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Nutrition and The Menstrual Cycle

What is the menstrual cycle?

Let’s start with answering what the menstrual cycle is, because a lot of people don’t actually know. Broadly speaking the menstrual cycle is a 28-day cycle the female body goes through in order to prepare for potential pregnancy, but this isn’t always the same for everyone. Typically, there are four stages of the menstrual cycle: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase.

The menstrual phase is when females get their period, which is essentially when shedding of the uterine lining takes place. Next, the follicular phase is when the lining starts to rebuild and at this time oestrogen levels rise. The ovulation phase then follows the follicular phase, and this is when a mature egg is released. This phase and the days leading up to the ovulation phase is when female bodies are most fertile. The final stage is the luteal phase. In this phase the uterus wall gets thicker to prepare for a potential pregnancy.

Variations in the menstrual cycle 

We have already discussed the typical menstrual cycle, but this does not work in the same way for everyone. For some they may be taking a contraceptive pill, which contains oestrogen and progesterone, and this prevents ovulation. There are also other conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and thyroid disorders, which can affect menstrual cycles, as well as low weight and excess smoking and alcohol consumption. For more information on anything relating to menstrual cycle please refer to the NHS website or ask your GP.

Weight fluctuations and hunger through the cycle

As female bodies go through the menstrual cycle they will likely change, as will their calorie intake. Studies have found that, during the luteal phase, participants experience a slight weight gain and increase in calorie intake, whereas in the follicular phase participants experience reduced calorie intake [1,2]. Interestingly during the ovulation phase, participants were at their lowest weight during the cycle, despite having their highest calorie consumption [1] .

Foods that may reduce menstrual pain

Pain is often experienced during menstruation. There is evidence to suggest that there are certain foods, that females can eat during this time, which can stop or lessen the pain experienced. Foods that are said to have these benefits are dark chocolate [3,4], ginger [3], turmeric [5], cinnamon [6] and whole foods in general [7].

Foods that may worsen menstrual pain

On the other hand, there are also plenty of foods that are found to exacerbate menstrual pain. Such foods that have been found to have this negative affect are sugar [8], alcohol [9] and caffeinated drinks [9].

Foods that may reduce menstrual bleeding

As with pain, there are foods that have been found to lessen menstrual bleeding, such as cinnamon [10]. As well as foods, females that suffer with extremely heavy blood flow may be prescribed iron by their doctors, as heavy blood flow can be a sign of iron deficiency in young females.

Summary

To summarise, I hope you learnt that changes to females hunger levels and body are completely normal and not something to be ashamed of.

Based on the evidence presented, it may be beneficial for some to introduce some of these foods or lessen the consumption of those suggested to worsen symptoms. These recommendations may work for some and not others, but it can be worth experimenting.

This blog post was written by Beth Tripp, who is currently studying an MSc in Nutrition and Behaviour at Bournemouth University, having previously graduated Bournemouth University with a BSc in Psychology. Beth is currently writing blogs for registered nutritionists and is a volunteer virtual advisor at ABL Health. Beth is active on her professional twitter and Instagram @nutri_beth and is an avid blogger on her own blog which can be found at nutribethblog@wordpress.com.

References

[8] Airaodion, A.I., Adejumo, P.R., Njoku, O.C., Ogbuagu, E.O. and Ogbuagu, U., 2019. Implication of sugar intake in haemorrhoid and menstruation. International Journal of Research and Reports in Hematology, pp.1-9.

[3 ]Amelia, R. and Maharani, S.I., 2017. Effectiveness Of Dark Chocolate And Ginger On Pain Reduction Scale In Adolescent Dysmenorhea. Jurnal Kebidanan, 6(12), pp.73-81.

[9] Amgain, K. and Neupane, S., 2019. Effects of BMI and Food Habits on Menstrual Characteristics among Adolescent Girls. Europasian Journal of Medical Sciences, 1(1), pp.53-61.

[7] Esmaeilpour, M., Ghasemian, S. and Alizadeh, M., 2019. Diets enriched with whole grains reduce premenstrual syndrome scores in nurses: an open-label parallel randomised controlled trial. The British journal of nutrition, 121(9), pp.992-1001.

[5] Hesami, S., Nooshabadi, M.R., Yousefi, M., Lalooha, F. and Haghighian, H.K., 2020. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial studying the effects of Turmeric in combination with mefenamic acid in patients with primary dysmenorrhoea. Journal of Gynecology Obstetrics and Human Reproduction, p.101840.

[10] Jaafarpour, M., Hatefi, M., Najafi, F., Khajavikhan, J. and Khani, A., 2015. The effect of cinnamon on menstrual bleeding and systemic symptoms with primary dysmenorrhea. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 17(4).

[6] Jahangirifar, M., Taebi, M. and Dolatian, M., 2018. The effect of Cinnamon on primary dysmenorrhea: A randomized, double-blind clinical trial. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 33, pp.56-60.

[1] Kammoun, I., Saâda, W.B., Sifaou, A., Haouat, E., Kandara, H., Salem, L.B. and Slama, C.B., 2017, February. Change in women's eating habits during the menstrual cycle. In Annales d'endocrinologie (Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 33-37). Elsevier Masson.

[4] Maharani, S.I., Pramono, N. and Wahyuni, S., 2017. Dark chocolate’s effect on menstrual pain in late adolescents. Belitung Nursing Journal, 3(6), pp.686-692.[2] Roney, J.R. and Simmons, Z.L., 2017. Ovarian hormone fluctuations predict within-cycle shifts in women's food intake. Hormones and Behavior, 90, pp.8-14.

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