By Amber Foley - Qualified Nutritionist and Naturopath from Nutra-life
From menstruation to menopause, child-birth to breastfeeding - throughout our lives, the health needs of girls and women change. From maiden to mother to crone, what we eat and how we foster the change and beauty in our body helps us to be the best we can be – while learning and growing with nature.
From the time we first menstruate (around the ages of 10 to 12 for our modern generation of girls) women’s bodies have their own unique set of nutritional and health needs. For younger girls proper nutrition for growth and development is key, so too do their bodies need to properly adjust to and cope with the changes that come with monthly menstruation and the accompanying hormonal fluctuations.
For older girls and women as they move into their 20s, premenstrual symptoms can be their greatest battle – from breakout prone skin, to bloating, mood swings and breast tenderness – having a natural arsenal of herb, nutrients and supplements can help in the navigation of these symptoms for those who suffer.
Iron - Throughout your menstruating years, iron is a very important nutrient due to the loss of blood experienced through menstruation. Iron comes in red meat but can also be found in vegetables like spinach and pulses if eaten regularly and plentifully. For younger girls who first start to menstruate, if they have not been raised vegan or vegetarian, it is best to offer red meat as their primary iron source, or choose a good quality iron supplement that can be taken every few days to keep their iron stores in check. If vegan or vegetarian, it is often prudent to choose a good vegan iron supplement that can be taken every few days as well. With girls who are finicky eaters, this can be very important.
Evening Primrose Oil - Beneficial for reducing bloating and breast tenderness, Evening Primrose oil acts to reduce the inflammation in the body caused by hormonal fluctuations, particularly pre-menstrually. So if your jeans are a little cosier the week before your periods are due, or your bra starts to irritate you, Evening Primrose taken daily (3 capsules each day is the perfect amount), will help to reduce these symptoms. As an added bonus, Evening Primrose oil will also assist with period-related breakouts on your skin!
Magnesium - Beneficial for tense and sore muscles (the reality of premenstrual symptoms for many girls and women) Magnesium is also key for getting a hold of those chocolate cravings that occur during your premenstrual period. So, if you crave chocolate before or during your period, taking a magnesium supplement will not only help to stop those cravings, but also help with soreness and cramps associated with your periods. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to have a square or two of your favourite organic chocolate when premenstrual though, for the medicinal effect of good quality chocolate cannot be denied! (Chocolate itself is high in Magnesium, and one of the reason practitioners believe we crave it pre-menstrually).
During childbearing years our menstruation often becomes more stable as our focus turns to ovulation. Knowing what nutrients you need to carry a healthy and happy baby to term is extremely important, so you do what you can to enhance the wisdom of nature and help your baby thrive.
Bone supporting nutrients - Whereas we often hear about calcium for menopausal women it is also of the upmost importance for expectant mums. As your baby develops its own skeletal system, it draws the calcium from your body. So if you are not meeting your requirements nutritionally by eating 3-5 serves of calcium daily (from yoghurt, cheese, milk or non-dairy sources such as whole almonds or fish with edible bones), you may need a calcium supplement to prevent your bones from leaching calcium in a way that puts you at risk for osteoporosis relatively early in life (like in your 30s or 40s).
Folate - Found in green leafy vegetables, folate is an extremely important nutrient for you to consume before you get pregnant as well as throughout your pregnancy. Folate is a B group vitamin that has been found to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, or spina bifida, in your unborn child. Consuming folate at least 3 months in advance of getting pregnant is your best option, which means eating plenty of green leafy vegetables daily or taking a supplement that contains activated folate.
Crone - Following your childbearing years as your body starts to reduce its monthly cycles and move closer toward menopause, a number of symptoms can develop. Not unlike the symptoms experienced pre-menstrually due to hormonal fluctuations, the symptoms experienced during this pre-menopausal phase (also known as peri-menopause) can affect your moods, comfort levels and general state of wellbeing. For some women this phase lasts for a year or so, and as they move further into menopause (which comes when you haven’t experienced your period for at least a year). For others, more help is needed during menopause as hot flushes and sleeplessness join their peri-menopausal symptoms. But there is help, in the form of herbs and supplements that can help your body traverse this period in a more balanced and easy way.
The thing to know about herbal remedies for menopause is that all women are different and have a different spread of menopausal symptoms, which means each woman can benefit from a different combination of herbs – so be sure to talk to a herbalist or naturopath for your unique symptom picture.
Here are some suggestions on herbs that may help: