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Eat Your Way to a Better Menstrual Cycle

We all know by now how much our diet and lifestyle impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. This is especially true for women in terms of our hormonal body clocks. Just as we aren’t meant to eat the same food day after day, we are also not meant to exercise or live the same way each day. Our hormones are constantly changing in an intricate dance and when we take care of our bodies properly within the dance, all works magnificently. But when we don’t live by this model of syncing our diet and lifestyle it can be detrimental to our health and well being. This model of care was developed by the founder and creator of Flo Living, Alissa Vitti. This amazing practitioner is someone I recommend all my patients look to for dietary and lifestyle advice and recommendations around supporting hormonal balance. Many practitioners are now singing the praises of living a life that supports our hormones and fertility and it all starts with diet!  It is such an amazing compliment to Chinese medicine and more importantly, it works! I encourage you to check out Alissa Vitti’s website and blogs to learn more!

In Chinese medicine, we have a very similar view; the body is in a constant dynamic of change, never static. When we adopt healthy changes we can decrease the degree the pendulum will swing in each direction and therefore decrease the negative and pesky symptoms we experience. This is why acupuncture treatments vary, because your symptoms are never the same. By treating the body as a whole and selecting points that target each phase of your cycle, the hormones will be supported. But this work does not stop when you leave the treatment room. By integrating diet and lifestyle changes, you will see great changes in the health of your menstrual cycle. This means a decrease in cramps, less bloating, optimal digestion, decrease in breast swelling, decreasing PMS symptoms like anxiety, depression, and headaches before your cycle. The changes you make encourage healthy bleeding, showing a deep vibrant red colored blood, no spotting before or after, regular cycles, and removing stagnation that leads to clots. The changes boost your energy, stopping uterine and ovarian cysts and fibroids, as well as supporting weight management.  And my favorite – boosting your fertility and allowing for optimal ovulation for implantation and supporting a healthy full term pregnancy. This practice has also been proven to put certain conditions like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and endometriosis into remission as well and a new research study shows that is can stave off early menopause by three years!

So what is cycle syncing and where do you begin? According to the research it all starts with regulating your blood sugar, then implementing exercising according to each phase, and eating different foods to support each phase. Research has also found that we can implement different times in our cycle to put our focus on making big decisions, prioritizing projects, or making plans. Research also shows that avoiding caffeine is necessary in the treatment of hormonal imbalance due to its impact on the breast tissue (leads to fibroids) and its negative effect on cortisol.

So what are the four phases and what exactly is a healthy cycle? Ideally a healthy menstrual cycle is 27 to 32 days, and menses or bleeding will last five to seven days that begins with moderate flow, not spotting, a deep rich red color that maintains a flow for three days, then begins to taper off slowly and ending by day seven. The first phase is the menses phase lasting 3 to 7 days, the second phase is the follicular phase lasting seven to 10 days, the ovulation phase lasting three to four days, then the follicular phase lasting 10 to 14 days.  

In the menses phase the hormones are at their lowest and as bleeding begins and estrogen drops, you will feel a sense of relaxation or relief. In Chinese medicine the menses phase is dominated by qi transformation, it is important to regulate qi and blood, promote the complete discharge of blood, allow a smooth transition of yin to yang and allow for the smooth flow of liver qi and blood. From a western perspective progesterone drops off, estrogen peaks and drops and the focus is on bleeding. This is the best time for self analysis and journaling.  Foods to focus on are nutrient dense, low glycemic, seafood and veggies to replenish and support the kidneys and blood. A good time for rest and recovery.

In the follicular phase the hypothalamus tells the pituitary to send follicle stimulating hormones to the ovaries to release the egg and estrogen will increase. In Chinese medicine the follicular phase is dominated by yin because we need yin and blood to fill the uterus. It is important to nourish kidney yin, blood, and support the spleen to fill the chong and ren with blood to promote optimal ovulation. This is the best time to tap into creativity and stimulating projects. It is also a good time for social interaction. Foods to focus on are fresh and light foods with high phytoestrogen content. This includes flax meal, raw veggies, beans, seeds, and lean proteins. This phase is a good time to try out new exercise classes and a great time for cardio workouts.

In the ovulation phase there is a sharp rise in follicle stimulating hormone and an increase in luteinizing hormone. The egg will release into the uterus and allows for estrogen and testosterone to rise. In Chinese medicine qi will need to transform yin into yang, or transitioning from the 1st half of the cycle to the 2nd. Here the goal is to course the qi and move blood, blood and yin are at their highest now and it is time to promote the movement of qi and blood. This is a good time to connect with your community since energy is high and communication is at its easiest. Foods to focus on are lighter grains, lots of fruits and veggies, and steamed or raw foods.

In the luteal phase the corpus luteum grows, progesterone rises, the pituitary stops follicle stimulating hormone, and estrogen continues to rise. In Chinese medicine the focus is on yang energy, its important to course the qi and move blood. Your acupuncturist will also focus on regulating the liver qi, calming the mind, and harmonizing the chong and ren meridians. It is important to maintain kidney yang to support implantation and pregnancy if that is the goal.  This is the time energy begins to decline and PMS may occur. It’s a good time to turn your energy inward and practice self care. Focus on foods that are rich in B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber to stabilize blood sugar and promote healthy elimination through the large intestine and liver. These foods include roasted veggies and grains like brown rice.

Now that you know a little more about each phase of your menstrual cycle from a Chinese medicine and Western perspective you can begin to incorporate some healthy changes and enjoy a happy and healthy period. To learn more check out Flo Living and give your acupuncturist a call!

{All images in this post are from Duvet Days.}

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