For as long as I can remember, I have always loved the months of November and December, when joy seemed to fill every day and every night. As an adult, and when my four children were still small, we hosted wonderful holiday parties at my house (complete with friendly Santa, of course).
But along with the happy celebrations can come unfortunate health consequences, particularly where one’s hormones are concerned. Changes to one’s diet, sleep habits, stress (even happy stress), and the increased alcohol consumption can take a toll on the female menstrual cycle. The beautiful rhythm of hormones is sensitive to such influences, as the intimate connection between the brain, the adrenal glands, the pituitary gland, and the ovaries can lose its balance and cause irregular cycles.
A growing body of evidence clearly shows the impact of foods on menstrual cycles. Diets high in fiber-rich foods have been shown to be associated with more regular cycles. But diets consumed around the holidays can be deficient in that healthy fiber, and filled instead with sugars, processed starches, and unhealthy animal products. I know from experience, during the many years I spent working at a hospital during the holiday season, the doctor and nursing lounges were filled with cookies, cakes, candies, hams, pastries, sausages, and chips. At the holiday functions cheese and crackers were there to take, and wine flowed generously. My normal dietary pattern and habits were shattered––along with my menstrual cycles!
Stress, whether it is caused by holiday shopping, scheduling issues, traveling, card-sending, or choosing what to wear to a party, plays its part in disrupting the normal ebb and flow of female hormones. Studies have shown that stress is related to changes in menstrual function, and that exposure to stress can impact in a significant way upon menstrual regularity and the occurrence of premenstrual symptoms, cramps and heavy bleeding.
Then there’s the issue of altered sleep patterns and the increased consumption of alcohol. Both can disrupt the daily rhythm of the body, or the Circadian Rhythm, and published reports state that such disruption is associated with disturbances in menstrual cycles. Alcohol negatively impacts the Circadian Rhythm by altering the clocks of the microbiota itself, which in turn “mess” with the message being delivered to the liver – a key player in all metabolic functions – which has an effect on female hormones. Alcohol also affects the level of estrogen circulating in the body.
Knowing the possible pitfalls lying ahead as this holiday season continues, we can arm ourselves with what we need to keep our feminine hormones happily humming along. Do your utmost to avoid eating the obvious sugary foods, and eat nuts or vegetables as a starter. Try to eat at regular, standard intervals. Tell yourself you’re allergic to cookies, cakes, and candies – and mean it! – and good things will come your way. Always carry with you a zip-lock baggie to hold some nuts for you to munch on, just in case there is no other food for you to enjoy. Try to hit the hay by midnight (even on fun nights out) and have melatonin handy in case you go to bed at wildly differing times over a number of nights.
Most of all, make wise decisions each day and enjoy this most festive of times of the year. Ask yourself how happy you will be when you finish the thing you’re thinking about eating, and then decide whether to eat it. Remember: with January comes the time for redemption – to change back to the wonderful diet, exercise, and sleep habits you know you need to follow to stay optimally healthy. Have a happy – but a healthy – holiday season, filled with joy and love for those in your life, and stay strong and motivated in your quest for optimal health. Stay true to your beliefs and feel with me a great optimism for 2018!