An introduction to periods and cravings
Food cravings can be a particularly frustrating symptom of menstrual periods. Many women commonly crave sweet treats or stodgy carbohydrates. However, what many women don’t understand is that giving into such cravings can actually make some of your other symptoms worse! It can be a vicious cycle – gorge on treats packed with refined sugar and you risk throwing your blood sugar levels off even further, and salty, processed foods can make your bloated tum a whole lot worse!
On this page I discuss the reasons why you might be experiencing food cravings and how you can tackle them with a range of dietary and lifestyle interventions and herbal remedies.
How can your period cause cravings?
The causes of cravings around the time of your period aren’t completely understood but there are a number of theories that exist:
- Hormones! – These are most definitely the main cause behind many symptoms of periods and cravings are no exception. Oestrogen dominance is thought to have a part to play in food cravings, so if you typically suffer from very heavy, painful periods, alongside your food cravings, this could be why. Fluctuating sex hormones can also temporarily affect your sensitivity to insulin, and this can have an impact on your blood sugar regulation which can result in cravings. Falling sex hormone levels can also impact other hormones: serotonin levels are thought to fall in the lead up to your period and cortisol levels can creep up. Serotonin is important for mood – mood swings are another common pre-menstrual symptom and comfort food can suddenly seem much more appealing if you are feeling a bit down (carbohydrates cause a short-term boost in serotonin so this could suggest why you often opt for sweet and stodgy options). Cortisol is a stress hormone and higher levels could make you more inclined to make poor food choices.
- Deficiencies in minerals – Falling levels of oestrogen can also affect the uptake and utilisation of magnesium, therefore around the time of your period the effects of magnesium can become blunted and it is possible that you crave chocolate, for example, (another particularly common craving) in a bid to up your magnesium levels – cocoa beans are an extremely rich source of magnesium. Low levels of chromium can also be problematic as this important mineral helps with blood glucose regulation – unstable blood sugar can mean cravings are more likely
- The need for energy – In some cases cravings can actually be a sign your body is crying out for help – it needs energy! Menstruation can be quite a taxing time for your body, hormones are running haywire and you are expending energy as your body prepares you for menstruation. Sugary, fat-laden foods are a rich source of calories and your body often needs some energy fast! However, there are more substantial, healthier alternatives that will provide your body with the energy it needs whilst keeping pesky cravings at bay.
Dietary and lifestyle factors
There are some useful dietary and lifestyle changes that you can make in order to help keep your cravings at bay:
- Eat more complex carbohydrates and protein – Although the refined carbohydrates might be calling your name, these will only make you blood sugar issues worse – your risk causing your blood glucose to spike, followed by a crash which will only lead to more cravings. Instead, include sources of complex carbohydrates such as brown varieties of rice or pasta. These have a lower glycaemic index which means they have a less severe effect on your blood glucose. Also, by including healthy fats and protein in every meal you can help to slow the release of glucose into your blood and you will also be left feeling fuller for longer! Feeling satisfied means cravings are less likely to crop up
- Eat little and often – Ending up feeling ravenous should be avoided (this is when you are most likely to make poor food choices), I suggest you eat little and often and don’t skip meals! Eat your three meals a day and top up with healthy snacks, such as a handful of nuts or seeds, in between in order to manage your cravings
- Avoid caffeine – Caffeine activates your sympathetic nervous system which can leave you feeling anxious and stressed, not to mention the disturbing ability it has to disrupt your blood glucose levels: both of which, as we know, can give rise to food cravings. Switch your tea or coffee for a herbal tea or coffee alternative and you could really feel the difference. Also, beware of salt cravings too as this can signal that your adrenals are under pressure which can be a result of excess caffeine or stress
- Distract your mind – Very often cravings are partly psychological, especially if you expect one to show up at a certain point in the month, you’re almost waiting for it! Distract yourself, for example with some gentle exercise or by reading a good book. Exercise and doing things you enjoy can help increase your levels of serotonin, and these can make you feel happy in the same way a chocolate bar does – but the effects last much longer! Also, being thirsty can be mistaken for hunger so always have a glass of water first to ensure your body isn’t just crying out for some water!
Herbal remedies to help
If you are struggling with specific food cravings there are some herbal recipes which can help.
Often, typical symptoms of PMS including food cravings, mood swings, water retention, sore breasts and heavy, painful periods are a sign of oestrogen dominance. Agnus castus is a licensed herbal remedy which helps to gently support your hormone levels and relieve symptoms of PMS. Please note, if you are taking hormonal contraceptives such as the pill, hormone-balancing herbal remedies may not be suitable for you.
Problems residing in the gut can often exacerbate food cravings. Molkosan is rich in gut friendly L+ lactic acid and helps to support the environment of the gut. A healthy gut supports the proper metabolism of sugars and starches from your food which can help regulate your blood sugar levels.This can be especially helpful if you struggle with sugar cravings.
Finally, a flower remedy such as Craving Essence can be beneficial if the mental burden of cravings is an issue.
How can my doctor help?
If your cravings are severe and dietary and lifestyle changes aren’t helping, your doctor can carry out further investigations in an attempt to get to the root of the problem.
Hormonal contraceptives may be necessary if a hormone imbalance is the root cause and if anxiety, stress or other psychological issues are apparent, appropriate treatments can be discussed as necessary.