The menstrual cycle is a healthy life function that occurs for around 40 years of a woman’s life. Over 20% of the world’s population menstruates every month . Despite being an important part of reproductive health, most women would be happy to avoid its physical and mental symptoms like cramp, lethargy and low mood during period. The hormones that support your reproductive health, like oestrogen and progesterone also influence your brain health. Learning how they work can help you understand your period brain and the link between periods and mental health. This can help you navigate your cycle better and take control of how you feel on those days.
How do your reproductive hormones influence your brain?
Mood and sleep
Your happiness brain chemical is serotonin. It is made from a protein building block, tryptophan, found in protein rich foods. Oestrogen increases the production of the chemical that converts tryptophan to serotonin . Along with progesterone, it helps serotonin to be available for longer to perform its function. This is one reason why you feel low during certain days of your cycle, depending on the levels of these hormones. At night, serotonin is converted to your sleep hormone, melatonin. Low serotonin leads to low melatonin which can disrupt sleep. That may make you feel tired during your periods.
Relaxation and de-stress
Your relaxing brain chemical, GABA, is influenced by progesterone. High progesterone levels promote higher production of GABA in healthy women. In women with period-related mood disorders, low mood is seen even when GABA levels are high due to brain cells being less sensitive to GABA’s presence . GABA also influences the way you handle stress. Feeling irritated and anxious during your period can be attributed to low levels of GABA.
Memory and attention
Reproductive hormones also take part in production of new brain cells and improving connections between cells . This influence on structure of brain cells impacts cognitive skills like memory and attention. Brain scans show that post-period times have higher volumes of brain cells that carry information and help in learning and memory . This is one reason why your brain feels “fuzzy” during your periods when these hormones are low.
What happens in your brain during periods?
Your period comprises of 2 main phases :
- The follicular phase is the first half of your cycle, during which oestrogen starts to rise steadily and peaks just before ovulation, when the egg is released. This phase ends at ovulation where oestrogen starts a decline.
- The release of egg produces high amounts of progesterone. This begins the luteal phase. Oestrogen levels are lower compared to the first phase. There is a downhill trend of oestrogen and progesterone as you approach your periods. The luteal phase ends with periods, during which oestrogen and progesterone both decrease and remain low for a few days.
The symptoms of low mood, fatigue, feeling stressed and having difficulties concentrating during your periods is due to low levels of both oestrogen and progesterone. Attention and memory tests scores are lower during luteal phase due to downward trend in these hormones . There are many scientifically proven changes you can employ to help decrease these symptoms to feel better on your periods.
What should I eat on my period to feel my best?
- To improve mood and sleep, boost your serotonin levels. Ensure adequate intake of tryptophan rich foods like tofu, mozzarella cheese, chia seeds, beef etc to increase serotonin production. Tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP which is then converted to serotonin. Taking 5-HTP directly is a shortcut way to make serotonin, regardless of oestrogen levels. Try 100mg 5-htp to easily and safely increase serotonin levels whenever you feel the need. Read more here. Having sufficient serotonin will allow its conversion to melatonin at night and help you sleep better and wake up refreshed.
- To feel more relaxed and de-stress, increase your GABA levels. Performing yoga for an hour, 3 times a week can raise GABA levels by 13%-27% . An easier way is to increase intake of a nutrient extracted from green tea called L-theanine. It increases the relative concentration of GABA and helps you feel relaxed within 30 minutes, without making you feel sleepy. Try 250 mg L-theanine is extracted from green tea which provides L-theanine equivalent to 15-20 cups of green tea. Browse natural theanine from only £15.99. Additional 15% off your 1st order using code NEW15. It can also reduce stress levels, as seen from the results of 15 years of research which found that regular intake of 200-400mg L-theanine had a stress reducing and calming effect 
- To focus and learn better, increase your levels of your memory and learning brain chemical, acetylcholine. It is made from a nutrient called choline found in foods like egg yolk, soy, and liver. Its supplemental form, Alpha GPC, is one of the best sources because it increases acetylcholine levels within 3 hours in your learning and memory area . Beat “fuzzy” period brain with higher levels of acetylcholine so you can regain your laser sharp focus in whatever you do. The world’s 1st capsule containing 99% Alpha GPC, provides 500 mg Alpha GPC dosage to pump up your acetylcholine levels. Read more about it here
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