Dietary Fiber for Menstrual Health
Dietary fiber is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Though fiber is best known for its role in preventing constipation, heart disease, and diabetes, it also provides many benefits for women who suffer from menstrual cramps, endometriosis, PCOS, and similar reproductive problems.
Dietary Fiber Encourages Healthy Hormone Balance
One of the most common causes of many women's health problems is hormone imbalance, and the most common type of hormone imbalance is excessive levels of the hormone estrogen in relation to progesterone.
Dietary fiber helps maintain healthy hormone balance by binding to waste estrogen in the intestines and bowels and removing it from the body. Without sufficient levels of fiber to perform this function, waste estrogen is often reabsorbed by the body, where it can further exacerbate the symptoms of excessive estrogen.
Dietary Fiber Encourages Healthy Bowel Function
The longer the waste estrogen remains in the intestines and bowels, the greater the chance it will be reabsorbed, so the role of fiber in preventing constipation is also important for hormone balance, since constipation gives a longer window of opportunity for reabsorption to take place.
Constipation can also exacerbate menstrual cramps, another reason to increase dietary fiber in your diet. Dietary fiber also helps prevent diarrhea, another common side effect of menstruation, by adding bulk and absorbing excess water.
Dietary Fiber Encourages a Healthy Weight
Women who are overweight are more likely to suffer from excessive estrogen and many of the conditions associated with it, especially PCOS. Doctors are not sure which factor is which in this chicken and egg situation: does excess weight cause hormone imbalances or do hormone imbalances cause excess weight?
What IS known, however, is that estrogen is produced by fat cells in the body, so the more fat cells you have, the more estrogen is produced and the greater the risk of developing an imbalance.
Diets rich in dietary fiber can help maintain a healthy weight in several ways.
First, foods that are high in fiber typically require more chewing time than those that aren't, which means that you'll eat less before your body registers that it is full. (Remember, it takes about 20 minutes for your mind to register that your stomach is full.)
Secondly, high fiber foods are "bulky," meaning that you'll have to eat less of them to get full.
Finally, fiber rich foods are typically lower in overall calories than similar quantities of low-fiber foods, because fiber itself has no calories at all.
Other Benefits of Fiber
Women with PCOS, who are often at higher risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes than the general population, will be interested to learn that dietary fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels and prevent type 2 diabetes.
Dietary fiber also helps lower blood cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of many types of heart disease.
High fiber diets are also associated with lower risks of certain types of cancer and gastrointestinal conditions.
Best Sources of Dietary Fiber
- whole grains, including wholewheat, brown rice, wheat bran, bulgar, rolled oats, barley, and buckwheat
- beans and legumes, including split peas and lentils
- leafy green vegetables, including kale, spinach, Romaine lettuce, swiss chard, and turnip greens
- cruciferous vegetables, including cauliflower and broccoli
- most other vegetables, including carrots, bell peppers, celery, and eggplant
- fruits and berries, including apples, oranges, raspberries, strawberries, and pears
Adding More Fiber To Your Diet
Dietary fiber is found exclusively in plant foods, including whole grains, beans and legumes, and fruits and vegetables.
Fiber is removed by certain types of processing, so white breads, white rice, and fruit juices have significantly less fiber than their unprocessed versions.
Peeling fruits and vegetables also removes large quantities of fiber, so choose organic fruits and vegetables or use a wash whenever possible so you can safely eat the skins of apples, peaches, potatoes, tomatoes, and similar foods.
There are fiber supplements available, however, it is generally recommended to focus on dietary changes first, since supplements do not have the nutrient density of most high fiber foods.
If your typical diet is low in fiber, add fiber gradually to prevent abdominal bloating and gas.