Written by Katie Byrne, published 7th feb 2017
Get one up on Mother Nature with these tips for tackling cramps, mood swings and more...
#1 Curb the cravings
Cravings can sometimes tie in with Mother Nature’s monthly delivery of a period. A woman’s appetite usually increases particularly during the second half of the menstrual cycle. Instead of reaching for all the chocolate bars in the house, try healthier carbs – your body will thank you for it!
"The most crucial dietary change you can make is to keep your blood-sugar levels steady: the higher your sugar intake the more severe your symptoms are likely to be. And you will be caught in a vicious cycle in that the more your blood sugar fluctuates the stronger sugar/food cravings you have and the more your blood sugar fluctuates. My advice is to cut out sugar completely. Don’t add it to drinks or cereal or anything else. Avoid sweet foods such as chocolate and refined foods such as white flour and watch out for hidden sugars by reading labels,” explains Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading nutritionist.
"To help beat cravings try a snack including protein and complex carbohydrates. Try eating a boiled egg with some vegetable sticks or some oat cakes with nut butters," adds nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.
#2 Don’t spend all day curled up
You may feel like you want to spend the day tucked up with a duvet, but try not to be a couch potato. "Regular exercise is important as it lowers cortisol production, as long as it is not too intense. Exercise also increases the levels of those feel good brain chemicals called endorphins, which can improve your mood," explains Shona.
#3 Prevent feeling like the size of a house
You may feel more bloated than usual: "Cut down on salt to reduce bloating and water retention. Don’t be tempted to limit your intake of fluids, which can actually increase bloating. Your body will think it needs to conserve water, which exacerbates the problem. Water is a natural diuretic and it should be drunk as frequently as possible, particularly when you are retaining water," explains Marilyn.
#4 Clear your diary for some 'you time'
“Set aside regular time to do something that you love and that makes you feel good: reading a good book, watching your favourite television programme, going for a massage, or having a long bath. Doing things that we love naturally lowers our stress hormones,” says Shona.
#5 Put away the tissues
One minute you’re hysterically laughing, the next minute you’re hysterically crying. Ring any bells? Marilyn suggests the following combo, to help prevent soaring mood swings: "Combine protein (vegetable or animal) with unrefined starchy carbohydrates. Tryptophan is an important amino acid for depression. Your body makes serotonin (the ‘feel good’ brain chemical) from an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan occurs naturally in foods such as dairy products, fish, bananas, dried dates, soya, almonds and peanuts.
"Protein is made up of long chains of amino acids. When you eat protein your body breaks it down into its different amino acids, which then travel into your bloodstream to reach your brain. You have a blood-brain barrier, which controls what gets into your brain, so a competition starts to take place. There are fewer tryptophan molecules than the other amino acids. Therefore, other amino acids get across the barrier leaving the tryptophan behind.
"But, if a meal contains a starchy carbohydrate as well, the situation is very different. Carbohydrates cause your body to release insulin and the insulin makes use of the other amino acids, leaving the tryptophan to dominate.
"It is interesting that when we are feeling depressed we tend to want to eat bread, cakes, sweets and sugary foods, all of which are starchy carbohydrates. However, what is important here is the type of carbohydrate. Healthy, whole carbohydrates provide a sustained release of energy, while refined foods cause a rise insulin and blood sugar fluctuations."
#6 Go green
"Green tea is an excellent healthy mood booster. It contains some caffeine, which gives you a bit of a lift, but also contains the amino acid theanine. Theanine can have a relaxing effect and may help to relieve anxiety and mental stress, potentially by increasing your levels of serotonin, dopamine (responsible for reward and pleasure), and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA, which has a relaxant effect)," says Shona.
#7 Spend time with your family and friends
If you're feeling down in the dumps, spend time with a loved one. "Oxytocin is another ‘feel good’ hormone. Released when we bond socially and feel general trust, comfort and love. This hormone is just as powerful as serotonin. Whenever you feel low and need a lift, spend time with your family and friends to mellow down and feel instantly better," says Shona.
#8 Have an early night
According to the National Sleep Foundation some women are more likely to struggle to sleep when they are on their period, as the core temperature can rise by almost half a degree after ovulation, which can make you feel less sleepy.
Feeling irritable and tired is not a great start to a happier period, so put down that to-do list and get tucked up. “To help you feel relaxed and ready for bed try and include plenty of magnesium-rich foods in your diet such as, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish and leafy green vegetables," explains Cassandra.