Nat­u­ral health dur­ing the men­strual cy­cle

Nur­tur­ing your body and mind through the four phases of your men­strual cy­cle could be the best de­ci­sion you make as a woman.

Living Now - - Contents - by Casey Con­roy

Nur­tur­ing your body and mind through the four phases of your men­strual cy­cle could be the best de­ci­sion you make as a woman.

In our cul­ture, the bi­o­log­i­cal pro­cesses that make women most pow­er­ful are also the ones that our mod­ern cul­ture fears, or at least views as prob­lem­atic. In an­cient so­ci­eties, men­stru­a­tion, labour, and menopause were seen as cru­cial ini­ti­a­tions that brought with them new heights of wis­dom and re­spect. Nowa­days, men­stru­a­tion is some­thing to be ig­nored and hid­den, labour and birth are heav­ily med­i­calised, and menopause is seen as a dis­ease state to be man­aged.

Women are taught from a young age that pe­ri­ods are some­thing to be ig­nored, in lieu of honour­ing our monthly need to be­come in­tro­spec­tive and shed what no longer serves us. ‘On­wards and up­wards!’ we are taught. Ad­ver­tis­ing for san­i­tary prod­ucts sug­gests that, dur­ing our pe­ri­ods, we should all be able to sim­ply wear a tam­pon, don a pair of tight white jeans and ride a horse – to ba­si­cally carry on with life as if noth­ing mag­i­cal and at­ten­tion-wor­thy were hap­pen­ing. Which it is.

The cycli­cal na­ture of the men­strual cy­cle com­mu­ni­cates our con­stantly chang­ing needs, both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally. Let’s now ex­plore the four phases of the men­strual cy­cle and how to best hon­our them us­ing nu­tri­tion, herbs, and life­style changes.

The four stages of your men­strual cy­cle 1 Men­strual phase

This phase starts from the first to the last day of bleed­ing, ap­prox­i­mately three to seven days. This is a time to go within, slow down, rest, or be in quiet com­mu­nion with other women. When women lived on the land and bled on the dark moon, they were con­sid­ered be­tween the con­scious and un­con­scious worlds, and of­ten their wis­dom was used to guide the tribe.

Good fats, healthy pro­teins

It is es­pe­cially im­por­tant dur­ing your pe­riod to get enough slow burn­ing car­bo­hy­drates, good fats and healthy pro­teins to give your body all the build­ing blocks needed to cre­ate a healthy new uter­ine lin­ing. Nour­ish your­self with sea­son-ap­pro­pri­ate foods. As we’re now go­ing into win­ter, that means veg­etable soups, hearty stews and bone broths, which con­tain valu­able amino acids and col­la­gen. At this time of the year, moist, raw foods don’t pro­vide enough car­bo­hy­drate to coun­ter­bal­ance the en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture needed to stay warm. Win­ter pro­duce should be mainly beans, legumes and root veg­eta­bles, and sal­ads can be made from root veg­eta­bles and cab­bage. In­clude plenty of omega-3 fatty acid rich foods such as oily fish, or­ganic eggs with the yolk, nuts and seeds in­clud­ing flaxseed and hemp seeds.

Iron

Re­plen­ish iron lost dur­ing menses by in­clud­ing grass-fed red meat, oys­ters, mus­sels, eggs, sil­ver­beet, lentils, cashews, prune juice, figs, and black­strap mo­lasses in your diet. In some cases (es­pe­cially for those who bleed heav­ily), an iron sup­ple­ment may be war­ranted – get your blood tested and con­sult a health prac­ti­tioner for ad­vice.

2Fol­lic­u­lar phase

Af­ter you have a pe­riod, you be­gin to grow a new egg in­side your ovary and you en­ter an en­er­getic cy­cle of in­spi­ra­tion and cre­ation. As Dr. Chris­tiane Northrup puts it, “our so­ci­ety loves women in the fol­lic­u­lar phase!” This phase is ideal for giv­ing birth to some­thing out­side your­self.

Detox­i­fi­ca­tion

Now is the best time to do a gen­tle cleanse to com­ple­ment the hard work the body has done in re­leas­ing the old womb lin­ing. By ‘cleanse’ I don’t mean dive into a ten-day juice fast ev­ery month, which is far too ex­treme for most peo­ple, and un­nec­es­sary. Keep it sim­ple and gen­tle by in­cor­po­rat­ing freshly pressed veg­eta­bles juices, raw sal­ads if it’s not too cold, and adding sprouts, spinach, or shred­ded kale to cooked soups just be­fore serv­ing – this is par­tic­u­larly per­ti­nent as we go into win­ter.

Hy­dra­tion

Drink plenty of water or sip on herbal teas. Water is needed for all chem­i­cal pro­cesses in your body, and it also helps mem­ory. Be­cause of the many chem­i­cals used in our water sup­ply, a water fil­ter is es­sen­tial. Or buy bot­tled water in clear glass bot­tles only.

3Ovu­la­tory phase

At ovu­la­tion, women are of­ten de­scribed as elec­tric – our li­bido is at its peak. Wait­resses re­port get­ting the most tips at ovu­la­tion be­cause they are max­i­mally open to ‘cross-pol­li­na­tion’ from all sources!

Limit cof­fee and al­co­hol

Even though you might be feel­ing fan­tas­tic, avoid push­ing your­self even harder dur­ing this nat­u­rally en­er­getic time by in­creas­ing cof­fee con­sump­tion. Ex­cess con­sump­tion of cof­fee taxes the adrenal glands, and pushes adren­a­line and cor­ti­sol (stress hor­mone) lev­els up, which leads to greater fat de­po­si­tion. Women are more af­fected by al­co­hol and for longer than men due to their lower body water con­tent. They also metabolise al­co­hol more slowly be­cause they have a smaller liver cell mass than men. Party too hard now and you’ll feel the ef­fects not just the morn­ing af­ter, but also at your next pe­riod when your body is elim­i­nat­ing the month’s waste.

Healthy feasts

Take ad­van­tage of your nat­u­rally in­creased en­ergy lev­els by mak­ing an ef­fort to pre­pare nour­ish­ing meals for your­self more of­ten. Some women I know en­joy hold­ing a monthly full moon healthy feast or ‘pot luck’ din­ner to cap­i­talise on their height­ened en­ergy lev­els, me­tab­o­lism, and joy­ous feel­ings!

Adap­to­genic herbs

This is a spe­cial group of herbs that help women adapt to all forms of stress. Ovu­la­tion is a good time to be­gin tak­ing them, es­pe­cially if you ex­pe­ri­ence se­vere PMS and en­ergy slumps, as these herbs may take a few days or a week to kick in. They also have won­der­ful an­tiox­i­dant and anti-in­flam­ma­tory ef­fects that pro­tect your cells from dam­age from a va­ri­ety of chem­i­cal ex­po­sures, in case you have over­dosed on cof­fee and/ or al­co­hol. Ash­wa­ganda ( Witha­nia som­nifera), Rho­di­ola (Rho­di­ola rosea), and Siberian gin­seng (Eleuthe­ro­coc­cus sen­ti­co­sus) are all won­der­ful adap­to­gens for women. Con­sult your nat­u­ral health prac­ti­tioner about the best way to in­clude them for you.

4Luteal phase

If we don’t get preg­nant, we move into a cy­cle of deep in­ner re­flec­tion and re­lease. This is where many women ex­pe­ri­ence PMS. This is when the tide is out, and every­thing on the bot­tom of the river that you don’t want to see, shows up. What­ever is not work­ing in your life will hit you like a tonne of bricks in the two weeks be­fore your pe­riod, par­tic­u­larly in day 3 or 4 be­fore your pe­riod is due.

Start drink­ing more water to­day, par­tic­u­larly if you ex­er­cise heav­ily.

Emo­tional re­lease

Rather than see­ing this as a curse, as many women have been taught to do, we could see PMS as an op­por­tu­nity to see what’s not work­ing so that we can go within and do some­thing about it. This is the beauty of our monthly clean-up cy­cle!

If you have a lot of stuff com­ing up at this time, con­sider pay­ing at­ten­tion to how you’re deal­ing with the emo­tional is­sues in your life. If we don’t do this dur­ing our 20s and 30s, wait and see what hap­pens dur­ing menopause when 50 years of un­re­solved stuff hits you be­tween the eyes! If we don’t start to hon­our our monthly wis­dom and ac­tively take part in our monthly clean-up cy­cles, we’ll have a lot of garbage re­moval to do when menopause hits, a time when we are meant to be en­ter­ing the wis­dom years of our lives.

Low GI car­bo­hy­drates

Dur­ing the pre-men­strual phase, en­sure ad­e­quate en­ergy by eat­ing slow-re­lease com­plex car­bo­hy­drates for greater stamina and fewer en­ergy slumps af­ter eat­ing. This is im­por­tant for any­one trou­bled by blood su­gar symp­toms, es­pe­cially women who have pre­men­strual su­gar crav­ings.

Min­er­als

Mag­ne­sium can also as­sist in cases of hor­mone and blood su­gar ab­nor­mal­i­ties, and is found in dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, bananas, dried fruit, and dark cho­co­late – which may ex­plain those cho­co­late crav­ings! Zinc is also es­sen­tial to tone down skin break­outs – oys­ters, spinach, pump­kin seeds, grass-fed red meat, mush­rooms and raw ca­cao. Just make sure if you choose to get some of your mag­ne­sium and zinc from cho­co­late that it’s the high qual­ity dark kind, with at least 70% ca­cao.

Avoid overeat­ing

Al­though tempt­ing dur­ing this phase, try to avoid overeat­ing as it puts an ex­cess load on the di­ges­tive tract and will sap your en­ergy even fur­ther. The heart has to work harder, and blood lipid pro­files are more likely to be ab­nor­mal. The risk of high blood pres­sure also in­creases.

Men­strual herbs

There are many herbal medicines that can be used for men­strual dif­fi­cul­ties. Per­haps the most well known is Chaste tree (Vi­tex agnus-cas­tus) which seems to be ca­pa­ble of im­prov­ing amen­or­rhoea, men­strual ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, and many of the com­mon pre­men­strual symp­toms, such as fluid re­ten­tion and breast sore­ness. Con­sult your nat­u­ral health prac­ti­tioner be­fore tak­ing any herbs as many can­not be taken with other med­i­ca­tions.

One of the sim­plest and most pow­er­ful things a woman can do to bal­ance her re­pro­duc­tive bi­ol­ogy and even heal men­strual and fer­til­ity is­sues, is to tune in to her men­strual cy­cle. Diet, life­style, and stress all im­pact on the ease and reg­u­lar­ity of your cy­cle. Make the im­pact a pos­i­tive one. ■

Casey Con­roy is a holis­tic di­eti­tian, nu­tri­tion­ist, natur­opath in-train­ing, yoga and Acroyoga teacher who spe­cialises in women’s health and ‘non-diet’ ap­proaches to weight man­age­ment. She is the founder of Funky For­est Health & Well­be­ing on the Gold Coast, and she loves mak­ing and eat­ing raw cho­co­late.

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