Your heightened communication skills will allow you to convey your thoughts and opinions more clearly and now is the time for important conversations. This is the phase to ask for a raise at work and to go on first dates. This is the time for you to crush an intense workout and consider working out with friends since group settings are the focus of this phase. During this phase you want to go easy on carbohydrates and fill up on veggies because the fiber will aid elimination. You will also want to focus on fruit because it has high levels of the antioxidant glutathione which supports the first phase of detoxification in the liver.
*Nesting, comfort, awareness.
After you ovulate, the corpus luteum (a structure inside the ovaries that holds a developing egg) collapses in the fallopian tube and begins to produce large amounts of progesterone. The rise in progesterone signals the body to keep the uterine lining intact. If no egg implants, the corpus luteum stops producing progesterone and you shed your uterine lining in your period.
This is the phase where many women experience premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, irritability, headache, depression, anxiety, mood swings, and cravings. These symptoms could also be a sign of estrogen dominance.
*Symptoms of estrogen dominance*
Estrogen dominance is an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, where estrogen levels are higher in relation to progesterone. It is caused by low progesterone or the liver not detoxifying estrogen efficiently. This can be resolved by adding foods high in DIM, sulphur and iodine to your diet which support the liver’s ability to detoxify estrogen into a harmless compound. Food’s high in DIM are broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and watercress. Foods’s high in sulphur and iodine are onion, garlic, leeks, shallots, fish, shellfish, seaweed and kelp.
Awareness, attention and comfort are key now in the luteal phase. You will have a desire to nest and will notice things around you that you didn’t see before. This is the phase to focus on administrate tasks, nesting, cleaning and to-do lists. All hormones begin to diminish in concentration so workouts that focus on flexibility are better for this phase such as pilates and yoga. Focus on foods rich in B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and fiber. B vitamins will keep our energy and blood sugar stable, minerals such as calcium and magnesium will mitigate the effects of fluid retention and fiber which will help flush estrogen more efficiently out of the body. Complex carbs like sweet potatoes and root veggies will help stabilize serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
Through the steps above you can have a healthy menstrual cycle through food and lifestyle changes. For more help and deeper insight always consult with a doctor and Functional Nutritionist. Additional research and information can be found at floliving.com.