Nutrition and the Menstrual Cycle

Nutrition and the Menstrual Cycle



Exercise and healthy eating is beneficial all round! Your menstrual cycle is no different. While I would love to say that carbs and chocolate are the route to curing PMS, it’s not that simple. Some sufferers have such extreme symptoms that medication and hormone based pills may be the only route.

The first line of action however with PMS symptoms should be nutrition and exercise as its benefits will help you physically and mentally in all aspects not just the emotional , angry chocolate craving needy few days pre period!

So let’s look into this a little more!

 The breakdown of your menstrual cycle:

Menstrual cycle: time between the 1st day of period through to next period.

So what happens?

  • Menstruation or menses-period
  • Day 1-first day of period
  • Day 14-ovaries release an egg (ovulation)
  • Day 28-uterus begins to shed if pregnancy has not occurred

Typically this follows a 28 day pattern

So next is  hormones – the little monsters that make us crave chocolate and need hugs! 

During the menstrual cycle, hormones that fluctuate significantly are:

  • Follicle-stimulating hormone(FSH)
  • Luteinizing Hormone(LH)
  • Oestrogen
  • Progesterone
  • Follicular Phase(proliferative)days 1-14
  • Ovulation(Not a phase)usually day 13-14
  • Luteal Phase(secretary)-Days 15-28 ( usually when most cravings and symptoms kick in )

Common factors that can cause cycle disturbances (irregular periods etc) are:

  • Low body fat % to weight
  • Excessive strenuous exercise
  • Extreme dieting
  • Menopause
  • Illness
  • Pregnancy
  • Polycystic ovaries
  • High stress
  • Undiagnosed Gluten sensitivity or celiac disease
  • Undiagnosed auto immune syndrome /disease

Premenstrual Syndrome: 

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)-occurrence of physiological and/or psychological symptoms during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle and which are relieved by the onset of menstruation

Common physical symptoms:

Bloating, Weight gain, Mastalgia (breast tenderness), Lack of energy, Headache

Common psychological effects:

Depression, irritability, anxiety, tension, aggression, feeling overwhelmed

Most women will experience mild PMS with 5-8% of the population suffering severe symptoms that disrupt their normal lives.

Length of symptoms can vary from a few days to 2 weeks peaking in the 2 days before your menses start.

Charting your cycle can help you understand your ranging symptoms and prepare for the onset of PMS and understand your mood change and feelings of anxiety and emotional peaks. Also to warn those closest to you is coming!!! 🙂


  • Day 1 is 1st day of bleed
  • Day 14-ovulation
  • Day 14-oestrogen and luteinizing hormone peak during ovulation
  • Day 20-28-oestrogen peaks a 2nd time with progesterone….this is when the majority of PMS symptoms peak during the luteal phase
  • Adjust diet to help reduce symptoms
  • Oestrogen may also increase the efficiency of insulin causing hypoglycaemia-sugar/carbohydrate cravings
  • Most women with PMS feel great during the follicular phase or after the start of menses-oestrogen and progesterone along with luteinizing hormone are at their lowest levels
  • LUTEAL PHASE-balanced nutrition, sleep, exercise and stress management are most important during this time 

Adopting a healthy lifestyle should be your first line of treatment for PMS –Here are some tips!

  • Plentiful veg and some fruit
  • Insure you are getting adequate complex carbohydrates-Low GI -raises levels of tryptophan (pre-cursor of serotonin and other neurotransmitters)
  • Plenty of fluids- water preferably
  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Reduce sugar intake
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Reduce salt
  • Achieve a healthy weight-BMI positively associated with PMS
  • Get regular exercise-aerobic exercise can help relieve symptoms during the peak phase 2 days before bleed when at your most unsettled. At all other phases your normal exercise regime will work.
  • Exercise for half an hour, at least five times a week (this is the minimum recommended amount for most adults). Exercise improves your overall health and can help to alleviate depression and tiredness.
  • Stretching and breathing exercises, such as yoga and Pilates, can help you sleep better and reduce your stress levels.
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • Stop smoking-increases risk of PMS

Dietary Treatment of PMS

  • Calcium carbonate-1,200mg/day…good evidence
  • Vitamin D-400mg IU/day
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)-1.1-1.9mg/day… legumes, nuts and red meat
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)-1.1-2.5mg/day… 6-7 serving’s riboflavin rich foods such as cow’s milk or soy milk, spinach, red meat. It is better to obtain Vitamins B1 and B2 through food
  • Vitamin E-up to 600IU/day, although limited evidence
  • Magnesium-up to 500mg/day…mixed evidence, may improve mood and decrease water retention
  • Manganese whole grains, nuts, leafy vegetables, and teas
  • Zinc-lowers risk of PMS
  • Iron-high intake non-haem iron associated with decreased PMS, >20mg/day may be helpful
  • Potassium-may actually worsen PMS, more studies needed


Other Supplements

Chaste berry supplement-anti-prolactin effects. May have benefit

Evening primrose oil-Ƴ-linolenic acid (GLA),–500-1,000mg/day is a commonly used PMS reliever

Please speak to your doctor if your symptoms persist or are extreme.




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