Over the past few weeks, I’ve been receiving quite a few emails from women who are disappointed that after their period ends, they’re tired, blue, anxious or foggy rather than energized, happy, confident and clear-headed like rising estrogen should be making them on these days of their monthly cycle.
And they want to know what’s wrong–and, more importantly, how they can get those rising estrogen benefits to kick in.
Low iron = low mood and energy
The most common reason for the delay in good vibes from rising estrogen after menstruation is low iron.
During your period, your body sheds iron in the blood you lose. This makes your body’s store of iron dip. And if your iron gets too low, it can trigger fatigue, sadness, anxiety or mental fogginess.
That’s because this essential mineral helps add oxygen to the blood, which energizes your brain and body and helps them function at their best.
Iron also helps produce serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood.
It doesn’t take a big drop in iron to trigger tiredness, sadness and other symptoms. Research shows that women whose iron is still above the range that’s anemic (iron that’s low enough to be considered a medical condition) can still experience side effects from a drop in iron during menstruation.
The easy fix
Fortunately, getting your iron back to normal is fairly easy: During your entire cycle–not just during menstruation–either increase your intake of iron-rich foods (such as fortified cereal, lean beef, beans, tofu and leafy green vegetables) or take a multivitamin with iron.
It may take more than one cycle to see a difference. Often normalizing nutrients in your system can take up to three cycles, so patience is key.
Also important: Don’t overdo it: 18 mg. is all the iron a woman from the age of 19 to 50 with menstrual cycles needs daily. Taking more than through supplements to try to speed or enhance the results can be harmful.
Keep in mind that some people can’t metabolize iron correctly, so talk with your doctor before starting an iron regimen. You can learn more about iron here.
Bonus: Iron also reduces premenstrual symptoms
Want one more reason to keep your iron levels from dipping? A 10-year study of 3,000 women in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that women who upped their daily intake of non-heme iron–which is iron from supplements and non-meat food sources–were up to 40% less likely to experience premenstrual symptoms.
The researchers believe it’s due to the way iron helps produce serotonin–a brain chemical that gets low in your premenstrual days, contributing to irritation, depression and moodiness.
Tips for taking iron
Iron can be a tricky mineral for your body to absorb, which means you could be increasing your intake of iron-rich foods or taking iron supplements and still not seeing a difference in mood or energy. So, here are a few tips to get the most out of this mineral:
If you’re getting your iron from plant-based sources (such as spinach), pair it with a food rich in vitamin C (such as bell peppers) or an animal-based iron source (such as lean beef) since these help your body absorb more non-heme iron.
Some compounds in beverages, supplements, medicines and foods limit the absorption of iron in your system. So, wait two hours before drinking milk, tea, coffee or cocoa, taking calcium or antacids or eating eggs or whole grains when taking an iron supplement.
Take iron supplements with a full glass of water or food to avoid stomach upset.
Still feel anxiety after menstruation?
While one side effect of low iron is a racing heart and other anxiety symptoms, if you notice that you’re still experiencing anxiety after menstruation, it may be because you’re more sensitive to this hormonal effect. As estrogen rises during your Week 1 and Week 2 (the first half of your cycle), it can trigger more arousal in the brain and nervous system, which in some women can lead to anxiety symptoms. I’m one of these women. I get a racing heart out of the blue right at the end of every period.
So, what can you do? If you realize you’re more sensitive to rising estrogen’s anxiety-triggering effect, have anxiety-busters ready to use on these days. I use deep, slow meditative breathing or moderate exercise, such as brisk walks. You can also use yoga, chamomile tea, relaxing visual imagery, listening to slow-tempo music and talking with a friend. All are study-proven ways to trigger brain chemicals and/or hormones that relax you.
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Gabrielle Lichterman launched the growing movement to live in sync with your cycle and discover how your hormones impact your moods, health and behavior with her groundbreaking book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods and Potential. Learn more about Gabrielle and how you can join her mission to educate future generations of girls and women about their hormones.
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