Eating to be fertile – how to optimise your fertility through your menstrual cycle.
Each phase of your menstrual cycle offers a unique opportunity to enhance your fertility health.
Throughout the 4 phases of your cycle, your body is constantly fluctuating in activity, metabolism, and hormone levels.
With all of these fluctuations, it requires frequent changes in the foods and nutrients being consumed.
If the required foods and nutrients aren’t provided in the right quantities, then things can start to go wrong, and the cycle begins to change it’s quality.
Hormone imbalance, ovulatory issues, or irregular cycles with shorter or longer phases may develop and cause a delay in ovulation and conception.
For thousands of years Chinese Fertility Medicine has put great emphasis on the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle, and the specific foods that can help or hinder it’s development and timing.
Today I’ll share some of this ancient knowledge with you, to give you a foundation from which to build a healthy cycle supporting diet.
The 4 Phases of Your Menstrual Cycle
Your cycle can be broken down into 4 separate phases, and each phase includes the following activities:
1. Menstruation – Your Period (The Follicular Phase)
This is where your body is shedding the Endometrium (womb lining) from the previous cycle and removing it from your body.
The reason for the shedding is to allow your womb to build a nice new lining, that’s healthy and nutritious for a possible future embryo to implant into.
2. Post Menstruation – from day 5 onwards (The Follicular Phase)
Once your period stops, or from day 5 onwards, your body begins to stimulate your ovaries and follicles, with Follicle Stimulating Hormone.
As they are stimulated, they grow and begin to release Estrogen, causing an increase in ‘Egg White’ Cervical Mucus. One follicle eventually becomes dominant, and will go on to be luteinised, by Luteinising Hormone, which will trigger ovulation and release the egg.
3. Ovulation – (The Luteal Phase)
Once the egg has been released and ovulation has occurred, then the old follicle that released the egg, becomes a Corpus Luteum. The Corpus Luteum produces a large increase in Progesterone that supports the Luteal phase of the cycle.
4. Post ovulation – after ovulation, up to your period (The Luteal Phase)
With elevated Progesterone levels there is also a good blood supply to the lining, which helps thicken it further.
The increase in warmth in your body from the Progesterone creates a positive environment for a possible fertilised egg (embryo) to try to implant itself in the womb lining. If this happens, then pregnancy is achieved.
Important Factors to Consider
Each of the 4 cycle phases has a specific nutrient and energy requirement, and this can be supported or hindered according to your dietary choices and habits.
For example: the Luteal phase (after ovulation) is a time of the cycle when your body is warming itself up, by releasing an increased amount of Progesterone, which is a warming hormone.
Whenever we need to warm our body, we require more than normal levels of energy and nutrients – just like a fire requires more wood, to generate more heat.
Eating regularly and more frequently, along with eating energy generating foods is really important at this delicate stage of the cycle, and it helps to generate more warmth.
A lack of warmth, due to an inability to produce Progesterone at the right levels, could reduce your chances of successful implantation and pregnancy.
Reducing food intake, skipping meals, and eating less than usual, during this cycle phase, can have a detrimental effect on your ability to produce Progesterone.
Over time this can lead to a deficiency of this vital hormone, which may result in a short Luteal phase, often with low body temperatures on the BBT chart. Pregnancy then becomes difficult, as the internal womb environment isn’t correct for the embryo to implant.
As I discussed in previous Fertility Road articles about diet, there are 4 important food groups to eat every day to support your fertility health.
To recap, the 4 food groups are:
Protein: Eggs, Fish and Meat, including red meat 3-4 times per week.
Starches: Grains, Nuts, Seeds, Beans, Pulses and Root Vegetables.
Fibre: Green and dark red leafy vegetables, such as kale and savoy cabbage.
Fats: Plant, Fish and Animal fats, which includes saturated fats for healthy hormone production and cholesterol balance.
Each of these groups should be eaten daily and will provide a regular and stable source of energy and nutrients. If you are vegetarian or vegan, the protein part of your diet will be harder for you to achieve, and it may be necessary to supplement with a high-level protein powder, and also a Vitamin B12 supplement.
Eating Through The 4 Phases
Phase 1: Menstruation
This phase is about circulating the blood, and encouraging a good flow. This is important for all women, and even more so if you suffer with issues such as Endometriosis, Fibroids, Painful Periods or Light or Short Periods.
The aim at this stage of the cycle is to gently support blood circulation, whilst also helping to protect your body from the blood loss.
Foods to Support Phase 1:
Protein: Chicken eggs, Prawns, Mussels, Crab, Beef, Lamb, Kidney.
Starches: Rice, Wheat germ, Buckwheat, Oats, Squash, Turnip, Pumpkin, Chestnut, Almond, Pine kernel, Carrot, Beetroot, Radish and Kohlrabi.
Fibre: Aubergine, Leek, Watercress, Onion, Chinese Cabbage, Pak choi, Leafy greens, Broccoli, Coriander, Mushroom, Chive, Fennel, Garlic.
Fruit: Plum, Cherry, Grapefruit, Lemon, Kumquat, Lychee, Mango, Orange, Peach.
Phase 2: Post Menstruation
With menstruation is completed, it’s vital for your body to recover from the blood loss. It does so by building new blood cells, and this can be strongly helped by specific foods. Building the blood quality helps to enhance hormone production, and circulation, and this helps to produce balanced levels of FSH, Estradiol and LH as you prepare for ovulation. This phase of the cycle is focused on nourishing the upcoming eggs, and helping them to mature, ready for one to be released.
Foods to Support Phase 2:
Protein: Chicken egg, Duck egg, Quail egg, Sardine, Oyster, Squid, Salmon, Mackerel, Trout, Beef Liver, Beef, Pork, Duck, Game Meats, Bone stock from – Chicken, Beef, Oxtail or Game bones.
Starches: Well-cooked beans and pulses – Kidney beans, Aduki beans, White beans, Black beans and Chinese black bean (fermented soy bean), Beetroot, Carrot, Parsnip, Barley, Rice, Corn, Turnip, Sesame seeds (black).
Fibre: Kale, Cavalo Nero, Watercress, Spinach, Spring greens, Green cabbage, Savoy cabbage, Red cabbage, Parsley, Basil, Broccoli, Beetroot greens, Chard, Asparagus.
Fruit: Tomato, Raisins, Blackberry, Raspberry, Blackcurrant, Fig, Red grapes, Black grapes, Dates.
Phase 3: Ovulation
By now your blood quality and fluid levels should have developed well, which help you to produce cervical mucus and prepare for ovulation.
All food and drinks from this point on should be cooked, and consumed warm or at room temperature.
Avoid all raw foods (salads, juices and smoothies), as they cool your body down and cause problems with the production of Progesterone. You are now entering the warm phase of your cycle and this needs special support.
Foods to Support Phase 3:
Protein: Crab, Prawns, Mussels, Chicken, Lamb, Beef, Chicken and Beef Kidney, Chicken liver, Bone broth – Chicken and Lamb bones.
Starches: Chestnut, Almond, Pine kernel, Buckwheat, Millet, Rice, Wheat germ, Carrot, Beetroot, Celeriac, Kohlrabi, Squash, Turnip, Pumpkin, Sweet potato.
Fibre: Aubergine, Leek, Watercress, Onion, Pak choi, Spring greens, Leafy greens, Red and Green cabbage, Broccoli, Fennel, Shitake mushroom, Chive, Garlic.
Fruit: Raspberry, Blackberry, Blackcurrant, Plum or prunes if not in season, Cherry, Lemon in warm water, Dried Mango, Dried figs and Rhubarb. Try to eat dried or cooked fruits where possible as they aren’t as cooling.
To optimise ovulation, please avoid the following moisture rich foods:
Milk, Cheese, Yoghurt, Eggs, Nuts & nut butters, Pasta and Refined starchy foods made from wheat and rye flour, Avocado, Cold foods and drinks from the fridge and all Raw foods Phase 4: Post Ovulation and Pre-period.
You’re now in the final phase of your cycle, and this is where implantation of an embryo can occur. The focus of your diet should be to nourish and build up your core energy. This will help your body to produce Progesterone more easily.
Continue to avoid the moistening and cooling foods as mentioned in phase 3, and eat only warm cooked meals. The same principle still applies to drinks, which should be room temperature or warm.
Foods to Support Phase 4:
Protein: Chicken egg, Goose egg, Quail egg, Sardine, Oyster, Squid, Chicken and Lambs liver, Lamb, Chicken, Beef, Venison, Game, Bone Stocks – chicken, beef, oxtail or game bones.
Starches: Rice, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Wheat germ, Millet, Beetroot, Pumpkin, Squash, White potato, Sweet potato, Lotus root, Taro root, Sesame seeds (white), Walnuts.
Fibre: Kale, Cavalo nero, Watercress, Broccoli, Red cabbage, Savoy cabbage, Spring greens, Leafy greens, Mustard greens, Alfalfa sprouts, Green beans.
Fruit: Blackberry, Raspberry, Blackcurrant, Fig, Red and Black grapes and Dates.
Once you are pregnant you can support your First Trimester by eating foods listed in Phase 4 (Post Ovulation). The focus should be on a slightly higher level of starches, along with frequent meals, and avoiding all cold and raw foods and drinks.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to diet in Chinese Fertility Medicine, and there are many other elements that you can build in to enhance your health.
Andrew is a world-leading Chinese medicine fertility expert, author and public speaker, and works with clients around the world through his treatment programme, The Baby Creating Plan. To claim a FREE copy of Andrew’s book The Ultimate Fertility Guide, go to: NaturalFertilityExpert.com