Everyone will experience periods of natural hormonal imbalance or fluctuations at key hormonal turning points in their life – like puberty, pregnancy, and perimenopause/menopause.
The rest of the time, there is the natural monthly ebb and flow of hormones.
The health of your menstrual cycle is indicative of the state of your health in general, so it makes sense to understand what your own cycle is doing. This knowledge can be immensely powerful.
The average cycle takes between 24 and 35 days. Most discussion about the menstrual cycle talks about a pattern of 28 days. Just so you know, very few women actually have a cycle that is precisely 28 days, so don’t think your body is behaving badly if yours is longer or shorter. The duration may vary from cycle to cycle, and it may also change over the years.
Hormones are potent. It takes only a tiny amount to cause a huge change in cells and which can be felt throughout your whole body.
Us ladies are such cyclical beings and I really encourage women to tune into their menstrual cycle and become aware of the different stages throughout the month. I’ve learnt over the years to try as much as I can to work with my cycle. For example, I try not to overload myself with work in the week before my period and I definitely feel like exercising more in the middle part of my cycle.
Too much or too little of various hormones can cause side effects throughout the body. Of course, your body is designed to cope with fluctuations, but today’s lifestyle can be challenging when it comes to hormone balance. Being and staying in balance is not as easy as it sounds.
Your Week by Week Guide to your Cycle
You’re on your period. You might start off feeling a little low if you’re getting cramps or headaches, but your oestrogen levels are on the rise. Oestrogen generally has you feeling brighter and more positive. You can expect to start feeling more patient, more energetic, sociable, focussed, curious and more creative in the next few days (yay!!). If you’re feeling a bit 'bleugh' at the start of your period, you might fancy more comfort foods, but that will soon pass, and you’ll be happier with lighter, more balanced meals.
You’re likely to be in a good mood more often than not (hurray!). You might be more open, tolerant and hopeful as oestrogen levels climb. You might notice your sleep is better, too. Your libido starts to reach a peak due to high oestrogen and testosterone. The latter will also have an impact on how assertive, ambitious and competitive you feel. This is the time to be putting in tough exercise sessions and lifting heavy weights and you may feel quite sociable and like hitting the town! This may be the week that you feel most switched on at work. When it comes to food, your hormone balance makes eating healthy foods easy.
During the first few days of this week, your mood may dip, and you may become irritable as oestrogen starts to fall away and progesterone comes in with its typical sedating effect. You’ll start to become quieter, more tired, subdued, doubtful, cautious and more emotionally sensitive as progesterone starts to rise. Your libido also definitely takes a hit, thanks to diminishing oestrogen and testosterone. Some women are more sensitive than others to the change in progesterone levels. If this is you, you could notice a dip in your mood, making you feel a little sluggish, sad or irritable. You may experience blood sugar imbalances this week, making you feel a little hungrier. Some women get a little constipated, or experience water retention and breast tenderness due to the rising levels of progesterone.
Your moods are a little more unpredictable in your premenstrual week as both oestrogen and progesterone drop, so you could be happy one moment, then angry or sad the next. This drop in oestrogen can trigger PMS, bringing with it mood swings and irritability, depending on your sensitivity to changing hormone levels. Sleep can be a bit trickier and you might sweat a lot at night. This is where more gentle exercise might appeal like walking or yoga. You might feel like staying in, going to bed early and food wise, you might crave ALL THE SUGAR or starchy foods like bread and chips. This phase ends with your period and the cycle starts again.
Some women experience a difficult 7 to 10 days before their period starts with a range of emotional, physical and psychological symptoms together known as PMT.
Have you ever felt exhausted, irritated, questioning every decision you’ve ever made and then lo and behold your period arrives 2 days later?
Symptoms of PMS during this period may include the following:
Poor coping ability
Here are my favourite food and lifestyle recommendations to help navigate through PMT more smoothly
1. Calcium & Magnesium
Studies have shown that calcium (600mg taken twice a day) reduces PMS by 50%. Magnesium, at least 300mg per day, helps with bloating, mood and sleep.
Good dietary sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and beans and you will find calcium in dairy products, tofu, seeds, beans, banana, green leafy veg and fortified plant milks.
2. B vitamins and especially B6
B6 especially when taken with magnesium reduces PMS related anxiety. B6 along with the other B vitamins is involved in the production of neurotransmitters including serotonin, which controls mood, sleep and appetite and dopamine which controls pleasure and satisfaction.
It’s important to get our B vitamins in daily so that we have plenty to help with neurotransmitter synthesis as well as for our energy levels.
Sources include wholegrains like oats, brown rice, fish, eggs, seeds, avocado, mushrooms and meat.
3. Cut back on sugar, alcohol and large amounts of caffeine
I know that it might be difficult to not eat sugar during PMT week as this might be when the cravings are at their peak. Cutting down on sugar intake overall will help to manage your PMT symptoms, I see this all of the time in clinic. Working on awareness of how much sugar is in processed foods is an easy way to cut back on added sugars in your diet. It’s great to have healthier treats such as chocolate energy balls (link below) to hand for when a craving strikes. One of my favourite healthy snacks is Medjool dates split with a nut or nut butter inside and a piece of dark chocolate. Yum!
Alcohol is bad for sleep, it triggers hunger and significantly impairs oestrogen metabolism.
It’s important for our bodies that we ‘use and lose’ our hormones. Our liver (and gut) are very much involved in this process. We make the hormones, utilise them, then we must break them down and get rid of them. Overdoing the booze inhibits this leading to worse PMT symptoms.
Good quality coffee has an array of beneficial polyphenols that have been found to have many positive effects on health but the caffeine in coffee is stimulating and can worsen anxiety and insomnia and can contribute to symptoms of IBS particularly diarrhoea. Our tolerance of caffeine depends on our genetic ability to metabolize it, some people tolerate it perfectly fine, others are better to stick to one coffee a day. Make sure that you aren’t hydrating predominantly with teas and coffees, keep your caffeine intake to the earlier part of the day and if you are sensitive to it, break the constant caffeine habit.
4. Up your hormone supporting foods
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips and watercress contain the phytochemical, Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C). This has been shown to increase oestrogen metabolism and can help reduce the dreaded PMS. Broccoli sprouts are another fantastic source and you can easily sprout broccoli seeds yourself or buy them in farmers markets, artisan food shops and supermarkets. Look out for the Good4You brand, they’re called brocco shoots.
Fibre – I often refer to fibre as our secret weapon when it comes to health as it helps our digestive system to run smoothly and is vital for blood sugar control and satiation. Adding chia seeds, flaxseed, beans and pulses and eating more veg will greatly increase your fibre intake. A regular bowel movement is a very important part of a PMT supporting plan.
Healthy fats – our hormones loves these foods. They include oil rich fish like sardines, mackerel, trout, anchovies and salmon. If you cannot eat these foods do consider a course of a fish oil supplement. Other healthy fats are avocado, olives, nuts (walnuts have the highest omega 3 content) and seeds.
5. Regular movement
Getting outside in nature (sometimes called
green exercise) increases parasympathetic activity. This sends signals of calm and safety to the body, perfect for a time when you may be feeling irritable and antsy.
Try to move your body regularly, small amounts consistently is the key.
As women we menstruate for on average of 40 years, which for some can mean more than 500 menstrual cycles. That’s a hell of a lot of PMT.
However, by staying informed and taking a proactive approach to your health, you can navigate these transitions with greater ease and confidence. Whether you are struggling with mood swings, hot flashes, or other symptoms of hormonal change, there are simple steps you can take to support your body and mind.
As you move forward on your journey towards greater hormonal balance, remember to be patient, kind, and supportive of yourself. Your body is a remarkable and resilient organism, capable of adapting and thriving in the face of change. By nourishing it with the right foods, vitamins, and lifestyle habits, you can support your body's natural processes and experience a greater sense of health and vitality. So, take the time to learn about your body, experiment with different approaches, and trust in your own inner wisdom. With time, patience, and perseverance, you can achieve greater hormonal balance and live your best life.
If you’re interested in learning more about how changing hormones affects your mood and mental health check out our eBook Foods, Moods and Hormones. Download your copy from our Resource Library, it’s absolutely free to join! Also check out our other blog posts on similar topics, listed below for your convenience.