I’ve said it over and over: It’s a myth that your period week is a lousy week–and, in fact, your period week can be great!
That’s because a few hours after you start to bleed, estrogen begins to rise after having reached its lowest point–and the higher this hormone climbs, the more it revs your mood, outlook, optimism, confidence, resilience, self-esteem and overall positivity.
So, what happens if you’re not experiencing this surge in good feelings as your period week (which is Week 1 of your monthly cycle) goes on?
It can be due to three factors–and each are fixable:
- Your pain level. If you get menstrual cramps, migraines or other kinds of cycle-related pain, this will obviously impact your mood. That’s just the way pain works; if you had any other kind of ache, such as stubbed your toe or sprained back, you wouldn’t be as cheery as you might normally be.
- Your energy level. It’s normal to have less energy during the first few days of your period due to low estrogen plus bleeding, which reduces levels of iron–a mineral the body needs for energy. Because fatigue makes it difficult to get through regular daily tasks, let alone handle what extra challenges life throws at you, it can dampen your mood.
- Your personal sensitivity to rising estrogen. Which day of your cycle good vibes start kicking in varies from woman to woman. Some women get a surge in positivity shortly after their period arrives. Others get it a few days after. Still others don’t notice an improvement until the end of this cycle week.This is due to how quickly your brain responds to rising estrogen—which is your personal hormone sensitivity. When you’re sensitive to an increase in this hormone, your brain quickly starts pumping out higher levels of mood-managing chemicals, most notably serotonin. When you’re less sensitive, it takes longer for your brain to respond, so you either have a slower improvement in mood or you could feel blue, anxious or irritable until levels of mood-moderating brain chemicals finally rise.
Easy fixes for a faster mood boost
As I said above, you can have a great period week–even if you have any of these challenges. That’s because most times they can be dealt with. Here’s how:
First, let’s talk about pain. The most common types of period-related pain are menstrual cramps and migraines.
I’ve written extensively about natural remedies (and tweaks to over-the-counter meds, such as taking ibuprofen on the days leading up to your period) to ease menstrual cramp pain in my blog here.
And, I’ve reported on many migraine treatments in my blog here.
Don’t just put up with the discomfort and try to power through. Check out the remedies I’ve written about or try your own to get relief. When you work on getting your pain under control with the right treatment or constellation of treatments, you experience a far greater boost in mood and gain more mental clarity (because pain is pretty distracting) throughout your entire period week.
Now let’s discuss period-related fatigue.
The two key culprits behind period-related fatigue are low estrogen and low iron.
There’s nothing you can do about low estrogen. Estrogen is going to take its sweet time climbing up. You just have to be patient.
However, you can do something about the iron situation.
Your body’s level of iron naturally drops during menstruation because you lose this mineral in your blood. The problem is that when you become deficient in this mineral, it drags down your energy. That’s because iron is needed to help transport energizing oxygen in the blood throughout your brain and body. Without it, you get lethargic and foggy-headed.
It doesn’t even take a major drop in iron to trigger tiredness. Research shows that women whose iron is still above the range that’s anemic (iron that’s low enough to be considered a medical condition) can still experience side effects from a drop in iron during menstruation.
This means that whether you have a heavy, medium or light flow, you can still be at risk of low iron if you’re not getting enough from your diet or supplements every day of your cycle. (I’ll get into more detail about this down below.)
Now let’s talk about mood.
I mentioned above how personal sensitivity to rising estrogen can determine how quickly your hormone-fueled good mood kicks in because it determines how quickly your brain’s serotonin level rises.
Well, you can actually help your brain create more mood-boosting serotonin during your period week so that you get mood boost faster–and to do that, we’re going to circle back to iron.
Iron doesn’t only affect fatigue. When your body’s store of this mineral gets low, it can trigger sadness, anxiety and/or irritability. That’s because iron helps produce serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood. This is the same brain chemical that gets low during your premenstrual week due to dropping levels of estrogen. So, the faster you help this brain chemical rebound, the faster you’ll see mood-lifting results.
Ironing out your mood
Fortunately, getting your iron into the normal range–and keeping it there during menstruation–is fairly easy: On every day of your entire cycle–not just during your period week–either increase your intake of iron-rich foods (such as fortified cereal, lean beef, beans, tofu and leafy green vegetables) or take a multivitamin with iron.
It may take more than one cycle to see a difference. Often normalizing nutrients in your system can take up to three cycles, so patience is key.
The recommended daily intake for women ages 19 to 50 who have regular monthly cycles is 18 mg. Don’t bother taking a supplement with more than that amount to try to speed or enhance the results since excess supplemental iron can be harmful.
Also, keep in mind that some people can’t metabolize iron correctly, so talk with your doctor before boosting your iron intake through diet or vitamins. You can learn more about iron here.
Bonus: Iron reduces premenstrual symptoms
Want one more reason to keep your iron levels from dipping? A 10-year study of 3,000 women in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that women who upped their daily intake of non-heme iron–which is iron from supplements and non-meat food sources–were up to 40% less likely to experience premenstrual symptoms.
The researchers believe it’s because of iron’s serotonin-boosting ability, which counters a drop in serotonin in your pre-period days.
Tips for taking iron
Iron can be a tricky mineral for your body to absorb, which means you could be increasing your intake of iron-rich foods or taking iron supplements and still not seeing a difference in mood or energy. So, here are a few tips to get the most out of this mineral:
If you’re getting your iron from plant-based sources (such as spinach), pair it with a food rich in vitamin C (such as bell peppers) or an animal-based iron source (such as lean beef) since these help your body absorb more of it.
Some compounds in beverages, supplements, medicines and foods limit the absorption of iron in your system. So, wait two hours before drinking milk, tea, coffee or cocoa, taking calcium or antacids or eating eggs or whole grains when taking an iron supplement.
Have trouble getting enough iron from your diet and want to take a supplement? Be sure to take it with a full glass of water or food to avoid stomach upset. Or, opt for iron-fortified foods (such as Multi Grain Cheerios cereal) that deliver a full day’s dose in one serving.
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