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Evidence Based Nutrition on Optimal Nutrition During Menstruation

By Jake Biggs, Nutrition Longevity

Many individuals who are menstruating can feel unwanted and uncomfortable side effects including:

· Abdominal headache

· Migraine

· Fatigue

· Nausea

· Bloating

· Mood swings

· Diarrhoea

· Breast swelling

· Tenderness

· Acne breakouts

· Tension

· Constipation

· Joint pain

· Acne

· Fluid retention

Specific foods and micronutrients can assist in decreasing symptoms as well as aggravating foods that can make symptoms worsen and prolong. We discuss below the most optimal foods and the least optimal foods to include whilst going through the menstruation period.

Foods and beverages to include:

1. Water: The human body is approximately made up of 60% water, but did you know that adequate water consumption is imperative during the menstrual period. This is specifically due to reducing the severity of dehydrative symptoms include headaches and migraines.

2. Fruit: As hydration is imperative, it is beneficial to include water rich fruits such as watermelon, Rockmelon, strawberries and grapefruit. These fruits can assist reducing sugar cravings and therefore maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

3. Leafy green vegetables: During menstruation, there can be a large loss of blood which can initiate a substantial decrease in iron levels causing symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, dizziness, and bodily pain. Kale and spinach are two plant-based vegetables that are loaded with iron as well as the key micronutrient magnesium.

4. Ginger: Ginger has anti-inflammatory health properties, which can relieve achy muscles as well as reducing nausea. A study published in Phytotherapy Research found that regular consumption of ginger for three months can result in reduced bleeding. Also, a 2018 study found that ginger effectively reduced nausea and vomiting during the first trimester of pregnancy. Ginger is a safe and amazing herb!

5. Chicken breast: As cravings can be an unwanted side effect during the menstrual cycle, it is imperative to assist in reducing and managing cravings and high protein foods can certainly do that! Chicken breast is loaded with high quality protein and protein has been shown to be the most critical macronutrient in reducing cravings with prolonging satiety.

6. Oily Fish: Oily fish such as salmon, sardine, herring, trout, mackerel, and pilchards are loaded with healthy omega 3 fatty acids, iron, and protein. A 2012 randomised double blinded control study found that females who took 120mg omega-3 fish oil supplement daily found that their menstrual pain decreased so much that they could reduce the amount of ibuprofen they took. Furthermore, Omega 3 fatty acids have mood stabilising properties with a 2014 study illustrating regular omega-3 fatty acid nutrition supplementation improving mood swings and reducing depressive symptoms.

7. Turmeric: Turmeric is renowned as an anti-inflammatory spice, with curcumin is its main active constituent. A 2015 double blinded randomised control trial research study investigated 70 females who were randomised to two capsules daily for seven days before menstruation and for three days after menstruation for three successive cycles and recorded severity of the symptoms by daily record questionnaire. Authors concluded that females who ingested turmeric compared to none had less severe symptoms.

8. Dark Chocolate: A small amount of dark chocolate with 70-85% dark chocolate in a 100g bar contains approximately 67% of the RDI for iron and 57% for magnesium. A 2010 double blinded research study in 170 women found that 250mg magnesium for a 4-month duration reduced the severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms and a 2015 study found that females with a magnesium deficiency were more likely to have very severe PMS symptoms.

9. Nuts: Nuts is a food source that is high in in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, magnesium, and iron. Nut butters of nut-based milks are also fantastic additions to add to the diet.

10. Flaxseed oil: Did you know that for every 15mls of flaxseed oil, there is 7,195mg of omega 3 fatty acids. The recommended daily intake for omega 3 fatty acids is 1,100 – 1,600. A 4-week double blinded randomised control trial including 50 constipated patients who were randomised 4ml flaxseed oil vs placebo found that the group that consumed the oil according to the Rome III criteria (assessment to measure constipation) was significantly improved. Highly beneficial as constipation is a common side effect during menstruation

11. Quinoa: Quinoa is abundant in iron, protein, and magnesium. It’s also gluten-free, making it an ideal source for celiac diease patients. It is also a high-quality carbohydrate, with a low glycaemic index to stabilise blood glucose levels and prolonging fullness and satiety with a high dietary fibre content.

12. Legumes: A high quality plant-based protein source that is rich in protein and iron making it an ideal food source for the menstrual period. With also a high dietary fibre component improving digestive health and reducing onset of constipation. Fantastic food sources include black beans, legumes, cannellini beans, garbanzo beans, tofu, tempeh, and lentils.

13. Yoghurt: It is common for females to have yeast infections during or after the duration of their period. Probiotic rich foods like yogurt can promote healthy bacteria in the gut and the vagina, assisting eradicate infections.

14. Peppermint tea: A 2016 double blinded randomised control trial investigated 127 females (aged 18-25) for a 2-month duration. One group was assigned to 3 peppermint oil capsules once daily vs placebo. Authors conclude that in the control group, females’ premenstrual symptoms including nausea, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps were substantially improved.

15. Kombucha: For individuals who are allergic or intolerant to dairy (unable to consume yoghurt), kombucha is a fantastic beverage that is loaded with probiotics that has yeast eradicating benefits.

Foods to eliminate/avoid:

1. Salt: Excessive salt intake initiates fluid retention, exasperating bloating. It is beneficial instead of adding table salt to meals and avoiding highly processed foods (doughnuts, cakes, pastries) that contain excessive amounts of sodium.

2. Sugar: Specifically, during the menstrual period, sugar should be kept to a minimum due to causing blood sugar imbalances. As well as sugar intake having a direct correlation with mood and appetite.

3. Coffee: Caffeine can initiate bloating, water retention, and exacerbate headaches. However, caffeine withdrawal can trigger headaches, so it is optimal to do a ‘Deload’ with having lesser amounts gradually. Coffee can also cause digestive imbalances such as diarrhoea due to its laxative component.

4. Alcohol: Alcohol can have numerous negative effects on your body, which can exacerbate and prolong menstruation symptoms. Specifically, alcohol can rapidly cause dehydration which can worsen headaches and cause bloating. It can also lead to digestive issues, such as diarrhoea and nausea.

5. Spicy foods: Spicy foods can cause digestive irregularities such as diarrhoea, nausea, and stomach pain.

6. Red meat: red meat is high in iron; however, it is high in prostaglandins and should be avoided during menstruation. Prostaglandins are produced during menstruation to assist the uterus contact and eradicate uterine lining which results in menstrual flow. However, high levels of prostaglandins initiate cramps.

7. Foods that are intolerant or sensitive to: Can include dairy if lactose intolerant as can initiate nausea, constipation and diarrhoea.

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