As a Nutrition Therapist, I connect with many women, and some of the most common problems I see (and have felt myself) involve the menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, our society often ignores women's health issues. As a result, we grow into adult women, not knowing how to support our reproductive health or how to support ourselves best to optimize overall health and well-being. One of the most significant issues I see with women is painful, uncomfortable menstrual symptoms that disrupt their lives, causing physical pain and mental states that are unpredictable and similar to a roller coaster. Many of us have accepted these common issues, but just because something is common doesn't mean it is normal!
So if you are a woman who experiences severe pain and discomfort during bleeding, I am here to share the good news that it doesn't have to be that way! With tweaks to what you consume and how you exercise, your period can come and go with minimal effect on your life and mood. You can make tangible changes that make your body healthier and allow your hormones to be more balanced, leading to more ease and harmony for the entire month! First, let's start with the basics, what are our hormones, and what do they do? Women have four primary reproductive hormones. I like to think of hormones as instruments in a symphony, they all play an essential part in making the body harmonious, and if one of the hormones is too loud or quiet, the whole song is off.
The ovaries produce estrogen, which promotes the development and maintenance of female reproductive structures like the endometrium and mammary glands. Progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum, which prepares and maintains the endometrial lining and estrogen. The anterior pituitary produces follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and promotes follicular growth. Luteinizing hormone (LH) is produced by the anterior pituitary and stimulates ovulation.
There are 4 phases of the cycle; each one has different hormones that rise and fall, creating more or less energy, more or less sex drive, more or less irritability, more or less emotional reaction, etc.
The four phases are the Follicular phase, Ovulation, Luteal, and Menstrual. Here, I will tell you the basics of what is occurring hormonally and simple ways to support your changing body easily.
Hormones: The maturing follicle produces estrogen during this time, causing an estrogen peak. Progesterone is low at this time, stimulating the release of GnRH, FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), and LH (luteinizing hormone)
Foods: Flax and pumpkin seeds/ Chicken/ lentils
Exercises: Cardio! Dance class! Hiking!
Hormones: Ovulation is when your ovary releases a mature egg. The egg travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus to be fertilized by sperm. The ovulation phase is the only time you can get pregnant during your menstrual cycle. A surge in LH and FSH levels occurs; LH stimulates egg release, which occurs 16 to 32 hours after the surge begins. As a result, the estrogen level decreases, and the progesterone level increases. Testosterone also surges at this time.
Foods: Raw foods are fantastic for women at this stage because they are quickly metabolized and assist in eliminating excess estrogen, which will cause problems later in the cycle and show up as cramps and a heavy, painful period. Consume flax seeds, lentils, shrimp, eggs, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Exercises: Utilize the extra energy! Work out with cross-training, HIIT, Tabata workouts, and spinning classes.
Hormones: Testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen reach a high during the luteal phase. This phase tends to last around 11 days. During the last part of this, hormone levels begin the fall, and women can feel symptoms of PMS. In the first part of this cycle, you will have overall more energy; however, in the last part of the week, you will likely have lower amounts.
Foods: Sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Salmon, navy beans, grass fed beef, leafy greens and sweet potatoes.
Exercises: For the first portion of this phase, you will have more energy for exercising, so more high-intensity training sessions; however, in the last part of the week, you will likely have lower power, so a yin yoga class or walks are most nourishing.
Hormones: If no egg has been fertilized, the elimination of the thickened lining of the uterus through the vagina begins. The menstrual fluid contains blood, mucus, and the endometrial lining. A typical period lasts 3 - 7 days. Hormone levels are their lowest during menstruation, leaving you with little to no energy! Remember, your body is taking up a lot of energy to shed your uterus lining.
Foods: Kelp, nori, and seaweed, which help the body regain the iron and zinc it loses through blood loss. Consume sweet potatoes, grass-fed red meat, and probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut and kefir.
Exercises: Only do the type of exercise that feels nourishing to you. I often help women by giving them permission to rest during this time and take time off an intense workout schedule. Women sometimes need support to provide themselves with the permission to rest and give themselves what their bodies require. We cannot compare ourselves to what we can do during other phases. We are not men; we have a more complicated hormonal system that gives us more calls to action.
The best way to heal your painful period is to make daily decisions and not just troubleshoot symptoms while bleeding. It is to support each phase of the process; this means consuming foods that nutritionally nourish all the hormones that fluctuate during the month. My suggestion to start this hormone-balancing journey is to start tracking your cycle.
There are several free apps in the App Store, and once you have established where you are, you can begin to heal RIGHT NOW!