Supporting the Menstrual Cycle

A Guide for Women to Support Themselves During Their Cycle and For Men to Support the Women in Their Lives

In order to ease menstrual related health challenges I always recommend learning how to support your cycle rather than trying to ignore it. Treat paying attention to what your body both asks for and gifts you with over the course of your cycle as a conversation with your entire hormonal system. Check in with your hormones each morning, make a note of what they are telling you; track them with spreadsheets if you like! At the very least make sure to notice how much easier your entire life is if you, quite literally, go with the menstrual flow!

This is just a quick guide – if symptoms such as PMS, cramping, either heavy or scant periods; an inconsistent cycle, infertility, peri-menopause symptoms etc. are an issue then I suggest that we address these challenges as part of an ongoing health and nutrition programme.

Please note that the lengths of each phase in this “timetable” merely give an approximate guide. Your cycle may currently be between two weeks to two months or apparently absent. If this is the case it is a good idea to keep track of both physical and emotional signs in writing so that you can best judge where you are and how to best care for yourself at this time.

Menstrual phase – time to rest and to go deep within

The period or bleed phase will typically last around three to seven days and may well be accompanied by physical fatigue due to low levels of both oestrogen and progesterone. If at all possible plan to take time out and even some time off work during these first few days of your cycle. Think of it as a time of hibernation during which you rest up, dream, nourish yourself with broths, soups, cacao elixirs and organic dark chocolate; take the phone off the hook  and to switch off all phone notifications.

Soothe cramps with Epsom salt baths, castor oil packs, hot water bottles and gentle stretching; replace commercially produced sanitary wear with either organic products or washables and find yourself something restful and comforting to do if you are wakeful in the night such as a having a feel-good book, a warm milky drink or a journal and pen at the ready. You may also like to try putting my sleep tips into practice.

Increasing your usual dietary or supplementary intakes of both magnesium and sea salt and keeping yourself well hydrated will help to alleviate fatigue, cramping and constipation.

Follicular phase – time to yawn and stretch and to create

As long as you took the time to hibernate during your menstrual phase, your physical, creative and social energies should rise along with your oestrogen levels over the next seven to ten days. This is the time to support those upward moving energies with nutrient dense and fresh foods, getting outside and moving; and being sociable. Even better, combine the latter two with group walks, picnics, team sports, yoga classes or an educational class that takes place outside (such as foraging or wildcraft courses.)

If you have used your previous late-luteal phase to plan and prepare work, home or self projects then this is the time to use that creative energy to bring life to those projects. Be present, awake and on the look out for new opportunities (even if you choose not to take them up.)

This is a good time to increase probiotic rich food in your diet such as kombucha, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut or live yoghurt. (You may also wish to use a vaginal probiotic such as Canesflor once a month during this time to help protect against conditions such as thrush.) It’s also a good idea to replace lost iron levels with a few extra meals based around organ meats and red meat during this phase.

Ovulatory phase – time to connect, to sing and to feel joy

A thick and clear vaginal discharge may herald the beginning of this short three to four day high-oestrogen, high-testosterone, high energy and high communication skills section of your cycle. Make the most of this! Get up early to have a weekend adventure; go into that make-or-break meeting with confidence; go on a date; arrange an impromptu party; tick those vital phone calls off your to-do list and generally push yourself to do activities that are usually out of your comfort zone. And those projects you’ve been working on that needed action? Act now!

You may have less appetite at this time and so you could find that you can easily skip the odd meal. However, this is a great time to eat sociably so, if you are able to, plan for a feast during this phase with candles, laughter and loved ones aplenty.

Early Luteal phase – time to ground yourself, to nourish yourself and to process

Oestrogen will fall and progesterone should rise sharply during these five to six days (unless you have a cortisol imbalance) You may notice a decrease in your social energies but a rise in your nesting energies. Go with it: get the bills sorted, organise and restock your kitchen cupboards, batch cook and freeze nutritious foods ready for your menstrual phase; and try to conclude any projects you can.

Feel free to add more carbs to your evening meals in the forms of butternut squash, root vegetables, sweet potatoes or rice based dishes. Focus on taking time over your meals and chewing your food well.

Late Luteal phase – time to breathe, to conclude and to prepare

Both oestrogen and progesterone will plummet during the last few days of your cycle, leaving you low on physical energy and high in emotion. Rest up and try to get to bed half an hour earlier each evening during this phase. Think of these few days as planning and preparation for an easier, more comfortable and less “draining” period.

You may also find that you are able to easily and effectively plan and prepare for work, creative or personal projects during this time but as soon as your menstrual phase begins put those ideas aside immediately. You should then be more than ready to put them into action during your follicular phase.

If you need time to release feelings of sadness and grief make sure that you set aside time to do that through journalling, with therapy, with a solitary walk in nature or even with an evening watching a weepy movie. At the very least make sure that you practice my breathing and visualisation exercise three times a day.

Increase your intake of dark green leafy veg, of nuts and seeds and of any magnesium supplementation in order to keep your lower intestines from becoming sluggish. Your skin and lungs may also need extra support in the form of body brushing and using a salt pipe inhaler in order not to become congested.