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More Than Milk: Calcium And The Menstrual Cycle

More Than Milk: Calcium And The Menstrual Cycle

Written by Yoppie

19 Mar 2021

What is calcium and where does it come from? 

What health benefits does calcium have?

Calcium for PMS

How to get your recommended intake of calcium 

Got milk? No? If you suffer from PMS, you might want to add it to your shopping list. Throughout history, calcium has been seen as the nutrient we need for healthy bones, and kids all over the world were encouraged to drink their milk to grow up ‘big and strong’. Nowadays, less emphasis has been placed on getting enough calcium, but there are a few reasons why your menstrual cycle could be crying out for this essential nutrient. 

What is calcium and where does it come from? 

Let’s go back to basics for a sec… calcium is an important nutrient in your body. It helps with basic bodily functions, such as blood circulation, muscle movement, sending messages from your brain to other parts of your body, and assists in the release of hormones

It’s known for keeping teeth and bones healthy, as these are the parts of the body that store your calcium. Your body doesn’t produce it naturally, so it’s all about getting it from your diet. And if you don’t get enough in your diet, your body will start to take it from your bones and teeth, which is why a calcium deficiency can lead to conditions like osteoporosis - a weakening of the bones. Yikes! 

What health benefits does calcium have?

Since calcium affects so many different functions of the body, getting your recommended amount has several key health benefits beyond just keeping bones and teeth healthy. It also helps regulate muscle contractions, including your heartbeat, and makes sure blood clots normally. While too much calcium has been linked to heart disease, the right amount is thought to be beneficial for the old ticker! 

Calcium for PMS

The above health benefits are great and all, but this is where it gets good. Yes, calcium is thought to help with PMS symptoms! *happy dance* 

Several studies have found that people who suffer from particularly negative PMS symptoms often don’t have enough calcium coming from their diet. Since calcium levels vary throughout the menstrual cycle, it’s no wonder this can have such a big impact at this time of the month. 

One clinical trial in 2017 found that calcium supplements were able to reduce PMS symptoms like bloating and fatigue, and could even help with psychological symptoms like low mood and anxiety. Another study found that after 3 menstrual cycles, an increase in calcium via supplements reduced core PMS symptoms and other negative effects like water retention, food cravings, and pain in the luteal phase of the cycle.

And for those who suffer from PCOS, one study found that calcium and vitamin D could have a positive effect on menstrual regularity and ovulation. This is something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of upping your calcium levels for PMS symptoms; your body actually needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium, so a calcium-rich diet alone won’t do it if you’re low on vitamin D.

How to get your recommended intake of calcium 

Let’s start with how you can get your fix of vitamin D, since you need this to absorb the calcium. You can get vitamin D from the sun, but many of us here in the UK don’t get access to enough of that, so certain foods will have to do. Add some more oily fish like salmon and sardines, eggs, red meat, and fortified foods like cereals to up your vit D levels. Taking a supplement is also an effective way of making sure you have enough vitamin D - in fact the Department of Health recommends taking a vit D supplement in the autumn and winter months.

Once you have sorted out any vitamin D deficiency, you can add more calcium to your diet to get the full benefits. The National Institutes of Health say that adults should be getting 1000mg of calcium each day, while women who are over 50, pregnant, or breast-feeding, should get 1200mg each day. To put this into perspective, generally, one glass of skim, low-fat or whole milk contains around 300mg of calcium. But don’t worry, you don’t have to gulp down 3 or 4 glasses of milk every day, because calcium comes from other foods too. 

To make sure you’re getting enough calcium, add some of the following to your diet:

  • Dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt 
  • Green leafy vegetables like kale, okra and spinach
  • Soya drinks with added calcium
  • Bread and other foods made with fortified flour
  • Fish, where you eat the bones, like sardines

Have you been adding more calcium to your diet to help with PMS symptoms? We’d love to know your experience, and if it helped! Shout out in our private Facebook group or drop us a note on Insta @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period box can get organic tampons, PMS supplements and more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, which is one less thing to think about.

This article was fact-checked by Yoppie’s nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.

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