This is a transcribed excerpt from the Womensync Podcast , episode #4 Food as a powerful tool for a menstrual cycle and balanced health with Maria Särén . Some adaptations of the text have been made. To listen to the podcast episode with Maria click here .
In the episode with Maria Sären, we go into everything to do with food and the menstrual cycle. We talk about blood sugar and how it has a connection to the menstrual cycle, we talk about intermittent fasting, caffeine and what kind of food can be beneficial for hormones in balance. We also talk about IBS and various menstrual-related challenges and what in our lifestyle actually affects our menstrual cycle.
What would you say is your mission right now?
If I had to sum it up in one word, it's women's health. More specifically, I'd say it's about making women feel good and do what they find fun. Right now, it's diet and exercise that inspire me.
What was the reason why you got into women's health, menstrual cycle and hormones?
The reason why I myself got into women's health and helping women in particular was that I myself was sick. I felt drawn to something other than what I was working on at the time and began to reflect on what I was doing for research in my free time, what it is that I am passionate about, and I realized that it was women's health. At this time I was traveling a lot for work and outside of work and for the first time since my teenage years my periods started to become irregular and absent and I began to wonder what could be causing this. I traveled a lot, including to China, the USA and Australia, so every two months I was away for at least two weeks. This meant that I changed time zones very often with all that entails in terms of changing the circadian rhythm, fewer hours of sleep, eating at different times, while still performing at work.
What did you do to get your period regular again?
At this point I started thinking about what I could change in my lifestyle to get my ovulation and menstrual cycle regular again . I thought I lived very well when it came to, for example, diet, but I became aware of how other factors also affect the menstrual cycle and how, based on those aspects, you can "tweak" it. Something important to add is that I didn't feel stressed when I was traveling, I just thought it was fun, but apparently my body felt different because my ovulation became irregular and eventually missed. Other than that, I was spared and didn't experience many other symptoms related to mood or well-being, probably because I stood firm in the diet part. I have a background with rheumatism and have been focused on healing it and on this occasion had no pain or problems. But with the symptoms of my menstrual cycle, I began to look into it more and more. It eventually led to needing to make a change and even though I love to travel, I needed to land a bit. At the same time, I was drawn to the desire to work with what took up a large part of my time and interest, namely women's health.
What was it about the travel that affected the menstrual cycle more specifically?
Partly changing time zones and circadian rhythms, it's something many of us are sensitive to, whether we know it or not. Routines in everyday life mean that we get more space to float out sometimes and now I didn't really have those routines. I can also find it quite difficult to relax, which made me realize that I wasn't catching up on sleep, but was just continuing the day where I was. Added to that, I trained and lived as usual, which didn't work. Somewhere you need to retrieve the lost energy. It could go anywhere between 70-80 days between my menstrual cycles which was simply linked to how I traveled. In addition to that, I had a rather special diet in view of my rheumatism, which meant that I could skip eating on the flight if there were no good alternatives, which became like a fast, which in itself can also become a stress for the body. It was not optimal for having a stable and functioning menstrual cycle.
So to summarize what you just said, you could say that the traveling and the fasting became a stress for the body, which in turn affected your menstrual cycle?
Yes, and it was nothing that I was aware of. As I said, I didn't feel stressed, but I thought it was just fun. This is precisely the tricky thing about stress, you don't always feel stressed, but the body can do so and thus signal in the form of, for example, irregular and missed ovulation.
Exactly what you say, there may be a difference between female and male biology. As women, we are more sensitive to stress whether it is nutritional deficiencies, too much exercise or traveling because we are designed to be able to carry a child which means that small things in our lifestyle can contribute to stress which in turn affects the menstrual cycle in different ways way.
Exactly, nature does not want to risk either your life as a woman to carry a child in an environment that is perceived as unsafe, nor does it want to bring a child into the world if it does not seem so stable there. Then I think men are also affected, but they don't have a "receipt" for it like we do with a bicycle.
Maria Särén works based on a functional medicine approach and is educated at the Kresser Institute, is a certified ICF coach and runs the women's clinic Liva in parallel with her own practice Emanera . Maria's mission is to help as many women as possible feel good and live in sync with their biology. Read more about Maria here and follow her on Instagram for more inspiration and knowledge.