Sugar and the Menstrual Cycle
To mark Sugar Awareness Week, Nutritional Therapist Laura Southern clarifies the links between sugar and the menstrual cycle. She explains why so many women crave sugar at certain times of the month, and tells us what we should eat instead to combat these cravings and improve our health.
For most women sugar cravings occur about a week before their period starts, but everyone is different so there’s no exact time. Often the cravings end once the period has started, or a few days in.
The sugar cravings are usually down to changes in our hormones. Before our periods begin there is a drop in the hormone progesterone and a rise in oestrogen, which can cause blood sugar levels to drop. When blood sugar levels drop the brain sends signals to replenish sugar, and therefore cravings occur. There can also be a change in serotonin – ‘the happy hormone’. Women who suffer from PMS often have lower serotonin than is optimal. These low levels can cause sugar and carbohydrate cravings because insulin is needed to ‘shunt’ serotonin from the gut (where it’s made) to the brain.
If you suffer from PMS, it can be positive to eat carbohydrates before your periods so that your body makes enough insulin to transport serotonin. Blood sugar regulation is key for managing all the hormones in the body – your body treats blood sugar balance as a priority, its life or death. For this reason all the body’s focus is on managing insulin and cortisol to regulate blood sugar, and this will be at the expense of all other hormones, especially the reproductive/ female hormones. Women that eat lots of high sugar foods, or find it difficult to stabilise their blood sugar (due to diet or illness), will often suffer badly with PMS.
It is key to try and manage blood sugar. To do this, protein rich foods (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes) are key; try and include these at every meal (although you don’t need animal protein at every meal).
The good fats are also essential. The fats are needed to synthesise our hormones and keep our cells and hormones able to communicate with each other. Good fat also helps make us feel ‘satiated’, so that sugar cravings can decline. Again, nuts and seeds are great, as well as olive oil, avocados and coconut. Certain nutrients can also be helpful: magnesium can help (try an epsom salt bath), and a good B vitamin complex can help manage blood sugar and keep cravings at bay.