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Luteal Phase – Headaches, Cramping and GI Issues


Coach Caron continues her series on training and the female cycle.

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As we continue to look at the high hormone phase of the menstrual cycle, we focus our attention on some of the more common premenstrual symptoms women experience as we near day 1 of our cycle and a return to the Follicular Phase.

Many women experience headaches, particularly migraines with the drop in estrogen right before the start of their menstrual cycle. These headaches are generally brought on by a change in blood pressure and the sudden dilation and constriction of the blood vessels. The best way to prevent these headaches is to stay hydrated and to eat more foods that are rich in nitric oxides (N.O.) such as beets, pomegranate, watermelon, citrus fruits, dark chocolate and leafy greens such as spinach in the days leading up to the start of your period. These N.O. rich foods will promote dilation and help to reduce the severity of the blood pressure shifts.  

The most common premenstrual symptom experienced by women is cramping. Your body prepares to shed the lining of your uterus, a process that is driven by the release of the hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins make your uterus contract so that it can expel its lining. This can be uncomfortable or downright painful for most women. 

There are a few things women can do in the 5 to 7 days before your period which can reduce the effect of cramp-causing chemicals, specifically PE-2, which is an estrogen-mediated prostaglandin. Taking magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids and low-dose 80-milligram aspirin for those 5 to 7 days can reduce the severity. While most women rely on ibuprofen to relieve cramping, aspirin actually suppresses the production of prostaglandins irreversibly, whereas ibuprofen is reversible. 

The prostaglandins that cause uterine contractions can have similar effects on other smooth muscles of the body if you make more than what you need. Excess prostaglandins can float around your body and trigger the smooth muscles in your GI (such as your bowels) to contract, this can cause GI issues such as gas and diarrhea when your period starts. In some extreme cases, they can also cause nausea and vomiting. Following the same anti-cramping strategies above will help you to mitigate the GI issues caused by prostaglandins as well.