Nourishing your Cycle
The menstrual cycle is divided into two main phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. Within these phases, there are two additional phases: menstruation and ovulation. The follicular phase starts on the first day of your cycle (the first day of menstruation) and lasts until ovulation, usually around day 14-16. The luteal phase begins after this, and lasts for days 15-28 (approximately), leading up to your next period. These phases are prompted by hormonal changes that occur naturally within the body, and so the health of our menstrual cycles can tell us a lot about the health of our hormones.
Many women experience irregular cycles and imbalanced hormones. These can be supported and rebalanced by using the appropriate foods and herbs to nourish the body and restore harmony.
If you are dealing with a serious hormonal imbalance or recent diagnosis, it’s best to seek support and guidance from a holistic practitioner.
Nourishment for Each Cycle Phase
Changes during the menstrual cycle are controlled by various hormones. When these hormones become too low or too high, women experience various symptoms. Through proper diet and supplementation, we can support our bodies and hormones to alleviate these symptoms and promote a healthy and regular menstrual cycle.
In all cycle phases, it’s important to support the body with real, whole foods while avoiding:
Highly processed and refined foods including refined flour
Junk and fast foods
Sugar and artificial sweeteners
Damaged fats (vegetable oils, fried foods, etc.)
BPA found in plastics, and plastic in general (these contain hormone disruptors!)
Conventional, hormone-containing meat (look for organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed, wild-caught, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats)
Sulfites and other food additives
Chemical toxins found in household cleaners and air fresheners
The following is a general guide of what to focus on and is not set in stone. You can most certainly consume foods in other phases or throughout the month even if they’re only listed in one phase - always listen to your body. The idea is that recommended foods will support a smooth transition through each stage and to focus on consuming more of those foods during that part of the cycle.
MENSTRUAL PHASE 1 (day 1-5)
Begins on the first day of your period/bleeding. In this phase, estrogen and progesterone are low. The body recognizes that pregnancy did not take place and hormonal changes occur to shed the uterine lining (bleeding is the uterine lining leaving the body).
Light movement, such as stretching and yoga or light walking, is best during this stage.
Nourishment for this phase: foods that are rich in minerals, iron + vitamin C. Drink herbal teas to alleviate cramping - red raspberry leaf tea is a great option. Avoid heavy + fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine (especially coffee), and highly processed + overly salty foods.
Include: Bone broth, dark leafy greens like collards & kale + spinach & Swiss chard, beets, broccoli, sweet potatoes, wild-caught salmon, seaweed, berries, avocado, watermelon, buckwheat, adzuki beans, and Himalayan sea salt.
Seed cycling: 1 tbsp sprouted pumpkin seeds + 1 tbsp ground flax seeds daily
Red raspberry leaf - Tones and soothes the uterus - enjoy as a tea or infusion *Drink daily during/just before your menstrual cycle
Nettle - High in iron to support blood loss & remineralize the body - enjoy as a tea or infusion
Cramp bark - Helps relieve cramping associated with menses - try in tincture form, 1 dropper full 1-3x per day
Turmeric - Anti-inflammatory, helps with menstrual cramps - add to foods daily during menses to reduce inflammation
Omega-3 oils - These are anti-inflammatory and will aid in reducing cramps as well as keeping hormones in balance. They also help to lift mood by boosting dopamine. A higher EPA to DHA ratio will provide more anti-inflammatory benefits - try 1,000 mg/daily in a 3:1 EPA:DHA ratio, in soft gel or liquid form or add in omega-rich foods such as walnuts, wild-caught fish, hemp seeds, and chia seeds
Vitamin C - May be effective in reducing period cramps. It also speeds up shedding of the uterine lining - take 1,000 mg 3-4x/day (best taken throughout the day as vitamin C is water soluble and we can only absorb a certain amount at one time)
Iron/blood-building formula - During times of heavy flow, or in cases of menorrhagia (abnormally heaving bleeding), it can be helpful to supplement with iron to prevent anemia *It is always best to consult with a holistic practitioner or your health care provider prior to taking iron supplements.
FOLLICULAR PHASE 2 (days 1-13)
Begins on the first day of menstruation and extends until midway through your cycle. In this phase, estrogen and progesterone are on the rise. Ovaries produce follicles, each containing an immature egg. Usually, only one develops into a mature egg each cycle, around day 14. The uterine lining thickens to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy
Flow yoga, hiking, walking, and light jogging are best in this phase.
Nourishment for this phase: probiotic-rich foods and foods that are high in fiber, vitamin E, the B vitamins, and zinc. Incorporate foods that support the liver and help to metabolize excess estrogens, like cruciferous vegetables. Focus on sprouted and fermented foods like broccoli sprouts, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Ensuring that you are getting adequate fiber is also essential for healthy elimination of excess estrogen (ground flaxseed and psyllium husk are great options).
Include: Watercress, parsley, broccoli, lettuce, avocados, lemons & limes, oats, mung beans, pasture-raised organic chicken & eggs, white fish, olives, nut butter, coconut yogurt.
Seed cycling: 1 tbsp sprouted pumpkin seeds + 1 tbsp ground flax seeds daily
Nettle - High in iron to restore the amount lost via blood loss - try as a tea or infusion
Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) - Helps boost energy by rebuilding red blood cells - try 200-400 mcg/daily
Omega-3 oils - Anti-inflammatory and aid in keeping hormones in balance. They also act as a mood stabilizer and boost brain function by increasing dopamine - try 1,000 mg/daily in a 3:1 EPA:DHA ratio, in soft gel or liquid form
OVULATORY PHASE 3 (lasts roughly 1-3 days, approx. days 14-16)
In this phase, estrogen peaks while testosterone and progesterone rise. The mature egg is released.
Higher intensity workouts such as spinning, running, interval training, and dancing are best during this phase.
Nourishment for this phase: Consume foods and herbs that support liver cleansing. Focus on anti-inflammatory, high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and sprouted nuts, plus plenty of probiotic-rich foods.
Include: Asparagus, spinach, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, dandelion, figs, coconut, raspberries, dates, apricots, turmeric, quinoa, lentils, almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, lamb, wild-caught salmon, spirulina, psyllium husks, and fermented foods such as raw apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and coconut yogurt.
Red clover - Increases cervical mucus and lubricates the vagina - try as a tea *It’s best to consult with a holistic practitioner or herbalist prior to taking red clover
Dandelion or burdock root - Cleanses the liver & helps clear constipation - try in tea or infusion form
Milk thistle - Helps cleanse the liver - try in tincture form 1-2x per day
LUTEAL PHASE 4 (days 15-28)
In this phase, estrogen and progesterone levels are high. If the egg isn’t fertilized during ovulation, then hormone levels decrease and the menstrual cycle starts again at the end of the phase.
Pilates, strength training, and power yoga are best during this phase.
Nourishment for this phase: Eat foods that support serotonin production, like dark greens, healthy fats like salmon, eggs, and avocado, plus sprouted nuts & seeds. Add in magnesium-rich foods to increase energy and libido, like pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, and dark chocolate. Focus on healthy fats and protein to promote satiety and reduce cravings during this phase. It’s best to eat warm + grounding foods, especially towards the end of this stage as you transition into the menstrual cycle.
Include: Celery, kale, collards, ginger, sweet potato, parsnips, carrots, bananas, apples, dates, pears, peppermint tea, brown rice, chickpeas, walnuts, pasture-raised organic poultry & eggs, wild-caught halibut & cod.
Seed cycling: 1 tbsp sesame seeds + 1 tbsp sunflower seeds daily
Chaste tree berry (vitex) - Helps to lengthen the luteal phase, which is important as a short luteal phase can be indicative of conception issues in the future (or currently if you’re trying to conceive) - try in tincture form 1-3x per day
Ginger - Helps relieve gas & bloating - drink as a tea or grate fresh ginger into curries and soups
Burdock root - Cleanses the liver and supports the clearance of excess estrogen - try as a tea or infusion
Magnesium - A calming mineral which a deficiency of can cause bloating and other PMS symptoms - try: 300-400 mg/daily + magnesium flake baths or add in magnesium-rich foods such as spinach, beet greens, swiss chard, avocados, organic dark chocolate, quinoa, and almonds
Tips for Irregular Cycles
Limit xenoestrogens: Xenoestrogens are synthetic chemicals which mimic the effect of estrogen in the body but have effects that are 100 times stronger. This can cause significant hormonal imbalances, most often estrogen dominance.
Try: Using glass and stainless steel containers rather than plastic for food storage, and replacing conventional body care products with natural alternatives (EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database or the Think Dirty app can help you find natural alternatives).
Reduce/eliminate caffeine - especially coffee - if you’re experiencing hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, or excessive cramping.
Try: Replacing it with herbal teas and coffee alternatives such as Dandy Blend.
Improve detoxification: Help the body eliminate excess hormones, primarily through liver support and healthy bowel movements, to encourage hormonal balance.
Try: Consuming adequate fiber, which is easier to achieve if focusing on whole foods. Aim for at least 35g of fiber per day. Ground flax seeds are particularly good for binding excess estrogens to be eliminated in the feces. Be mindful to drink enough water (2-3L is a good general guideline). Fiber without water can cause constipation and worsen hormonal imbalance. Herbs like burdock & dandelion help to cleanse the liver. Try them in tea or infusion form. *Especially helpful if you’re experiencing constipation or experience constipation during ovulation or prior to your menstrual cycle.
Seed cycling: This means eating specific seeds that correspond to the two main phases of the menstrual cycle. This can help to stimulate the body to produce the right hormones at the correct time. The more severe your hormonal imbalance, the more months of seed cycling you will need to complete before seeing effects.
Try: Seed cycling by consuming 1 tbsp of ground pumpkin seeds and ground flax seeds daily during cycle days 1-14, and then consuming 1 tbsp of ground sesame seeds and ground sunflower seeds during cycle days 15-28.
Yoni steaming: Steaming helps to reduce stagnation and remove old residue from the vaginal canal and womb space. If blood from the previous menstrual cycle has not been properly removed and cleansed, the body identifies it as a foreign substance. Doing yoni steams can assist the body with cleansing the uterus, speed up blood flow, and improve circulation, which enhances the body’s own cleansing mechanisms.
Try: Steaming 1-2x the week before your period. Adding herbs to the process can enhance the effects. Beneficial herbs include nettle, rose, red raspberry leaf, chamomile, dandelion, calendula, and mugwort. *Do not steam during your period, after ovulation if you are trying to get pregnant, or if there is excess heat in the body due to fever, hot flashes, or night sweats.