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Chopping vegetables with knife

The best nutrients for women’s hormonal health

Discover the essentials for staying in balance throughout your life

Everyone needs a healthy diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. But for women, there are some key nutrients that play an important role in keeping hormones happy.

And even if you think you have a balanced diet, it’s easy to miss out on the right levels of these essential vitamins and minerals for female hormones.

Magnesium for good hormonal health

Magnesium, found in greens, nuts, beans and wholegrains, is a bit of a PMS superstar. A 2010 study by researchers at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Iran found that taking a supplement of 300mg of magnesium can help ease PMS, when it’s taken alongside vitamin B6.

It’s thought magnesium has a relaxing effect on the muscles which can help soothe symptoms like cramps and breast tenderness.

Unfortunately, it’s very common to have a magnesium deficiency without realising. One reason is that a boozy or stressful lifestyle, strenuous exercise and overdoing it on the caffeine are all linked to reduced absorption of the mineral. Pregnancy, insulin resistance, heavy periods and HRT can also lead to magnesium deficiency.

Absorption of magnesium also depends on other nutrients – if you’re low in B6 or vitamin D, or you take too much vitamin D or calcium, for example, you may be upsetting the delicate balance of magnesium in your body.

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Iron and women’s health

Heavy periods and PMS? The first is a common cause of iron deficiency, while the second may be a result of it, according to a 2013 study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers studied around 117,000 American nurses aged between 25 and 42 years, and found that women getting more iron from plant sources, like green leafy vegetables, had a lower risk of PMS.

A lack of iron can cause iron-deficiency anaemia, resulting in symptoms including tiredness, breathlessness and pale skin. It often affects women who have heavy periods and can also be an issue during pregnancy. It can cause complications before and after birth too.

Top up your levels by tucking into green leafy veg, pulses, lean red meat and fortified cereals.

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Why calcium is crucial for women

Calcium is essential for healthy bones, particularly after the menopause when you lose the bone-protective effects of oestrogen. But did you know calcium may also help reduce PMS?

A study published in Obstetrics & Gynaecology Science in 2017 found that calcium supplements of between 500mg and 1000mg daily can ease PMS symptoms. Calcium may be especially important for levelling out the mood swings that can be linked with PMS.

Good food sources of calcium include green leafy veg, milk, cheese, tinned fish with bones, calcium-fortified juice, and bread.

Folic acid for pregnancy and beyond

Folate, or folic acid – found in leafy greens, brown rice and granary bread – is crucial if you’re thinking about trying for a baby, as it’s needed for preventing birth defects such as spina bifida.

And it may help you become pregnant in the first place. A 2012 study, published in the journal PLOS One, found that a folic acid supplement may help you conceive by raising progesterone levels and regulating ovulation, although the researchers concluded more studies are needed.

Folic acid supplements could also help balance out hormones as you age by reducing menopausal hot flushes. Researchers think that folate affects the neurotransmitters that are involved in triggering hot flushes.

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How B6 beats PMS

Tearful before your period arrives? A study by Keele University found taking 50mg of vitamin B6 once or twice a day could help soothe PMS-related mood dips, along with other symptoms.

The vitamin, also known as pyridoxine, probably helps because it has a role in producing the chemical messengers that carry information between brain cells, including ‘feel good’ serotonin.

Healthy food sources of vitamin B6 include porridge oats, brown rice, eggs and soya beans.

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Think about zinc

Think zinc for low mood and period pain – women with low levels of the mineral may be more likely to experience PMS. It’s thought this could be because zinc is linked with brain function.

Zinc is important for fertility too. In 2005, Iraqi researchers discovered that women with unexplained infertility had low zinc levels. These women also had high copper levels, which affects the ovulation process. Taking zinc supplements could bring the body back into balance, leading the team to conclude that zinc ‘may be beneficial and might give a promise in this respect’.

Top up your zinc levels by eating bread, wheatgerm, dairy, meat and shellfish, which are all useful sources.

Shop Vitamins & Supplements Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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