Food and hormones – what to eat during your period

Certain nutrients play key roles for specific hormones, and there is some interest in the idea of “balancing” hormones. But, again, the complicated interplay between diet and hormones means there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Which foods affect hormones?

Phytoestrogens have been shown to mimic oestrogen in the body and may help regulate hormonal fluctuations, though the research is limited. Find them in plant-based foods like soy, flaxseeds and lentils.

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Zinc is suggested to be an excellent hormone modulator and has suggested benefits for multiple hormone-related conditions including period pain, PCOS, PMS, acne, thyroid disorders and perimenopause. It is abundant in foods such as seafood, meat, chicken, nuts and seeds.

Selenium is essential for thyroid hormone production, which plays an important role in ovulation and reproductive health. In addition, selenium may help lower thyroid autoantibodies, and has been shown to play an important role in both fertility and miscarriage. Find selenium in Brazil nuts and liver.

Vitamin E is another potent antioxidant and could help to maintain normal hormone levels in women. Specifically it’s been suggested it could be helpful in developing a healthy uterine lining for pregnancy, and may play a role in managing menopausal symptoms. Enjoy nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish and leafy greens for their vitamin E content.

Vitamin C and vitamin B6 are both significant contributors to progesterone production, which is a hormone important for fertility, pregnancy, and balancing out oestrogen in the second half of your menstrual cycle. It should be noted that the best way to ensure sufficient progesterone production in pre-menopausal women is to support healthy ovulation. Stress management is also a key consideration here.

Vitamin C is found in leafy greens, citrus foods and most other fruit and vegetables. For vitamin B6, eat dairy, eggs, oily fish, organ meats, carrots, sweet potato and legumes.

In addition to the above, all of the B vitamins (including folate), omega 3, magnesium, iron, fibre, sulforaphane (a compound found in cruciferous vegetables) and protein are all principle considerations for hormone health, emphasising the importance of eating a balanced diet.

What to eat during your period

Different stages of the menstrual cycle may benefit from specific nutrients. In the week before your period – when hormones are at their lowest – B vitamins (present in meat, fish, whole grains and eggs) may support energy levels, helping to address common fatigue. During your bleed, iron-rich foods like lean meats, leafy greens, and legumes are important to replenish lost iron. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and flaxseeds may help alleviate menstrual cramps and inflammation. While it makes sense to adjust our diet cyclically, and indeed research suggests we do this without realising, there is still limited evidence to support these claims at present.

What is seed cycling?

Spoons with various different seeds lying on a white background

With the aim of supporting hormonal balance, seed cycling involves incorporating specific seeds into the diet during different phases of the menstrual cycle. Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds are rotated through the menstrual phases to provide essential nutrients that may influence hormonal regulation. While there is anecdotal support for seed cycling, scientific evidence is limited. However, eating seeds as part of a balanced diet can offer a range of nutrients that may contribute to hormone balance, as discussed above.

Can diet treat hormonal issues?

Diet could play an important role in managing hormonal imbalances and related symptoms. Overall, a balanced diet rich in wholefoods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and wholegrains, may positively impact hormonal health. Additionally, limiting processed foods and excessive sugar intake may help stabilise insulin levels, indirectly influencing hormonal balance.

Dietary considerations are important when managing hormone-related conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS, hypothalamic amenorrhea, infertility and the transition to menopause.

What to eat to help pregnancy hormones?

During pregnancy, sex hormones are circulating in abundance, so following advice on a balanced diet for pregnancy will serve you well for supporting pregnancy hormones. Research into how food impacts hormones in pregnancy specifically is limited, though special considerations do apply in the case of gestational diabetes.

What to eat to help menopause hormones?

During the transition to menopause, hormonal fluctuations can lead to various symptoms. Generally, progesterone decreases, you may start to skip menstrual periods, and oestrogen – while generally on the decline – can spike significantly during some cycles. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, continuing to eat a balanced diet is key, and there are specific approaches which may be helpful in the management of certain symptoms.

The final word: how to eat for hormonal health

Nutrition and diet is an important factor when considering female hormonal health, though it is a big topic with much nuance. There is much we are yet to learn, and there exist many claims around food and hormone health which may not be backed by science.

It is also important to note that hormone issues are not uniform and depend on life stage, health conditions and the point at which you are in your menstrual cycle.

Generally speaking, by embracing a nutrient-rich, diverse diet, women may be able to enjoy improved wellbeing and reduce the impact of hormonal issues.

Further reading:

What is menopause?

What is a balanced diet for women?

The health benefits of flax seed


Katy is a nutritional therapist, as well as a registered nurse with over 10 years’ experience. She specialises in women’s health including hormones, fertility and pregnancy, as well as menopause and disordered eating. She worked in the NHS for many years and now focuses on her private practice, clinical mentorship, and supervising nutritional therapy students at University of West London. She holds a diploma in naturopathy and nutrition, a degree in anthropology, and postgraduate degrees in medical anthropology, adult nursing, and specialist community public health nursing, and is licensed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT), and Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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