Period week make you want to pull a blanket over your head and disappear? Same.
This week on Instagram, I’ve decided to do a period themed week. Yup, you read that right. Just me, myself, and my menses. Most of what we’ll be discussing is included in this evidence based post, which features some research I did for Moon Cycle Bakery a few years back. So excited for this!
As is most of my research centered lifestyle posts, let’s break it down in four pillars: nutrition, movement, sleep, and stress management.
And for a PMS themed meal prep, check out this post!
WHAT TO EAT:
- aim for blood sugar stabilization: Keeping blood sugar stable through balanced meals including healthy fats, well sourced protein, non-starchy vegetables, and complex carbohydrates prevents dips in blood sugar which can sometimes mimic anxiety or mood shifts. ( 3 )
- Focus on gut friendly foods: the microbiome has been suggested to affect our bodies big time in certain ways, such as the production of neurotransmitters and short chain fatty acids – both of which have mood-altering effects, change the tastes of foods and affect pain sensitivity. In short, eat fermented foods, take a probiotic, practice gratitude, be mindful sugar intake and artificial sweeteners, and eat polyphenol-rich foods. For more gut healing tips, check out this post.( 2 )
- avoid alcohol: alcohol enhances the release of insulin, which can increase blood sugar levels. (3 )
- be mindful of foods that have high glycemic index to prevent blood sugar changes: ie refined sugars and carbohydrates – sugar, flour, rice, white potatoes, bread
- high glycemic index is not to be confused with glycemic load. The glycemic index refers to how long it takes for our body to break down carbohydrates. Whole grains, such as brown rice, pasta and bread plus most vegetables, generally have a lower glycemic index than their white counterpart. The slower foods break down, the fuller you will stay and the more stable your energy levels — which is why low GI carbs are first choice in terms of blood sugar stabilization.
You can even consider emphasizing certain foods during certain weeks of your cycle.
luteal phase (week before your period): consume foods high in B vitamins, eat a good combination of calcium and magnesium in leafy greens to lessen fluid retention and bloating, eat a lot of fiber to help your liver and large intestine flush estrogen most efficiently through the bowel, have adequate intake of complex carbs to stabilize serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain and help prevent mood swings ( 9 )
- reach for these foods: brown rice, millet, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, collards, cucumber, daikon, garlic, ginger, leek, mustard green, onion, parsnip, pumpkin, radish, squash, sweet potato, watercress, apple, date, peach, pear, chickpea, great northern beans, navy beans, hickory, pine nut, walnut, beef, turkey, cod, flounder, halibut, mint, peppermint, spirulina ( 9 )
- Intentionally include complex carbs that are full in magnesium and B6 (sweet potato, brown rice, beans, quinoa, oats)
menstrual phase (period week): aim for low glycemic index and water rich fruits and vegetables, include seafood and sea-based veggies to help remineralize your body with iron and zinc, which you lose during menstruation ( 9 )
- reach for these foods: buckwheat, wild rice, beet, burdock, dulse, hijii, kale, kelp, kombu, button and shiitake mushrooms, wake, water chestnuts, blackberry, blueberry, concord grape, cranberry, watermelon, adzuki beans, black soybean, black turtle beans, kidney beans, chestnut, duck, pork, catfish, clam, crab, lobster, mussel, octopus, oyster, sardine, scallop, squid, banter tea, decaf coffee, miso, salt, tamarin ( 9 )
ADD THESE IN, TOO!
Research has shown that ginger contains carbohydrates, free fatty acids, amino acid, proteins, and gingerols, which all have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-nausea effects ( 2 ).
In one study, female high school students experiencing pain during menstruation were given ginger powder, zinc sulfate, or a placebo. The study revealed decrease of menstrual pain after taking ginger vs. the students who took zinc sulfate or the placebo.
In another study, results showed a significant difference in the severity and duration of pain between ginger and placebo groups when the ginger supplement was given two days before the onset of menstruation and continued through the first three days ( 3 ).
Another study tested Zinc Sulfate supplementation and found that in the first month, the duration of pain was significantly lower in the zinc group compared with the placebo group.
- foods high in zinc are lamb, grass-fed beef, chickpeas, cacao, cashews, oysters, yogurt+ spinach.
in one study, participants were either given Ibuprofen or cinnamon. They reported less severity and duration of pain in ibuprofen and cinnamon groups than placebo groups. However, the average pain severity in the Ibuprofen group was significantly less than cinnamon and placebo groups. So cinnamon is not as effective as ibuprofen BUT definitely better than nothing ( 6 ).
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
to test whether adding omega-3 fatty acids to their diet made a difference, women stopped taking omega-3 for a week and were given a placebo for 3 months. after 3 months’ treatment, the mean pain severity score was markedly reduced among women who received omega-3 fatty acids, and remained high for those receiving the placebo ( 7 ).
- foods highest in omega-3s: flax Seed/flax seed oil, salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, oysters, mackerel, spinach, pasture raised egg
Another study looked at combining an omega-3 with a B1 supplement.In this study, girls were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 schedules: a B1 tablet, a fish oil capsule, a mixture of both fish oil capsules and vitamin B, or placebo for two months. The daily supplement was vitamin B1 (100 mg/day and fish oil pearl 500 mg/day), taken as a single dose starting at the beginning of the menstrual cycle and continued for 2 consecutive months. The results showed that intensity of pain in all three experimental groups (vit B1, fish oil and both of them) had significant difference with placebo group and intensity of pain had reduced. Best results were in the combination therapy group ( 8).
- foods highest in vitamin B1: trout, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, green peas, acorn squash, asparagus, navy beans, eggs, whole grains, spinach, orange, cantaloupe
Turmeric is not specifically recommended as an agent for managing pain from cramps, though it is an overall anti-inflammatory agent (which is awesome while on your period). It inhibits inflammation through its ability to suppress NF-kB (which is an inflammatory pathway in the body). It has been suggested as a treatment for colitis, chronic neurodegenerative diseases, arthritis, and cancer. The usual dosage of standardized turmeric powder is 400–600 mg taken three times per day ( 15 ).
During the second half of the menstrual cycle, when both estrogen and progesterone are elevated, magnesium plummets. Increasing dietary and supplemental magnesium can help relieve PMS-related symptoms, such as headaches, bloating, constipation, low blood sugar, dizziness, fluid retention and sugar cravings.
- food sources of magnesium: dark chocolate, avocado, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, whole grains, fatty fish, bananas, leafy greens
Studies showed that in the first 3 days of menstruation, Honey and the NSAIDs have similar pain relief in women with pain during menstruation. Honey is suggested to be used for pain relief due to its lower side effects and pharmacological complications. ( 12 )
It’s no secret we lose blood during menstruation. So make sure to replete with iron-rich sources of foods. If you reach for plant-based iron (non-heme), make sure to pair with a source of vitamin C to enhance absorption.
- heme iron sources: liver, grass fed ground beef, clams, mussels, oysters, sardines, chicken, turkey
- non-heme iron: beans, nuts, molasses, lentils, spinach, legumes, pumpkind seeds, quinoa, broccoli, tofu, dark chocolate
ESTROGEN FLUSHING FOODS
Estrogen increases the week before menses, so aim for foods that help with stage 2 detoxification. High estrogen symptoms include: bloating, breast tenderness/swelling, mood swings, headaches, and irregular menses. So aim to reach for foods that optimize estrogen detox (aka that girl out!).
- estrogen flushing foods: flaxseed, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cruciferous vegetables (brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower), garlic, onions, omega-3s (salmon), eggs, rosemary
- whole foods
- anti-inflammatory spices like curcumin, flaxseed, fiber, leafy greens, blueberries, tea (matcha is the most nutrient-rich green tea)
- fermented vegetables and traditionally cultured foods (kefir, natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, olives)
- omega-3 fatty acids // good fats – (think fish, avocado, olive oil, olives, chia seeds, flax seeds)
- magnesium sources (dark chocolate, banana, avocado, and almonds to name a few!)
- whatever you want!! the above are merely just suggested! at the end of the day, eat that things YOUR body is craving!
BE MINDFUL OF CONSUMPTION OF THESE:
- omega-6 fatty acids: vegetable oils like canola, safflower, grapeseed, soybean, margarine, and shortening
- saturated and trans fats
- processed foods / fast foods
- refined carbohydrates
- processed sugar overload
- soda and excess sugars
- caffeine: the research is still not in for this, but in some, caffeine acts as a vasoconstrictor. When the blood vessels constrict, in turn making cramps worse.
At the end of the day, eat whatever you want! Go easy on yourself, give yourself grace, don’t overthink it! There really are no rules and the above are only mere SUGGESTIONS.
You may have noticed that sometimes you have all the energy in the WORLD to move your body, and other times feels you feel like a 60 minutes savasana. And there’s good reason for this!
During the second half of your cycle, you may notice you feel tired faster during workouts as estrogen and progesterone are rising. As your energy slows in the luteal phase (the second half of your cycle), your workouts may shift from high intensity to things like yoga, walking, and easy bike rides.
Yoga, for one, helps improve stress by restoring the HPA axis. In fact, just eight weeks of regular yoga practice resulted in improved not only stress levels (decreased cortisol) but also working memory performance ( 10 )
Yoga poses for cramps:
One study looked at whether cobra, cat and fish poses were able to reduce the severity and duration of cramps. There was a significant difference in the pain intensity and pain duration in the women who performed yoga (specifically these poses) during their cycle.
MINDFULNESS AND STRESS MANAGEMENT:
- Practice daily mindfulness, as this can greatly help with stress reduction! Imagining your happy place, picking up those nuanced beats to a favorite song, taking 30 seconds to note every flavor in a favorite dish, sitting in your living room and listening to all the different noises that reveal themselves – even just 30 seconds sprinkled throughout the day can make a huge difference!
- Breath Work: 4-7-8- breathing immediately activates the parasympathetic nervous system which can help you feel calm in an instant. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, then exhale for 8. Repeat for 2-3 minutes, or until your heart rate and stress levels start to fall. Click here for a more in depth video.
- Avoid increases in time restricted feeding. For women, estrogen needs carbohydrates for optimal functioning. If your hormones are already imbalanced, avoid fasting longer than 12 hours, as this can in turn increase cortisol levels which affects many other hormones in the cascade.
- Don’t deny yourself chocolate! Believe it or not, your body is asking for chocolate for a reason (hello magnesium). Denying your body something it is screaming for results in more stress and more cravings.
It’s no secret that feelings of fatigue increase with PMSing. Which is why I stick to sleep routines even more during this time.
- Removing screens 2 hours before bed
- Relaxing stretching, foam rolling, heating pads, or a gentle yoga flow before bed
- Rubbing lavender oil essential oils, a heating pad, or CBD cream on my abdomen
- Making sure I had a complex carbohydrate at dinner to induce serotonin release for optimal snoozing.
- If needed, supplementing with melatonin and magnesium to help induce sleep.
- Taking a long warm shower or bath with Epsom salts.
- Reading before bed.
Moral of the story: don’t be too hard on yourself! Whatever works best for you (food, chocolate, NSAIDs) – there’s room for it all! Do what you can to make it through this season or cycle of your life.
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( 2 ) Kashefi, F., Khajehei, M., Tabatabaeichehr, M., Alavinia, M., & Asili, J. (2014). Comparision of the effect of ginger and zinc sulfate on primary dysmennorrhea: A placebo-controlled randomized trial. Pain Management Nursing, 15(4), 826-833. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2013.09.001
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( 8 ): Hosseinlou, A., Alinejad, V., Alinejad, M., & Aghakhani, N. (2014). Effects of fish oil capsules and vitamin B1 tablets on duration and severity of dysmenorrhea in students o high school in Uremia-Iran. Global Journal of Health Science, 6(7), 124-129. doi: 10.5539/gjhs.v6n7p124
( 9 ): Mirabi, P., Dolatian, M., Mojab, F., & Majd, H.A. (2011). Effects of valerian on the severity and systemic manifestations of dysmenorrhea. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 115, 285-288. doi: 10.1016/j.ijgo.2011.06.022
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