Curing period cravings begins by understanding how these cravings occur in the first place! This blog will help you to understand why period cravings happen, what nutrients and supplements your body needs, and what to do when cravings strike!
Table of Contents
How do periods cause cravings?
Periods are stimulated by a change in hormones when the inner layer of the uterus, the endometrium, has thickened to support a pregnancy but is not needed. The uterus must shed the lining of its walls for the month at the end of its cycle, so that the eggs will have another chance the next month to become fertilized and implant in the endometrium.
All of this occurs because of hormones, the signaling molecules of our bodies, and it occurs in three phases throughout the month-long cycle. The hormones involved in the menstrual cycle are estrogen, oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone/androgens, luteinizing hormones (LH), and follicle stimulating hormones (FSH).
Out of the three phases of the cycle, the follicular (pre-bleed) is most associated with those powerful, dreaded period cravings. Starting at the follicular phase, FSH triggers the release of estrogen, an appetite suppressant.
Ovulation occurs, and the egg travels to the uterus where progesterone, an appetite stimulant, is produced to fortify the uterine wall. When the body realizes no egg needs to be implanted in the wall for pregnancy, progesterone decreases and the uterine lining is shed during the bleeding phase.
In terms of hunger and period cravings, high estrogen = less hungry, and high progesterone = more hungry.
Progesterone’s responsibilities are to balance the effects of estrogen, fortify the uterine wall, and reduce inflammation; as it prepares the body for pregnancy, metabolism and neurotransmitter GABA are raised. GABA not only enhances your mood but it can help reduce PMS symptoms including cravings in combination with adequate progesterone.
There shouldn’t be any fear in eating to satiety and satisfaction pre-period, as your body is utilizing more fuel at this time!
Your Body’s Natural Cravings
Common mineral cravings before and during menstruation:
- Vitamin D
Supplemental vitamins & herbs:
- B vitamins
- Rhodiola rosea
Magnesium is a natural pain and stress alleviator that can help relax the uterus and lower cortisol which is associated with healthier periods and HPA-axis functioning. Beware, high stress can contraindicate Mg as it forces the body to dump it in order to have the capacity to deal with the hypothetical stressful situation. Your body may be craving its rich food sources like dark chocolate and pumpkin seeds in an attempt to self-correct low cellular levels. If you lead a high stress lifestyle, that may not be enough; 300mg supplementation of magnesium chelate is generally safe when taken with food.
Signs of low Magnesium:
- Muscle cramps
- Poor appetite
Food sources of Magnesium:
- Leafy greens
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brown rice
- Dark chocolate
Along with Magnesium, Zinc plays a role in regulating the body’s physiological response to stress. Additionally, proper levels of Zinc aid healthy ovulation and progesterone when it is distributed to the ovarian follicles.
To find out if you should supplement with a pill, you can have your plasma/serum Zinc tested to see if it falls within 90-125 mcg/dL. Supplementing your diets with Zinc-rich foods can be done any time but especially during the luteal phase, or 2nd half, of your menstrual cycle.
Signs of low Zinc:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Unhealed wounds
- Frequent illness
- Skin sores
Food sources of Zinc:
- Firm tofu
- Hemp seeds
- Low-fat dairy
- Shiitake mushrooms
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone, not an actual vitamin because the body is able to synthesize it itself in small amounts. It contributes to ovulation and insulin sensitivity, making its absence an indicator of irregular menstrual cycles and/or PCOS complications. Having blood levels of 30-50 mg/dL Vitamin D represents hormone regulation via estrogen and progesterone and bone strengthening via improved absorption of Calcium. If you have your Vitamin D tested and it is <30 mg/dL, there are many avenues you can take to correct this issue.
- Take a walk or lay out in direct sunlight for 10-20 minutes/day without SPF.
- Supplement with 1000-2000 IU Vitamin D/day paired with a meal.
- Eat Vitamin-D rich foods in combination with #1 or #2.
Signs of low Vitamin D:
- joint pain
- Muscle weakness
- Decrease in mood
Food sources of Vitamin D:
- Fortified products (milk, milk substitutes, tofu, yogurt, breakfast cereal, orange juice)
Iodine is an estrogen detoxifier, which makes cells less sensitive to estrogen and stabilizes estrogen receptors to make the transition from the follicular phase to ovulation more seamless; this is when estrogen levels are rising. High estrogen levels can cause PMS side effects such as breast pain, fluid retention, irritability, and headaches. Iodine levels can be tested when taking a thyroid antibody test; avoid supplementing with iodine if you have a thyroid disorder.
Common dosing for supplemental iodine in regards to menstrual health is between 250-5000 mcg potassium iodide. Signs and symptoms of low iodine are less noticeable due to the RDA to prevent goiter being so low; it is best to get the antibody test if you have suspicions.
Food sources of Iodine:
- Iodized table salt
- Grass-fed butter
- Leafy greens
In addition to mineral cravings, there are complementary vitamins and herbs that relieve PMS symptoms.
An activated B-complex pill helps mediate stress within the body that causes HPA axis dysfunction; HPA dysfunction is defined by faulty communication between the hypothalamus (brain), pituitary (endocrine signaler), and adrenal glands (endocrine hormone producers). Not only will you be mentally calmed, your body will run more smoothly in signaling its hormones relating to consistent healthful periods.
Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb, or mood booster. It can be taken with other adaptogens to help with stress and mood management. The recommended dosage is 150-300 mg/day with 2% active rosavin.
Taking supplements that don’t directly affect the period but affect the body’s response to the period is a proactive move in preventing PMS related symptoms and period cravings.
When Real Cravings Strike
Not all cravings present themselves so obviously like dark chocolate for low magnesium or salty snacks for low iodine. It can feel like there is no rhyme or reason, and the culprits are often simple carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fats. Let’s dive into why.
I’m craving simple carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates are starch sources that lack fiber to provide satiety and slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. When these unbound carbohydrates are consumed, your body gets an instant rush of energy in its preferred fuel source immediately ready for use.
Check with yourself to see if you are eating enough carbohydrates from starches, not just voluminous fruits and vegetables. Starchy carbohydrates free of gluten and sugar like potatoes, rice, bananas, apples, etc are the best options to overcome carb cravings.
Choosing anti-inflammatory complex carbohydrates gently nourishes your body with the fuel it greatly needs while lowering your insulin response.
I’m craving sugar
Sugar as we know it is a simple sugar, even more molecularly reduced than a simple carbohydrate. Simple carbohydrates are made up of many molecules, while simple sugars are only either mono- or di-saccharides.
We develop sugar cravings because of our emotional and physical ties to sugar. Physically, it acts like a very simple carb and provides immediate energy the body wants during times of stress. Emotionally, sugar makes us feel happier due to its pleasant, familiar taste.
Try assessing your mood before eating sugar and finding the cause behind Not all sugar is bad for us nor causes an inflammatory reaction in the body; recommended sugars are naturally occurring bound sugars.
By naturally occurring, I mean sugar, honey, agave, etc. are not an added ingredient, as the sweetness is a part of the food. By bound, I mean the food is fiber-containing to lessen the insulin spike that could occur. Examples of naturally occurring bound sugars are: fruits.
Reaching for available carbohydrates like simple carbs and simple sugars could signify underlying insulin resistance. When you have insulin resistance, it takes more sugar to actually signal the release of insulin in your body to metabolize it. Until the body can metabolize the sugar, free sugars are floating around the bloodstream wreaking havoc.
This is a problem for your hormonal health because chronic free sugars in addition to overweightness, presence of visceral fat, and lack of physical activity lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to an increase in testosterone, which impedes ovulation and can trigger polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Recommendations for Period Cravings
Craving something functional
This type of craving can HELP your cycle when you give into it.
Examples of functional snacks for PMS cravings are dark chocolate squares, pumpkin seed bars, seeds, leafy greens, and meats.
Craving something starchy
This is important if your diet is lacking in carbohydrates, women’s bodies don’t thrive off of low-carb diets the way some men can.
Examples of starchy snacks are cinnamon roasted sweet potatoes, buddha bowls with rice for dinner, roasted root vegetables, and fruit salad.
Craving something sweet
Try fruit first, and if that does not work, then mindfully indulging in a small craving in combination with a generally nutritious, anti-inflammatory diet is more stress-relieving than deliberating over not eating the food. Stevia can be used to make desserts at home that are non-irritable to the guy but still taste sweet.
Examples are greek yogurt with stevia and cacao powder, coconut flour mug cake made with stevia, and DIY sugar-free dark chocolate bars.
Craving something salty
This craving is most associated with processed, inflammatory foods high in simple carbs, saturated fats, and sodium.
Choose lightly salted popcorn, plantain chips, trail mix, or dry-roasted legumes.
Steps To Avoid Period Cravings
Avoiding period cravings isn’t fool-proof, but there are actions you can take now to prevent reactive eating later on. These are habits and guidelines that are adaptable to your lifestyle, you can pick and choose which ones to start with although they will all benefit you. Understanding why you are having cravings and why you are craving certain foods allows you to work with your body, not against it.
- Make sure you are eating enough food. If you are undereating, you are not experiencing “cravings”, you are experiencing starvation.
- Include all three macronutrients at each meal: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
- Incorporate phytoestrogens to alleviate symptoms of heavy periods. Phytoestrogens are plant-made estrogens that have a protective effect in human bodies. They are found in soy, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes.
- Aim for a primarily anti-inflammatory diet; this means no gluten, dairy, simple carbohydrates, sugar, alcohol, and processed vegetable oils.
- Get the right amount of sleep for your body each night (around 7-9 hours).
- Supplement with Magnesium.