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Can food affect your hormones?

Lady with denim jacket sat outside eating a sandwich. Lady has happy expression
Can our diets have an impact on our hormonal health? Read on to find out if food really does affect your hormones and your menstrual cycle.
Let’s take a deep dive into what hormones are – we’ll cover how food affects hormones, as well as looking at the different stages of the menstrual cycle in relation to hormones and diet.

Why does food affect women’s hormones?

Needed for many different processes such as growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, and mood – hormones are your body’s chemical messengers.1

Each month our nutritional needs change due to a fluctuation in hormones.

Each phase of your cycle will have corresponding changes in hormones, particularly with oestrogen and progesterone. Cortisol also changes throughout your cycle; however significant increases have been detected during ovulation.2

Your diet can sometimes interfere with your hormones, so it might be good to know about some hormone balancing foods. For example, high-GI foods such as white bread and sugary drinks can cause a surge in blood sugar.3 Women with type 1 diabetes can be particularly sensitive to these surges in blood glucose a few days before their period.4

And this leads us nicely onto…

Foods to avoid during your menstrual cycle

There are 4 phases to the menstrual cycle, these are: Menstruation, the Follicular Phase, Ovulation, and the Luteal Phase.5

We’re going to look at all 4 phases of the cycle, giving you a run through of what they are and what foods are suggested to avoid during each phase!

Menstruation

During menstruation you’re losing blood and undergoing rapid hormonal shifts concurrently. So, it’s best to choose foods with plenty of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, water, protein, iron, and fibre.

Try your best to avoid the following: 
  • Processed foods 
  • Sugary sweets and salty foods 
  • Alcohol and caffeine 
  • Spicy foods6

The follicular phase

The first phase of the menstrual cycle is the follicular phase, occurring from day one to day 14 of the menstrual cycle, based on the average duration of 28 days.7
During this phase it’s allegedly advised to avoid: 
  • Excessive amounts of ultra-processed foods 
  • Alcohol 
  • Caffeine 
  • High-fat dairy foods8

Ovulation

It’s anecdotally thought to be best to avoid the list of foods below when ovulating:
  • Fried foods 
  • Processed meats9
  • Unpasteurised dairy products 
  • Soft sugary drinks10

The luteal phase

Research is limited, but some people believe you may want to reduce these foods in the luteal phase: 
  • Caffeine11
  • Refined carbs (like white breads and pastries) 
  • High sugar foods 
  • Excess salt12

Foods to add during your menstrual cycle

A good place to start is by putting emphasis on whole foods! Whole foods alongside eating a variety of plants is beneficial for your overall health, especially your gut.13

Eating foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds can support a decrease of inflammation in the body, helping to tame menstrual cramps.14

Incorporate a mix of fibre-rich carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats at all meals. Once you've set a strong foundation with a balanced diet, it’s recommended to then add these foods for additional support15
  • Colourful fruits and vegetables 
  • Fatty fish 
  • Fermented foods
Below we’ve listed some foods to eat that might help regulate hormones specifically within the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle:

Menstruation

Wondering what the best foods for menstruation are? Well, it’s anecdotally suggested by other women to include these foods within the menstruation phase of your cycle: 
  • Shellfish 
  • Pork 
  • Pumpkin and flax seeds 
  • Black and kidney bean 
  • Beetroots, berries, grapes, red peppers 
  • Seaweeds16

The follicular phase: 

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables 
  • Lean proteins 
  • Wholegrains 
  • Healthy fats 
  • Sprouted and fermented foods17

Ovulation

These anti-inflammatory foods have been suggested by other women to eat in the ovulation phase for additional support: 
  • Berries 
  • A variety of vegetables and leafy greens 
  • Dark chocolate 
  • Fatty fish
  • Almonds18

The luteal phase 

  • White fish 
  • Red meat and turkey 
  • Sesame and sunflower 
  • Chickpeas 
  • Berries and grapes 
  • Cruciferous vegetables 
  • Apples, dates, pears, peaches 
  • Brown rice19

Can alcohol affect hormones worse during one of the phases?

Alcohol can affect your menstrual cycle.

Alcohol induces hormonal disturbances that can disrupt the body’s ability to maintain stability. This can eventually result in various disorders, such as cardiovascular diseases, reproductive deficits, immune dysfunction, certain cancers, bone disease, and psychological and behavioural disorders.20

There is some early-stage evidence suggesting alcohol consumed in your luteal phase (the second half of your menstrual cycle) may have more of an effect on your mood, than during the follicular phase.21

What foods can help with PMS

Thiamine is naturally found in wholegrains, meat, and fish. One study found a significantly lower risk of PMS in women with high intakes of thiamine and riboflavin from food sources only.22

Iron-rich fruit and vegetables may also help prevent PMS - or relieve symptoms. Iron plays an important role in how your body makes the neurotransmitters called serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – all of them important in mental health.23

When analysing mineral intake, an inverse association between total intake of iron and PMS development was observed. Participants consuming a higher total iron intake had a 31% lower risk of PMS than did those consuming less.24

The final say

We hope we’ve helped you breakdown what foods might best support your cycle and hormones. It’s important that we consume a varied and balanced diet, without sacrificing the foods we best enjoy.

What food affects one person during their menstrual cycle might not affect you, as everyone is unique.

Hormones play a big part in how we function, so figuring out which foods may support your body best at different times of the month could allow you to feel one step ahead.

Disclaimer

The information in this article is advisory, based off anecdotal evidence and preliminary research, and should not replace medical advice. Please speak to your GP or a registered dietician if you are unsure of what foods you should be avoiding.
 

Sources

1. https://medlineplus.gov/hormones.html
 

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