Diet and the Reproductive System

We all know that, during our menstrual cycle, our body tends to crave certain foods, typically fatty, salty and/or sweet. For most, the association between diet and the reproductive system stops here. Yet, food and your diet are intricately linked to your reproductive system. What you eat, or fail to eat, can increase or decrease your chances of getting pregnant, worsen your PMS symptoms and possibly even disrupt your menstrual cycle.

The Role of Hormones in PMS


Every month during ovulation, the pituitary gland in the brain signals the ovaries to produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones help to prepare the uterus in case of a pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, the hormone levels decrease and menstruation occurs. This increase in hormones helps to explain all the mysterious symptoms of PMS, including craving junk food and fat.

Unfortunately, though, eating all that junk food can actually make your PMS symptoms worse. Not to say that you shouldn't give in once in awhile. But it is important to make the right food choices, particularly when you have PMS, as eating healthy can help to beat those typical PMS symptoms, like fatigue and bloating. But reaching for the crisps more often than those carrots can do more than worsen PMS.

You Are What you Eat (or Don't Eat)


By eating a high-fat diet or starving yourself, you may be putting yourself at risk of developing some serious medical conditions, like amenorrhea (the absence of a period). According to British researchers, if you do not eat a healthy, nutritious diet with all the essential vitamins and minerals, your hormones levels can be seriously altered. Some theorise that an imbalanced diet actually causes deficiencies that lead to PMS.

Here are some basic dietary guidelines for you to follow during your period to help control your PMS and for better overall health:

  • Be sure to get enough calcium. Women need at least 1,200mg of calcium every day. Some good sources of calcium include low-fat milk, yogurt, broccoli and salmon.

  • If you do not drink milk, you can increase your calcium intake with soy or rice milk, tofu or kale. Look for fermented soy products as certain soy products contain phytoestrogens, which can mimic the natural estrogen found in your body, leading to reproductive health difficulties. Your fertility is significantly compromised if you have too much or too little estrogen in your body.

  • Eat more complex carbohydrates. If you are hungry, try eating whole grain breads, fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Keep well hydrated. Women lose up to 80 millitres of blood during a regular period, so you need to keep drinking water to replace your body's loss of fluid.

  • Increase magnesium in your diet. Foods rich in magnesium, like beans, tofu and peanuts, are thought to reduce bloating in menstruating women. Women should strive for 200mg per day.

  • Reach for the vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps to eliminate some PMS symptoms as well as aiding the circulatory system. Women need 8mg a day. Food with lots of vitamin E include avocado, egg yolk and liver.

  • Eat foods rich in vitamin B6, which aids in the metabolism of proteins and red blood cells and has been cited in numerous studies to relieve depression. Some vitamin B6 rich foods are potatoes, bananas and oatmeal. Women should try to get 100mg a day.

  • Make sure to get vitamin C and zinc, as these support the health of a woman's eggs and reproductive system.

Dieting is Not the Way to Go

If you're looking to lose weight, you may think that going on a crash diet will help you lose a lot of weight quickly. In fact, what you end up achieving is poor metabolism, gaining more weight, suffering from nutrition deficiency, damaging bodily organs and increasing your risk of osteoporosis. This is because severe restriction of calories leads to a lower metabolism as your body has a difficult time performing on low calorie intake. If you continue these poor eating habits over the long term, you will put on much more weight with fewer calories. As for your reproductive system, having too little bodily fat, caused by extreme dieting, can put a halt to your periods.

Failing to consume proper nutrients and vitamins such as iron, vitamin B12, sodium and potassium, can lead to some serious health issues. The electrolytes in sodium and potassium play an important role in the operation of your heart, muscles and nerves. If you deprive yourself of these electrolytes, you could have a heart attack.

Extreme nutrition deprivation, such as anorexia, can set you up for major health problems down the road. Without treatment, people with eating disorders are more likely to suffer a heart attack, infertility, osteoporosis, amenorrhea, damage to the esophagus, teeth, and stomach lining, and kidney failure among other complications.

What Foods to Limit for a Healthy Reproductive Cycle

So just what should you be getting less of? Here are some things that you should try to cut back on:

  • Decrease your sugar intake. Refined sugar, the kind found in cakes, chocolate and baked goods, not only make you gain weight but can disrupt your body's blood sugar levels. They will initially give you energy but later on you will suffer from an abrupt crash, and even more fatigue.
  • Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, chocolate and fizzy drinks, causes heightened anxiety and leads to sleep disruption. Caffeine also contributes to decreased female and male infertility.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking wreaks havoc on your health. Although smoking is unhealthy for both men and women, it does particular damage to a woman's body. Smoking can disrupt the female menstrual cycle, causing a woman to lose her period and develop menopause earlier. A female smoker decreases her fertility by 25%, has more wrinkles, diminishes the density of her bones, and increases her risk of heart attack or stroke (especially if she is over 35 and on birth control). The 4000 chemicals present in cigarette smoke weaken your sense of touch and smell, increases the risk of gum and heart disease, various types of cancer, ulcers and blindness.
  • Avoid alcohol, which is a depressant, and often makes PMS symptoms worse. Alcohol decreases your chances of becoming pregnant by 50%. Men that drink too much reduce the number and quality of their sperm.
  • Be vigilant against the pesticides and environmental contaminants that may be found on fruits, vegetables and water. Rinse all produce thoroughly to avoid xenoestrogens, estrogens that are present in environmental chemicals and other contaminants. Xenoestrogens can cause imbalanced hormones. Know where your water is coming from and what chemicals are present in it.
  • Do not consume large amounts of artificial sweetener. Although there has been a great deal of debate, studies have found that artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, may be linked to cancer and weight gain.

Get Yourself Moving!

You are equipped with all the information you need about nutrition and diet, now all you have to do is get up and move! Daily activity is an indispensable tool for good health. Exercise is not only fun and a great way to socialize, it is also an excellent way to strengthen your fertility and reproductive health. Regular exercise (as in being active at least three times a week) is essential to regulating your hormonal levels and increasing your metabolism, which will contribute to maintaining a healthy weight.

You should combine cardiovascular exercise, like walking or swimming, with weight training to see the best results. Getting a cardio workout will help get your blood pumping throughout your body, including your reproductive system, while weight training will aid your body in getting stronger and being more capable of carrying a pregnancy.

But before you get too carried away with your new fitness routine, keep in mind that excess exercise can actually have the opposite affect on your fertility. If you lose too much weight and your body fat dips below 22%, there is a good chance your periods and ovulation cycle will stop. While many women want to be lean, it's important to remember that having some body fat is healthy and necessary to keep your body running.

On the other hand, having too much body fat can also be problematic, as fat cells produce estrogen. If you have too many fat cells, there's a good change you'll have too much estrogen floating around in your system. This can also negatively impact your reproductive system and menstrual cycles. By adopting a fitness routine and following a healthy diet that suits your lifestyle, though, you can help regulate your hormones and keep everything running smoothly.

If you are new to exercise, you might want to get involved with a group activity or join a casual sports club. Try out some fitness classes or ask a friend to join you for a daily walk. Working out with a partner is a great way to stay interested and motivated in exercise. Better yet, ask your partner to workout with you. Not only can you both get in better shape and motivate each other, but you can also both improve your fertility health.

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