Boost Libido With Banana Bread
Monthly ups and downs in sex hormones -- and the estrogen shortfalls that strike after menopause -- can stall blood flow to the genitals, leading to disappointing lulls in arousal and vaginal lubrication, explains Mary Jane Minkin, M.D. and professor of gynecology at Yale University. But studies show smelling banana bread increases pelvic blood flow as much as 40 percent in 10 minutes (whether or not you eat the bread!). Researchers aren’t sure yet why, but studies have shown that this enticing smell actually switches on the arousal center in the brain, explains Alan Hirsch, M.D., neurological director of Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation.
Lighten Heavy Periods With Beef
It’s a vicious cycle: Heavy periods can flush out the body’s stores of iron, resulting in anemia -- and this condition can make uterine blood vessels more fragile, triggering even heavier periods, say researchers at Harvard Medical School. The good news? Up to 55 percent of women can break this cycle and lighten their periods within three months, just by restocking their body’s depleted iron stores, say UCLA researchers. So, enjoy 4 ounces of iron-rich beef, pork or chicken daily -- or if you prefer vegetarian fare, pair your cereals, breads and other grains with acidic foods, like citrus or berries. The iron found in grains is tougher to absorb, but Tufts researchers say ramping up the acidity in your tummy will double your ability to soak up this type of iron.
Prevent Pelvic Pain With Mineral Water
One in five women struggle with throbbing pelvic pain during their periods -- and one of the top triggers is a magnesium deficiency, explains nutrition researcher Carolyn Dean, M.D., author of Hormone Balance. “Magnesium is essential for relaxing muscles, reducing inflammation, soothing the nervous system and preventing pain flare-ups during menstruation -- yet the magnesium content of a particular food can vary wildly, depending upon the type of soil it’s grown in,” explains Dr. Dean. Fortunately, studies at Duke University and elsewhere suggest that the magnesium found naturally in mineral water is so quickly and easily absorbed, just sipping two 12 ounce glasses daily can help correct this mineral shortfall, easing pelvic aches in as little as two months.
Make Menstrual Migraines a Memory With Veggies
The likelihood of a headache skyrockets 71 percent during menstruation (blame a sudden dip in estrogen, which kick-starts inflammation inside brain nerves and blood vessels). Worse still, menstrual migraines are often three times more severe than the ones that flare at other times of the month, say Yale researchers. But add two heaping cups of veggies (any kind) to your daily diet, and your migraine attacks could end up being 66 percent shorter and less painful within three months, say doctors at California’s Loma Linda University. That’s because these healthy, filling picks are packed with the nutrients needed to help brain nerves and blood vessels function properly, even as hormone levels fluctuate wildly, explains Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C. “Plus they’re naturally low in fat, a proven migraine trigger.”
Prevent Irritability With Baked Potatoes
Period-triggered hormone surges wreak havoc on the functioning of brain cells, dampening their ability to produce the mood-boosting hormone serotonin -- and that can double your risk of irritability and anxiety at a time when what you’re craving is some zen-like calm! The tasty Rx: Enjoy one medium baked potato daily during your high-risk time of the month. This filling treat will soothe your jangled nerves within 10 minutes --and help you feel calmer for up to six hours straight, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These experts credit the compund tryptophan, found natually in potatoes. This amino acid is the key building block needed to produce serotonin in the brain.
Cool Hot Flashes With Flax
If it’s been a while since you had monthly periods, you’re not off the hook. Drought-like lows in estrogen can tamper with your brain’s temperature regulating system, kick-starting a seemingly endless series of hot flashes and night sweats. The cooling news: Eating 1/4 cup of ground flax daily significantly reduced hot flashes and night sweats for 66 percent of women in one Mayo Clinic study. Bonus: It helps ease vaginal dryness within three months, and it can cut your risk of mood swings and depression in half. Flax’s secret: It’s rich in mild, natural plant estrogens that fill in when a woman’s hormone levels dip too low, say UCLA researchers. Flaxseeds are available whole or pre-ground in health food stores. Just sprinkle them on cereal, yogurt, soups and salads, or add to your favorite smoothie or bread recipes.
Beat Blue Moods With Whole Grains
There are lots of low-carb diets floating around out there, but Georgetown University studies suggest that for women prone to monthly bouts of the blues, these protein-heavy plans can make their emotional turmoil even worse. The problem, say the study authors: Whole grains are packed with the B vitamins, minerals and complex carbs that your brain needs to fire up production of mood-lifting hormones, such as dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. So slogging along on a low-carb plan means that when your moods start to nose-dive premenstrually, your brain can’t produce the hormones it needs to chase away the blues and help you feel upbeat, says Dr. Barnard. But enjoy three servings of 100 percent whole grain breads or other carbs daily, and you could cut your risk of blue moods by as much as half.
Banish Menstrual Bloating With Nuts
Menstrual bloating affects about 60 percent of women every month, say Yale University researchers. The reason: Blame a troublesome group of hormones called inflammatory prostaglandins. Monthly ups and downs in estrogen fire up the immune system’s production of these compounds, which then circulate all through your body, signaling your tissues to soak up excess fluids instead of excreting them, says Dr. Minkin. However, enjoy half a cup of nuts (any type will do) daily, and you could cut your bloating by as much as half, say UCLA researchers. Nuts are packed with alpha-linolenic acid and vitamin E, potent, natural, anti-inflammatories that dial down the formation of prostaglandins, keeping fluid retention lower all month long.
Avoid Acne Flare-ups With Fortified Cereal
At least one in four women battle unsightly acne breakouts during their periods, say dermatologists at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. The trigger: Cyclical surges in testosterone, a hormone that ramps up oil production and fosters bacterial growth deep in pores. To prevent this problem, try switching to a fortified cereal like Total Raisin Bran or Total Corn Flakes, instead. Each serving contains 15 milligrams of zinc, a mineral that speeds the growth of healthy new skin cells, kills bacteria and helps normalize testosterone production. In fact, adding zinc-fortified foods to your daily diet can help heal breakouts, prevent future flare-ups, clearing skin in as little as three months, say Yale University researchers.
Cure Cramps With Yogurt
The average woman gets roughly 750 milligrams of calcium in her daily diet -- yet bumping that up to 1,200 milligrams daily could cut the intensity of your menstrual cramps in half within three months, say researchers at New York’s St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. How? Inflammatory prostaglandins, the troublemakers that cause menstrual bloating, trigger these painful uterine spasms. But calcium acts as a powerful muscle soother, keeping pelvic muscles relaxed, even when prostaglandins are at their monthly peak, say the study authors. Luckily, a heaping cup of yogurt each day can make up for any shortfall -- it’s packed with 450 milligrams of this essential mineral!
Fight Severe PMS With Fish Oil
Eating eight ounces of fish three times weekly reduces even debilitating monthly mood swings and pain flare-ups (the kind caused by the most severe form of PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder) for up to 68 percent of women, according to researchers at Ohio’s Children’s Hospital. Bonus: Experts at the Inflammation Research Foundation in Marblehead, MA, say it can also cut the risk of menopause-triggered depression in half. The credit goes to fish’s omega-3 fatty acids. These anti-inflammatory fats dampen production of pain-triggering compounds called prostaglandins, plus they increase your brain levels of antidepressant hormones, so you can weather monthly hormone fluxes symptom-free, explains Barry Sears, M.D., president of the Inflammation Research Foundation. Don’t enjoy fish? Taking 2,000 milligrams of fish oil daily can provide the same symptom-soothing effect.
Prevent Spotting With Soy
Experience regular spotting between periods? According to researchers in the department of medicine at Canada’s University of British Columbia, one in 10 women do -- and it can make each month feel like an unending period. Thankfully, a study at Japan’s Gifu University School of Medicine suggests that for premenopausal women struggling with lots of spotting, noshing one ounce of soy nuts (or 1/2 cup edamame) daily can give them four more period-free days every month. The credit goes to soy’s isoflavones. These gentle plant estrogens not only help control the temperature-regulating center in the brain, they also latch onto cells in the reproductive tract, nourishing the uterine lining and keeping it intact until your period begins.
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