Understanding Your Cycle
Some content by guest contributors: Steven Chedore, Joycelyn Ba, Ariela Shahvar
Does anyone else find it wild how LITTLE women are educated about their cycle, bodies and overall health?!!!
I wanted to use this month’s post to compile some resources covering everything from your cycle, PMS, and birth control, so let’s get started!!
First, let’s start off with your cycle. There are four phases which include:
Menstrual Phase – Days 1-7
- Shedding of the uterine lining
Follicular Phase Days 7-13
- When your pituitary gland releases follicle-stimulating hormone
- One will mature into an egg
- Estrogen will peak a couple days before ovulation which stimulates the production of GnRH and in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete luteinizing hormone
Ovulation Phase Days 14-18
- When your body releases this mature egg
- If sperm is present fertilization can occur
Luteal Phase Days 19-28
- If the egg is not fertilized hormones signal the uterus to prepare to shed its lining
- The corpus luteum (when the follicle seals over in ovulation) produces progesterone. This prevents the lining from being shed but if fertilization has not occurred the corpus luteum will disintegrate and progesterone will drop therefore signaling menstruation.
Keep in mind that your cycle may not look exactly like some of you may have longer or shorter cycles. My favourite way to track this is with using an app called Flo!
Have you noticed that your energy, mood, sex drive, appetite, skin etc changes throughout your cycle. You are not alone! While some of these changes are completely normal, others are not.
As females our hormones change throughout our 28 day cycle (shorter or longer for some women) and this can result in changes in mood, energy, communication and so on. Males on the other hand are on a 24 HOUR hormone cycle meaning they reset and follow roughly the same pattern every day. Crazy right?
Now did you know that there is a way to optimize your cycle?
Menstrual Phase – Days 1-7
- This is when your energy levels are at their lowest
- Focus on more restorative movement such as yoga, walking, low intensity pilates or skip the workout
- This is also a good time to reflect and see what worked well the past month both personally and professionally and start to think about the next month
- This is the time to also focus on self care and take time to yourself!
- Focus on comforting foods as well aa sunflower seeds, blueberries, beets, and rice
Follicular Phase – Day 7-13
- This is when your energy levels begin to rise again and your mood improves
- You can now incorporate more movement such as cycling, running, weight training
- This is a great time to brainstorm and go after new prospects
- Focus on foods such as nuts, avocado, eggs, lentils, and oats
Ovulation Phase – Days 14-18
- This is when your energy is at its peak
- This is when you can do HIIT workouts, running and more intense forms of movement
- Your energy levels are high and you’re feeling more social so its a good time to collaborate with coworkers, connect with new people and go out with friends.
- Some of the foods your can incorporate are more peppers, turmeric, coffee, coconut, and seafood
Luteal Phase – Days 19-28
- During this time you may notice that your energy levels dip again and you may even experience PMS symptoms and fatigue
- This is when you want to shift back into more restorative or weight-bearing exercises and less cardio
- This is a good time to also do other more organizational tasks at work or around the home
- During this time add in more sesame seeds, celery, cucumber, potatoes, and beef
Now, these are just some basic tips to help you live in more alignment with your cycle.
Now let’s talk about some of the symptoms you should NOT be experiencing which include hormonal acne, extreme fatigue, and mood swings, and cramps. Seriously, cramps don’t have to be a thing.
Symptoms of PMS may occur in groups or individually 7–10 days before the start of menstruation, and end shortly after menstruation begins. These symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Sore breasts
- Emotional outbursts
HOW CAN I ALLEVIATE MY PMS SYMPTOMS?
In contrast to popular belief, symptoms of PMS are not normal – women are not supposed to experience moderate to intense cramping every month. Although there is currently no “cure” for PMS, by addressing hormonal imbalances, symptoms can be alleviated. Chronic stress, hormonal contraceptives, poor diet, and hypertension can all cause hormone imbalances, therefore, through lifestyle changes and supplementation, PMS can be controlled.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet (refer below for some healthy recipes to try)
- Drink lots of fluids
- Increase intake of complex carbohydrates (refer to the blog post “Why You Shouldn’t be Scared of Carbs and Yummy Oatmeal Recipe”)
- Restrict sodium and caffeine consumption
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule (refer to the blogpost “COVID messing with your sleep? Try these food and lifestyle tips to help you get better sleep”)
- Reduce stress
- Regular multivitamin
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin D
- Some scientific literature has found evidence for vitamin E, magnesium, and fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6)
It may also be useful to record your symptoms in a symptom diary to identify patterns and help your nutritionist/doctor/professional diagnose and treat the issue.
One of the main things your doctor may tell you to do for your PMS or other hormone imbalances is to go on the hormonal birth control pill.
Now, before I get any further, I want to make it clear that I am not shaming ANYONE who decides to take the pill. I am sharing this information so that individuals can make informed decisions about their own health, and perhaps help shed some light on individuals who may be experiencing some of the negative side effects but weren’t sure why or what to do to support their bodies on and off the pill.
To start it off simple, I am going to give some high-level information on what it is, why women go on it, and some of the high-level side effects that women may experience.
Of course, the birth control pill or “the pill” was originally created to prevent pregnancy but many women, from a young age, have been put on it to manage things like acne and cramps.
Unfortunately, instead of getting to the root issues of the severe cramping and acne, the pill just masks these issues.
High level, the pill is taken daily and delivers synthetic estrogen and synthetic progesterone throughout the month to prevents ovulation which is the time your ovaries release an egg each month.
Why do women go on it?
As mentioned before, many women go on it to prevent pregnancy but many also go on from painful and heavy periods and skin conditions.
Like myself, many young girls are put on it before they are even sexually active in order to deal with painful periods. Then they end up staying on it for MANY years.
Yes, the pill is quite effective in preventing pregnancy when taken properly and has helped many young and adult women manage their acne and painful periods, but, for many, it can lead to more issues, such as:
- increased risk of estrogen-related cancers
- headaches and migraines
- changes in mood
- digestive issues
- nutrient deficiencies
- and many more which I will cover in future posts
Post Birth Control Syndrome
Perhaps you are thinking about going off of the pill, have recently gone off the pill or have been off of it for a while now. If you are thinking about going off the pill, you may want to work with a professional to help ease the process. If you have recently come off the pill, you may have noticed some physical and mental changes and if you have been off the pill for a while, you may still be experiencing the impacts of the pill.
These changes you are experiencing from coming off the pill may be Post-Birth Control Syndrome which refers to the symptoms that some women experience after coming off the pill. These symptoms and the intensity of these symptoms may differ from person-to-person!
Symptoms may include, but are not limited to:
- changes in mood, anxiety, depression
- irregular periods
- gut issues
- and so on
Although many women may experience symptoms within 4 to 6 months after coming off the pill, some women experience the effects for years after!
Why does this occur?
According to Dr. Jolene Brighten:
“…because the basic mechanism of the pill is to flood your body with enough hormones that your brain stops communicating with your ovaries and you cease to ovulate. If the pill essentially shuts down the conversation between your ovaries and your brain, then it’s no surprise that once you stop taking it you may encounter some challenges reestablishing the connection – not to mention the strain it has created on your adrenals, thyroid, gut, and liver.”
The other two common culprits are nutrient deficiencies and inflammation. Inflammation is a broad term but it’s important to know that the inflammation caused by the pill may impact other body systems such as your digestive system.
How can I support my body?
I highly encourage you to reach out to a professional and get proper testing done to see where your hormone levels are, including your thyroid hormones. If you are also experiencing gut-related issues, other testing may also be helpful and I would also encourage you to get testing for other key nutrients since the pill is known to cause nutrient deficiencies.
Working with a professional is also important in order to make sure you are feeding and treating your body properly for your individual needs.
However, here are some important nutrients to consider:
- Vitamin B6
Some important lifestyle strategies are:
- moving your body
- managing stress
This pill can also impact your gut health, thyroid and more! If you want to read more be sure to check out:
The Pill and Hormone imbalances and PCOS: