Does Diet Affect the Menstrual Cycle?

The menstrual cycle involves changes in hormone levels and the shedding of blood. The average length of a menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. Hormones produced during the menstrual cycle, such as estrogen and progesterone, are needed to maintain health. As a result, changes in hormone levels have a great impact on the menstrual cycle. Since hormone production is affected by diet, diet affects the menstrual cycle as well.

Menstrual cycles can range from 21 to 35 days. Credit: digitalskillet/iStock/GettyImages

PMS

Premenstrual syndrome is a common condition that has mental and physical effects on women. It typically occurs 14 days into the menstrual cycle and can last up to 2 weeks. PMS is characterized by mood swings, weight gain, bloating and headaches. These symptoms can be worsened by the consumption of caffeine, salt, sugar, alcohol and foods high in fat. Since food cravings are also symptomatic of PMS, avoiding foods high in fat can be particularly difficult during this time.

Irregularity

Weight loss can result in an irregular menstrual cycle or amenorrhea, cessation of menstruation. Amenorrhea is associated with women that have eating disorders, such as anorexia nervousa, which involves the refusal to eat due to fear of becoming fat. Irregular periods may also result from lack of proper nutrition or diets high in carbohydrates. Excessive alcohol use causes irregularity as well by interfering with the liver's ability to metabolize hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. The reduction in blood sugar levels as a result of estrogen and progesterone are specifically a concern for women with diabetes.

Heavy Bleeding

According to FamilyEducation.com, women lose 1/4 cup of blood during a normal menstrual cycle and even more when the flow is heavy. Iron, which travels through the blood, is also lost during menstruation. Heavy bleeding that occurs for 2 or more consecutive months may be the result of low progesterone levels. This is of particular concern for women with anemia who already do not have enough iron in their body. Iron can be consumed as part of a multi-vitamin or through certain foods such as meat, poultry and fish.

Dietary Changes

There are several dietary changes that may promote regular periods. One is to reduce the amount of simple carbohydrates, found in baked goods and sodas, and increase the amount of food containing complex carbs such as oatmeal, lentils and soy milk. Fish and poultry are preferred as opposed to meat that can be high in fat. Multivitamins, especially those that include calcium and magnesium, are also beneficial as well as fish oil supplements. Increased fruit, vegetable and water consumption can also regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce symptoms of PMS.

Types of Diets

Vegetarians and non-vegetarians experience significantly different menstrual cycles, according to a study published in the December 1986 issue of "Fertility and Sterility." The majority of non-vegetarians in this study maintained fairly consistent levels of estradiol and progesterone which resulted in regular menstrual cycles. Vegetarians, on the other hand, had considerable reductions in estradiol and progesterone during their menstrual cycle. The majority of their cycles were highly irregular and occurred in absence of ovulation.

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