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FEATURES Oct 24 2012 2:07AM
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Eating Habits for Healthy Menstrual Cycles

by Wendy Lopez, Food Heaven Made Easy

Some women can be completely functional during their menstrual periods. They barely feel discomfort and can go about their business stress-free. Then there are women like me, who have to strategically plan in advance around their menstrual periods. They experience debilitating cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and hot flashes—just to mention a few. In addition to agonizing physical symptoms, some women experience a negative shift in their mood, becoming easily agitated and annoyed. These symptoms usually interfere with school and work performance. Although this is a nightmare for many of us, there are simple things you can do in your kitchen to prepare for healthy monthly cycles.
 
Eat meals that are rich in fiber.
 
Fiber helps keep your colon in check by producing bulky stools with high water content. This eases the symptoms of cramping, gas, and the very typical upset stomach. Fiber has also been associated with reduced blood estrogen concentrations. High blood estrogen levels have been found to aggravate pre-menstrual symptoms by decreasing endorphins in the brain, which play a central role in the regulation of mood, stress, and pain management. Low levels of this neurotransmitter may affect your ability to manage the pain that comes with pre-menstrual and menstrual symptoms. Excellent sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. 
 
Increase your omega-3 intake.
 
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to inhibit the formation of inflammatory prostaglandins, which are responsible for muscle contraction in the uterus. This is not favorable during menstruation because it causes painful cramping and muscle spasms. Omega 3’s have also been shown to improve the brain’s processing of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates the emotional responses in our brain. Dopamine also helps to elevate mood and reduce anxiety. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, flax seeds and salmon.
 
Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D.
 
Vitamin D has also been found to have beneficial properties for women who suffer from menstrual symptoms. A study conducted at UMass with females aged 18-30 years old found that high vitamin D intake alleviated menstrual cramping. Another study found that vitamin D supplementation significantly dropped overall menstrual pain by 41%, and completely replaced the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s), most commonly known as Advil, Motrin, and Aleve. The best way to obtain vitamin D is via sunlight exposure. Unfortunately for many of us living in big cities, it can become challenging to synthesize enough of the vitamin D we need from the sun. Therefore, supplementation is needed. Vitamin D occurs naturally in very few foods, so many foods are fortified with it. Some ways to increase your levels include eating fatty fish and drinking vitamin D-fortified soy, almond, hemp, and rice milk. Fortified orange juice also provides a reliable source of vitamin D. You can also take vitamin D in the supplement form as a pill. The recommended dietary allowance is 15 micrograms per day.
 
Eat foods that are high in calcium.
 
Remember what we mentioned about increased muscle spasms and contractions in the uterus during menstruation? Well calcium helps to counter-act that by helping our muscles relax. This important mineral is responsible for controlling neuromuscular activity, and when muscles are lacking calcium, they are more likely to cause cramping and pain. Reliable sources of calcium include tofu, collards, kale, turnip greens, fortified orange juice, fortified soy/ almond/ rice milks, yogurt, cheese, and cow’s milk.
 
Plan ahead, eat wholesome meals and be patient with your body.
 
·      Having rough periods in no joke, especially if you have debilitating symptoms. Plan ahead! Keep a monthly menstrual calendarthat can help you track when your period is coming.
 
·      Also aim to eat whole foods that are rich in many of the nutrients mentioned in this article. Processed foods are usually packed with sodium, which is linked with fluid retention, also known as bloating.
 
·      Lastly, be patient with your body! It can be dreadful to deal with the painful monthly routine, but keeping a positive mindset definitely influences your perception of pain. Make simple adjustments here and there, and you’ll be on your way to healthier periods!
 
Wendy Lopez is the co-founder of Food Heaven Made Easy, a monthly cooking and nutrition web-series that demonstrates how to prepare culturally diverse, delicious, quick and cost conscious meals at home.

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