Every menstrual cycle is a beautifully complex interplay of hormones, orchestrated by the body to prepare for potential pregnancy or the shedding of the uterine lining. While the menstrual cycle encompasses various phases, the luteal phase, which precedes menstruation, often brings about mood fluctuations including anxiety and symptoms reminiscent of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In this blog post, we'll delve into the fascinating interplay between hormones, brain chemistry, and your emotional well-being during this phase. We'll explore the reasons behind these mood shifts and provide practical nutrition and lifestyle changes to improve symptoms during this week of the menstrual cycle.
The Hormonal Symphony
The luteal phase is characterized by an intricate interplay of hormones, primarily estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are not just responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle and reproductive functions; they also exert a remarkable influence on brain health and emotional well-being (1). Researchers are still uncovering the extent of their impact on various areas of cognition and emotion. Interestingly, estrogen seems to interact with GABA, a neurotransmitter known for its calming effects. It appears that estrogen limits the action of GABA, while progesterone, another key hormone, enhances its function. This relationship between estrogen and GABA can influence anxiety responses and contribute to mood fluctuations (1).
Progesterone, on the other hand, plays a significant role in preparing the body for a potential pregnancy. It supports the uterine lining and fosters a nurturing environment for a fertilized egg. Additionally, increased progesterone levels during the luteal phase enhance the function of GABA, promoting a sense of calmness (1).
The effects of estrogen and progesterone extend beyond GABA, reaching other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are often referred to as "feel-good" chemicals due to their role in regulating mood and emotions. Fluctuations in hormone levels during the luteal phase can influence the availability and balance of these neurotransmitters, contributing to mood shifts and emotional changes.
Understanding the Connection: Mood Fluctuations and Hormones
The delicate balance between hormones, neurotransmitters, and brain function can lead to mood fluctuations during the luteal phase. The ebb and flow of estrogen and progesterone levels create a dynamic environment in which emotional well-being can be influenced. Some individuals may experience heightened anxiety, irritability, or sadness during this time, while others may have a relatively smooth transition.
How to limit the mood changes during this phase of the menstrual cycle through nutrition and lifestyle practices
1. Nourish Your Nervous System
It’s still unknown whether mood changes related to hormonal fluctuations is dependant on the sensitivity of your nervous system or the hormones themselves. So nurturing your nervous system and decreasing stress through prioritising stress reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or gentle yoga, may significantly decrease mood fluctuations. These practices can help soothe your nervous system and alleviate feelings of anxiety.
2. Support Hormonal Balance
Support hormonal balance through consuming enough protein, complex carbohydrates and essential fatty acids to produce adequate hormones.
Some examples of sources of these nutrients;
- Grass fed lean meats - Fish (tuna, trout, salmon, mackerel) - Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, black beans) - Tofu - Organic dairy or goat’s cheese
- Wholegrains (oats, brown rice, quinoa, spelt, millet) - Fresh fruits (apples, pears, kiwi’s, bananas, berries) - Vegetables (sweet potato, pumpkin, squash, carrots)
- Avocado - Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds) - Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring , sardines)
3. Promote dopamine & serotonin production
Incorporate protein into each meal, as protein breaks down into amino acids which are essential building blocks for producing neurotransmitters and supporting mood.
4. Balance Blood Sugar
Blood sugar regulation is essential for both hormonal balance and supporting your nervous system. When blood sugar drops, the body raises stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which has an influence on both reproductive hormone balance but can also exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Aim to stabilize your blood sugar levels by eating regular, balanced meals and snacks, with a source of protein, carbohydrates and fats together.
5. Magnesium-Rich Foods
Include magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains in your diet. Magnesium plays a role in relaxation and may help ease mood-related symptoms and regulate the action of hormones on the central nervous system.
Some magnesium rich foods include;
- Pumpkin seeds - Flaxseeds - Sunflower seeds - Brazil nuts - Chia seeds - Tahini - Almonds - Oysters - Tofu - Mussels
The luteal phase of the menstrual cycle is a time of hormonal fluctuation that can influence mood and emotional well-being. Understanding the intricate relationship between hormones, neurotransmitters, and brain function sheds light on why some people who menstruate experience mood shifts during this phase. By incorporating nutrition and lifestyle changes that support your nervous system, hormonal balance, and neurotransmitter production, you can navigate the luteal phase with greater ease and embrace the natural rhythm of your body. Remember, each individual’s experience is unique, and by tuning into your body's signals, you can empower yourself to thrive throughout your menstrual cycle.