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food for menstrual cycle phases: young woman eating in kitchen

The Best Foods And Supplements For Every Phase Of The Menstrual Cycle

You’ve heard it before: What we eat directly affects our overall health. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that certain foods and supplements can support different phases of the menstrual cycle. In fact, these foods and supplements can even help women avoid many of the unwanted symptoms they may face during their cycle, such as PMS.

All women experience the same four cycle phases—menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase—thanks to fluctuations in various hormones. And while the lengths of these stages may vary from woman to woman, we tend to experience certain nutritional deficiencies and have specific nutritional needs in each of the stages.

For example, excessive blood loss and cramps during the menstruation phase can leave many women with iron deficiency. In contrast, others experience vitamin D or calcium deficiency during the luteal phase of their cycle, thus causing or exacerbating the symptoms of PMS.

Here, I’ll break down some of the best foods and supplements to consider in each phase of the menstrual cycle. I’m using a 28-day cycle as a reference, but remember that every cycle is a little different!

Menstrual Phase 

The beginning of our period kicks off the menstrual phase, during which the lining of a woman’s uterus sheds, causing bleeding. It is also when estrogen is at its lowest point, which is usually signified by low energy levels. The menstrual phase typically lasts between two and seven days. 

While many women consider this phase the worst part of the month, it doesn’t have to be that way. Incorporating effective nutrition and supplements for the menstrual phase can help boost energy levels, ease pain and cramps, and improve overall mood. 

Foods and Supplements 

The best foods for the menstrual phase will be rich in iron, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids. Iron-rich foods help to replace iron lost from bleeding and play a role in energy production, blood rebuilding, and oxygen transport. Some easy sources of iron include green leafy vegetables, lentils, lean red meats, and beans. Vitamin C helps you absorb some forms of iron, so try squeezing a little lemon juice over your salad or adding berries to your smoothie. 

Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, flaxseed, and tree nuts, help support a balanced inflammatory response, which is then helpful for cramps. 

Magnesium should also get an honorable mention since it is known as a relaxation mineral, helping to soothe those period cramps and other aches and pains. Foods like kale, arugula, watercress, and spinach are great for magnesium. Pumpkin seeds and almonds also have loads of magnesium if vegetables aren’t your thing. 

Read More: 4 Ways You May Be Negatively Impacting Your Hormones Without Even Realizing 

Ample water is also crucial during this phase, since dehydration can occur all too easily when a woman is on her period. Drinking plenty of water helps to replenish the blood we lose during menstruation, reduces cramps, improves digestion, boosts energy, and supports healthier skin. 

In addition to the foods mentioned above, there are several supplements that are an excellent choice to increase during this phase. Calcium citrate helps to maintain muscle tone, which can be good news for those who experience period pains—and vitamin D supports our absorption of calcium. Vitamin E can also help ease discomfort associated with menstruation. 

Follicular Phase

Once menstruation has completed, a woman’s body enters the follicular phase. Marked by a rise in estrogen, this phase may last up to 21 days and varies depending on your menstrual cycle length. This rise in estrogen causes the uteran lining (endometrium) to thicken while stimulating the maturation of follicles in the ovaries. Energy levels usually start to increase during this phase. The most mature follicle will eventually become the egg released during ovulation. 

Foods and Supplements 

Beneficial foods to eat during the follicular phase would be those that support increased energy levels. Options include protein-rich foods such as chicken, tofu, and legumes, as well as complex carbs like whole grains, brown rice, and quinoa. Also, including more omega-3 fatty acids and good sources of fiber can help support estrogen production. 

With an increase in estrogen, we also need to stay hormonally balanced. Increasing our intake of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chard, cauliflower, radishes, kale, and more), fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, or kimchi, and healthy fats such as avocados, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds can help regulate these estrogens. 

Optimal supplements for this phase may include B-complex vitamins and/or CoQ10. A vitamin B complex comprises eight vitamins, each essential for a woman’s health. Among their jobs: helping support the ovulation of the egg in the next cycle phase and promoting implantation should fertilization occur. CoQ10 is an antioxidant that supports healthy energy levels, protects cells against stress, and promotes balanced blood sugar and overall egg health. 

Ovulatory Phase

If you have a 28-day cycle, the halfway mark typically marks the ovulatory phase. (If you do not have a 28-day cycle, you will ovulate around 14 days before your next period.) Ovulation signifies the peak of the menstrual cycle. This is when estrogen and testosterone levels are at their highest, resulting in increased energy levels. Women may enjoy high energy levels, feel sexier, and notice that their mind feels sharper. The ovulation phase typically lasts one to two days. 

Ovulation itself occurs when the ovary releases a mature egg. During this phase, progesterone begins to increase as our bodies prepare for possible pregnancy. The liver also works around the clock to keep estrogen levels in check, so consuming foods that support our liver health is critical. 

Foods and Supplements

Wise food choices during the ovulatory phase may include berries, vegetables, dark chocolate, fatty fish, green tea, and almonds. These pack a robust punch that your liver needs to keep those hormones balanced by supporting it with antioxidants, balancing the inflammatory response, and providing cofactors for the production of important blood products.

Read More: 10 Ways Women Can Support Their Fertility Naturally

Zinc can be an important supplement during this time, as it helps to support ovulation and progesterone production. Meanwhile, vitamin D helps support the immune system and prepare a woman’s body for the next cycle phase. 

Evening primrose oil may also be a helpful supplement, specifically for women looking to get pregnant. This healthy fat can support the quality of cervical mucus, which may then help sperm reach the egg. 

Luteal Phase 

The luteal phase is typically the last two weeks of a woman’s cycle. If an egg has not been fertilized, estrogen begins to decrease. As a result, some women experience PMS symptoms, such as mood swings, sore breasts, acne, headaches, depression, and anxiety during this phase. 

Foods and Supplements

Assuming pregnancy has not occurred, now is progesterone’s turn to peak right before we bleed again. Crafting a diet that promotes good mood and healthy skin is ideal during this time. 

You may start by focusing on anti-inflammatory foods during the luteal phase. Not only can such foods help soothe PMS symptoms, but they can also help keep your skin clear and free from breakouts. Try to incorporate salmon, avocado, radishes, extra-virgin olive oil, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, onions, garlic, and berries. These foods can work in various ways to eliminate waste, detoxify our liver, and help balance our hormones. 

Vitamin B6-rich foods such as turkey, potatoes, and fortified cereals can also be supportive of women who typically experience PMS symptoms. Vitamin B6 helps to ease bloating and fluid retention by removing excess sodium through your kidneys. 

On the supplement side, one go-to that can support the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle is chaste berry (a.k.a. vitex). Research has shown that it increases progesterone and thus helps to level out the luteal phase. As such, it can help ward off some of those PMS symptoms, specifically mood swings, migraines, and feelings of anxiety. Evening primrose oil also helps with the adverse effects of PMS. 

The Bottom Line

Quality food is a great tool to maintain a healthy body and a healthy menstrual cycle. A well-balanced diet can help manage and reduce PMS, painful periods, heavy menstrual bleeding, and more. And while there are many other ways to reduce or improve a woman’s menstrual health, most are only temporary. Achieving these results through a holistic approach, such as increasing our exercise, incorporating optimal foods and supplements throughout our menstrual cycle, reducing inflammatory foods, and managing stress, will have lasting effects on our body, mind, and spirit. 

Dr Perkins

Dr. Perkins is a board-certified OB/GYN with extensive expertise in global maternal health, female reproductive health, contraceptive care, and minimally invasive surgery. In addition to working with patients at her medical practice, she is a Major in the United States Army Reserve and an award-winning scientific researcher. Through her functional, holistic approach to health, she aspires to help women feel their best in mind, body, and spirit.

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