What we eat throughout the day plays a massive role in our overall health and well-being, all the way down to the micronutrients you’re consuming. This is particularly true for people who menstruate, according to recent research from Penn State University. The study reveals that there are varying nutritional needs and several micronutrient deficiencies during different phases of the menstruation cycle.
The study analyzed a healthy cohort of females aged 18 to 44 with average cycle lengths of 26 to 35 days that were not pregnant, smokers, or taking any medications (including birth control).
Using fertility monitors to determine which days to collect data, blood levels were taken at three key points (early follicular phase, late follicular phase, and mid-luteal phase) during one full cycle so that any changes in the status of key micronutrients they assessed—zinc, copper, magnesium, manganese, vitamin A, and iron—could be identified.
The 4 phases of the menstrual cycle.
Before we dive into the results of the study, here’s a refresher on the four phases of the menstrual cycle:
Micronutrient status during each phase.
Remember, participants’ micronutrient levels were tested during the following phases:
Researchers discovered that zinc, magnesium, and iron levels changed significantly during the menstrual cycle. Because as it turns out, these unique hormonal fluctuations affect much more than just iron levels.
Specifically, zinc concentrations dropped 6.6% from the early follicular phase (around menstruation) to the mid-luteal phase, raising zinc deficiency prevalence from 22% to 37% from the start to the end of the menstrual cycle.
Magnesium levels fell 4.5% from the early follicular phase to the mid-luteal phase. The prevalence of magnesium deficiency was even more shocking, increasing from 29% during the early follicular phase to 49% during the mid-luteal phase. In other words, approximately half of participants were deficient in magnesium between ovulation and menstruation.
Ferritin levels (aka iron stores) dropped the most following menstrual bleeding (i.e., between the early and late follicular phases), decreasing 15.2%. Due to the lagging body stores of iron, ferritin concentrations continued to drop 5.5% between the late follicular phase and the mid-luteal phase, causing a 19.8% decrease from the start of the menstrual cycle to the end.
Other micronutrients that were tested during the study (i.e., copper, manganese, and vitamin A) did not change significantly throughout the menstrual cycle. Nonetheless, at “baseline” (the early follicular phase), even the trace mineral manganese was lacking, with 13% of women demonstrating a prevalence of low manganese status.
As mbg’s vice president of scientific affairs, Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains: “Given that millions of American women of reproductive age fail to consume adequate amounts of these essential minerals day in and day out, the exacerbating trajectories of nutrients status demonstrated in this study are massive.”
Ferira goes on to to share this important cautionary advice. “If we’re not intentional about ensuring nutritional sufficiency each day, then the impact of inevitable nutrient fluctuations during our menstrual cycle throughout our life will be more weighty and have broad, negative health implications. They are called ‘essential’ nutrients for a reason. They matter.”
The sad truth is that, even today, many clinical studies exclude female participants, meaning there’s a massive gap in scientific knowledge of how women’s bodies operate. This fascinating study gives us a glimpse at how female hormones can affect nutritional needs throughout the menstrual cycle.
To help achieve and maintain sufficient micronutrient levels each day, women should consider taking a comprehensive, high-potency multivitamin like mbg’s ultimate multivitamin+ to help buffer against widespread zinc, iron, and magnesium nutrient gaps and promote whole-body well-being.*
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.