This article is written in partnership with an acupuncturist friend about one of my favorite subjects: how to balance the reproductive cycle naturally.
Dr. Charyse Harvick is a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I’ve worked with Dr. Charyse over the years for general wellness and also curing my yeast infections naturally. I liked working with her, and as she specializes in women’s health care, I wanted to partner on a comprehensive article about how we can balance our reproductive cycle naturally.
She works within TCM protocols, which includes acupuncture, food, herbs, and supplements with the goal of balancing the body holistically.
One of her goals is to help women balance the reproductive cycle naturally, and I think this work is so very important. So we worked together to create this article full of great advice about the four phases of the menstrual cycle, and foods to enjoy, foods to avoid, and suggested supplements for a happy cycle each and every month.
Basics about the Menstrual Cycle
A healthy menstrual cycle is dependent on two factors:
- Genetics: often passed down through mother’s line
- Lifestyle: diet, exercise, and stress levels
While we cannot do anything about our genetics, we can counteract some of the issues inherited from our genetics with a healthy lifestyle, including a good diet and management of physical activity and stress levels. Most of the information that follows will help you improve your diet with specific focus on menstrual cycles. This foods, in combination with exercise and stress reduction, will help balance the reproductive cycle naturally.
Generally women have a 28-day menstrual cycle, though this can vary from 26-35 days. Usually the menstruation lasts 3-5 days with normal blood loss at 30-80ml. There are four phases of the menstrual cycle:
- Week 1, Menstrual: Begins on the first day of blood flow, or menses.
- Week 2,Post-menstrual: Approximately seven days after onset of menses
- Week 3, Mid-cycle/Ovulation: About day 14 (varies between day 12-15)
- Week 4,Pre-menstrual: Generally a week before the menstrual cycle begins (often starting on day 19-28, depending on the individual cycle).
Food to Choose During your Period, Week 1
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), during the period (the menstrual phase), the energy of the body, mind, and spirit is turned inward and is going through a cleansing process. TCM practices during this time would work to regulate Qi (energy force of the body) and nourish the blood. Think of this time as a ‘tuning in– ‘ time to focus on your energy on yourself as much as possible, rather than directing your energy outwards.
Dr. Charyse recommends foods for menstruation that invigorate the circulatory system, stimulate the digestion and aid in detoxification. This includes lots of fresh veggies like beets, eggplant, greens (kale, chard, bok choi, watercress), asparagus, cilantro, and celery.
Other foods that she recommends include beans like mung beans and adzuki beans; seaweeds (including micro-algae like spirulina); bitter fruits like grapefruits, green apples and lemons; and natural sweeteners that have warming qualities such as barley malt, date sugar, and rice syrup. Apple cider vinegar with a small amount of raw honey helps to alkalize the system and improve with digestion. Finally, she recommends adding herbal teas like chamomile, raspberry tea, and ginger to keep your whole body warm from the inside out.
During the menstrual phase, she recommends avoiding stimulants like alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and refined sugar; and it’s also a good idea to avoid hydrogenated fats and excess meat and dairy which can make the body feel sluggish. Also, because our body needs to maintain warmth and movement during this time, it’s important to limit the amount of cold or raw foods and heavy, starchy foods that might weigh us down.
Overall, be sure to have ample amounts of calcium, magnesium, and fatty oils (all found in the plant foods listed above); if these essential nutrients are lacking disorders may arise. Here is a short list of some of the issues you might face during menstruation, and tips for helping them:
- Cramping with not much flow indicates stagnation in the body. It’s recommended to add moving foods like turmeric, saffron, and eggplant (which specifically treats congealed blood affecting the uterus). Add turmeric and/or saffron to rice, grains or soup. If you have cold hands and feet add some ginger too, like this simple ginger tea.
- Excess bleeding with lethargy, loose stools and feeling weak: add leeks, vinegar, astragulus (huang qi).
- Excess bleeding and feeling hot and agitated: add cooling foods like millet, mung beans, seaweeds, chard, spinach, and barley. Also, try Shepard’s Purse tea which can help stem the flow of blood.
- Light flow and feeling cold and listless: Add warming soups with ample amounts of green vegetables and root vegetables (beets, sweet potatoes, and carrots), including ginger.
Foods and Supplements for Week Two of the Cycle
During the Post-Menstrual phase it’s important to nourish blood and yin after the menstrual flow of the previous week. Include ample amounts of protein, fat, folic acid, and vitamin B12, which are essential for building blood and yin. Also important during the Post-menstrual phase is foods rich in chlorophyll (that’s all the green goodies!): kale, chard, bok choy, micro-algae, seaweeds (especially dulse, which is high in iron).
Other foods that are nourishing during this time include nuts and seeds, especially flax and black sesame seeds; sweet fruits: especially berries such as mulberries, goji berries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, dark grapes, avocado, dates, figs, and apricots (which are high in copper); sweet vegetables such as beets, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes; whole-grains such as oats, quinoa, buckwheat, barley (pan-roast before cooking), oats, rice; legumes like black beans, kidney beans, soy beans.
Other supplements that can help nourish our blood after our period include molasses, which is very high in iron and trace minerals, royal jelly and bee pollen (builds yin and jing), Angelica root (an excellent herb for women’s health) and herbal teas featuring nettle and rose-hips. It’s recommended to limit spicy foods, alcohol, and coffee.
During this phase, I feel highly energetic, and I find that I have lots of physical, creative, sexual, and intellectual energy, so I’m often very active, very social, and very sexual. The increase in estrogen makes me really happy, and I’m able to work and play harder this week.
Foods and Supplements for Week Three of the Menstrual Cycle
Week Three is mid-cycle, or the ovulatory phase. During this time, it’s important to nourish the kidney Yang and Jing with warming foods that support digestion and tonify the kidneys. Warm and spicy foods featuring cloves, fenugreek, fennel seed, anise seeds, black peppercorn, ginger, and cinnamon are helpful, along with other foods like walnuts, black beans, onion family (chives, onion, scallion, leek) and quinoa. During this phase, like menstruation, it’s important to limit cooling foods like raw fruits and vegetables and definitely avoid excess salt.
During this week, I often find my energy waning, as estrogen falls during the ovulation phase (see the chart above for the hormone flow). When my energy wanes like this, I often feel less energetic, less creative, less sexual, and sometimes unhappy.
For me, this is the beginning of my energetic turning inwards: I try to schedule fewer activities, focusing on nourishing activities like conversations with girlfriends or family, rather than going out. I also spend more time alone reading, cooking, journaling, and focused on self care.
Foods and Supplements for Week Four: the Pre-Menstrual Phase
Even though our cycle is monthly, it’s arguably this week that gets the most negative attention. The Pre-menstrual phase has many negative social connotations, and with good reason. Many women are too familiar with the negative effects pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS). Some of effects of the pre-menstrual cycle include irritability, low energy, crankiness, stress, anxiety, and physical symptoms like cramps, bloating, gas, body aches and pains, and more.
I find that the more attention I pay to my energy levels this week, the better I feel. Knowing that my energy will wane means I try to exercise less, plan fewer social gatherings, and really turn inwards, including usually avoiding sex. To further manage common PMS symptoms, TCM practice focuses on invigorating the blood, toning Yang if its deficient, move Qi through the body, keeping the uterus warm and expelling cold from the body.
Spicy foods are welcome during this phase, so enjoy your Indian or Arabic foods. Include spices like cumin, cardamom, marjoram, fennel, dill, ginger, horseradish, rosemary, mint, and lemon balm. Like other phases, beets are very helpful during this phase. Other recommended vegetables are taro root, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnip root, onion family, and kales.
Fruits such as cherries, plums, strawberries; grains such as amaranth, rye, wild rice, and nuts such as pine nut and chestnuts are good also. Suggested herbal teas include chamomile, licorice, raspberry, and ginger– all of which are healthful and relaxing. During the pre-menstrual phase it’s important to avoid cold foods, raw foods, excessive consumption of fruits, all shellfish (too yang), coffee, stimulants, sugar and dairy products. Dr. Charyse also recommends exercise is key at this time too, however, for me, I find that my energy is too low and my body often does not crave movement at this time.
Many PMS symptoms are based on a liver Qi stagnation. To get things moving, look for foods like dill, fennel, and coriander seed, mint, peas, kelp, and try herbal teas featuring raspberry, mint, chamomile (or try a specifically formulated Moon Cycle tea). Also helpful is the Chinese herb formula known as Free and Easy Wanderer (Xiao Yao Wan). This formula has many beneficial herbs to help keep the cycle regulated, manage stress, and keep our hormones balanced. I have taken these for years and think they helped my cycle significantly.
Another great way to help reduce PMS symptoms are essential fatty acids. These are healthy fats that work directly on the hormone system in our body, and can help regulate your cycle and flow. EFAs can be found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, hempseeds, evening primrose oil, and pumpkin seeds. You can eat these on a monthly schedule using a protocol called seed cycling – this is an easy, affordable solution to balance your reproductive cycle naturally. I also found that adding maca to my daily diet drastically reduced my PMS symptoms, and helped regulate my cycle.
During the PMS phase, and all month, really, it’s important to ensure that you get enough magnesium, a key mineral for most cellular functions. Fortunately, cacao (chocolate!) is a good source or magnesium- but you have to get the good quality, dark chocolate (or make your own!).
Disclaimer: These tips listed above are meant to be educational and do not take the place of a visit to a licensed medical professional. I’m a blogger, not a doctor, so please see a professional before beginning any supplementation or herbal regimen. Be well! 💕Andrea