To understand where things may go wrong with female hormones, we need to understand the expected (I refuse to say normal because normal does NOT exist) cycle rhythm. Abnormal function of the menstrual cycle plays a critical role in PMS, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), infertility, mood swings, anxiety, hot flashes, night sweats, bloating, low energy, headaches, and even digestion.
Let’s break down the menstrual cycle. An ideal cycle is defined by three distinct phases.
Phase 1: Follicular Phase (which begins day 1 of the menstrual cycle and ends when ovulation occurs)
Progesterone and estrogen (estradiol mainly) are both observed in this phase. As estrogen begins to increase throughout follicular phase, the lining of the uterus thickens. We see an increase in LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) towards the end of this phase. These hormones are important to stimulate the ovaries to produce follicles (small sacs) that contain an immature egg. When the dominant follicle (sac) releases an egg, we identify this as “ovulation”.
Phase 1 ½ : Menstruation Phase (by definition, follicular phase starts day 1 of a woman’s period so there is some overlap here)
Day 1 of the menstrual cycle is when a woman begins her period. The average woman bleeds for 4-7 days. This phase begins when the egg from the previous cycle is not fertilized. A drop in estrogen and progesterone initiates this phase and supports the shedding of the uterine lining.
Symptoms may include: cramps, tender breasts, bloating, low back pain, headaches, mood swings.
Phase 2: Ovulation
The levels of estrogen are highest at mid cycle in preparation for ovulation. Ovulation, itself, defines the transition from follicular to luteal phase. The main hormone in this phase is progesterone, which continues through the luteal phase.
Phase 3: Luteal Phase
Progesterone levels are elevated during this phase and prepare the uterine lining for possible implantation of an embryo. If an egg is not fertilized, there is a sharp drop in progesterone and estrogen which brings us back to phase 1.
Now keep in mind, the average cycle length is 28 days; however, the length in each phase can significantly vary woman to woman. Testing throughout the menstrual cycle will help identify if there is inappropriate deviation. Urine testing and saliva testing are popular and can be very accurate.
Ways to support the body during the different phases:
Menstruation: stress reduction to relax pelvic floor muscles and low back muscles (consider physical therapy, chiropractic or acupuncture to support good musculoskeletal posture), vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids, herbs like rose tea or essential oil, crampbark and/or black haw, red raspberry leaf, essential oils like valerian, lavender, clary sage, basil, rosemary, cypress (My favorite blend for cramps is Dragon Time—and how about that name? haha)
Follicular: herbs like holy basil, Schisandra, nettle, vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin), iron, foods like grass-fed beef, eggs, chicken, dark leafy greens, lentils, essential oils like peppermint, clary sage, roman chamomile, fennel
Ovulation: herbs like red clover, shatavari, maca, foods like brussels sprouts, chard, dandelion greens, asparagus, spinach, glutathione
Luteal: herbs like chaste tree berry (vitex), ginger, burdock root, ashwagandha, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, progesterone/pregnenolone creams, essential oils like ylang ylang, bergamot, clary sage, fennel
Keep in mind, the menstrual cycle is not a contained hormone process. (No hormone process is really “local” in the body) You can see below the complexity and systemic involvement in hormone regulation. Therefore, we have to consider many factors when assessing a female’s hormone balance.
Factors to consider when supporting the hormone cycle:
1. Thyroid function
2. Liver support/detoxification
3. Exercise/Movement- too much or too little
4. Chronic stress
5. Food allergies/sensitivities
6. Sugar regulation
Don’t forget, you’re not alone in this!
In Extraordinary Health,
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