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Nutrients for Your Period

by Say Yes to Nourish 10 months ago in health
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You've gotta get these in your diet!

Nutrients for Your Period
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The menstrual cycle is an incredible process – some humans can make other humans, how wild! We can quite easily understand how much work and effort (and community resources, but that’s a conversation for another time) is needed to build a human body from a clump of cells, but I would almost bank on many people not knowing how much energy and nutrients are required for a simple period!

Menstruation is considered “the fifth vital sign”, as it provides a monthly signal of nutrient status, energy availability and hormone status. When a period is irregular or low in quality, it makes us aware of the need to dig a little deeper.

So what does a menstruating human body need in order for a period to be healthy?

1. Iron. This one almost seems self-explanatory, but let me break it down. Red blood cells contain a compound called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body. Hemoglobin is structured using iron in both heme and non-heme sources. When iron levels are healthy and normal, the body can essentially “breathe better” – oxygen can transfer from the lungs to other tissues quickly and easily. During a period, tissue and blood loss can reduce iron stores. When periods are heavy, iron stores can drop lower than normal contributing to poor energy levels even after a period is over. Not all people need a supplement – for folks who consume animal products, meat, fish and eggs are great sources of iron. For those who follow a vegetarian or vegan eating pattern, plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils and tofu contain some iron but better absorbed when paired with a source of vitamin C.

2. Magnesium. This mineral plays an important role in muscle and mental relaxation, beneficial during a period where cramps and fatigue can run rampant. Smooth muscle contractions within the uterus can be sharp or ache-y, and magnesium helps to relax smooth muscle and reduce cramping sensations or dysmenorrhea. It also helps to reduce prostaglandins, or pain compounds, that can worsen symptoms. Nuts and seeds, whole grains and protein foods are perfect ways to incorporate this mineral, and some individuals may use an additional supplement in the week before their period is expected to start for best benefits.

3. B vitamins. Similar to the function of magnesium, this class of vitamins (particularly B6 and B12) can assist in energy production, nausea reduction and headache relief. Some studies have shown that taking an additional B-complex supplement prior to a period may be helpful in reducing PMS symptoms, however check with your doctor and a dietitian to determine your best needs.

4. Omega-3s. A potent anti-inflammatory nutrient, this essential fatty acid is critical for supporting tissues in healing throughout the normal inflammatory process. Some small studies have demonstrated a reduction of serum testosterone in individuals taking supplementation and a regulatory effect on the menstrual cycle – this may provide significant positive benefits to those struggling with PCOS, where testosterone levels may increase symptoms such as acne, hair growth and others throughout the cycle and closer to the start of a new period. Omega-3s also provide a powerful cardiovascular health factor, and everyone can benefit from this! Fortified foods such as eggs, margarines and others such as canola oil, walnuts, and ground flax seed are great sources of omega-3s to include on a regular basis.

5. Vitamin D. Studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency can co-occur with irregular and disrupted menstrual cycles – and depending on the environment where a person lives, access to vitamin D from sunshine may be limited. In Canada (where I live and run my private women’s health practice!), sunlight is the best between April and October however this varies, especially with climate change. Over the fall and winter months, vitamin D production may be much lower and the risk of deficiency much higher – it’s suggested by public health guidelines to take a vitamin D supplement to meet needs! Poor vitamin D status can also influence how long a period may last – deficiency may make a period longer than 35 days or contribute to skipped or missed periods (called oligomenorrhea and amenorrhea, respectively). This can make it challenging to address other concerns such as individuals trying to conceive, trying to avoid or still learning their menstrual cycle.

Having a period shouldn’t be painful and unbearable – you can nourish a period the same way we prioritize other forms of wellness!

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About the author

Say Yes to Nourish

I help people with periods navigate menstrual health education & wellness with a healthy serving of sass (and not an ounce of nutrition pseudoscience).

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