Written by Dr. Jordan Robertson, ND
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For many women, if they’ve never had difficulty conceiving, tracking and understanding their menstrual cycle may not have ever been top of the priority list. For women raised in the era of descriptions such as “the curse”, the menstrual cycle and all of the monthly changes that go along with it may have always felt like a burden rather than a gift.
We’re seeing a slow change of tide in women’s health for the better, with women craving an understanding of their hormones and health. Women want to understand and feel confident in their health throughout their lives and want to feel empowered and in control of their health and wellbeing
For women who want more energy, who suffer physical challenges such as headaches or bloating or who can clearly tie their symptoms to their cycle such as acne, menstrual cramps or their mood, the first step in unlocking the key to health is in tracking their menstrual cycle and understanding how each hormone contributes to health and wellness.
If you’re ready to feel more empowered about your health as a woman, this article will give you a quick start guide to understanding how your hormones work and how cycle tracking can help you feel more in control of your own wellness.
Your Cycle Unlocked
The monthly menstrual cycle is a beautifully timed event with distinct phases and events that you may have never paid attention to before. Women can often cite their bleeding days (the menstrual phase) but may not realize that there are other phases that occur between each monthly bleed. The menstrual phase is the first 1-5 days of each cycle where menstrual blood is lost. This marks the beginning of the follicular phase1. The menstrual phase should be painless and your blood flow manageable. In the follicular phase a dominant follicle in the ovary is chosen and begins to grow and prepare to be released. The uterine lining also begins to thicken. During this time estrogen levels are rising, and progesterone levels are low2. This phase is often when women feel their “best” and the most resilient to stress. You may feel more energetic, outgoing or social around this time.
At ovulation, hormone levels surge to release the follicle that has been growing. This phase surges hormones from your brain that control ovulation. This causes the release of the egg and progesterone levels rise. You may notice changes in vaginal secretions and cervical mucous around this time. For some women, ovulation can also bring symptoms such as headaches, acne or pelvic pain.
During the luteal phase, both estrogen and progesterone levels are high. Many women feel changes in their body such as water retention, bloating, fatigue or mood changes. This “PMS” window of time is greatly influenced by a woman’s underlying health, her stress and her nutritional intake of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin D3-6. This time of the month isn’t all bad! It’s naturally a time for reflection, introversion and slowing down.
Hormones are a pillar of optimal women’s health. Estrogen supports bone health, brain health and reduce a woman’s cardiovascular risk7. Women can often feel at odds with their hormones because they may not feel like themselves or feel limited by their changing states. Developing an understanding of the role of each hormone and how nutrition and lifestyle impact a women’s health can be an empowering experience to take back control how she feels.
When you first start tracking your cycle, use the information you collect to track if your symptoms are connected to your changing hormone levels. Most cycle tracking apps or journals have the ability to line up how you feel against the phases of the cycle. A more advanced way to leverage your health and hormones is to pay attention to the subtle changes in your states from week to week. There are weeks where you may naturally feel more outgoing and confident, chatty and creative or quiet and grounded. Working with your symptoms and states can help you feel more confident and in control of your hormones and gives your health care practitioner insight you talk with them about how you feel.
A woman who knows her body and her cycle can play a powerful role in her own health and wellbeing. Start your journey towards understanding your own cycle and rhythm to bring both awareness and attention to your health and to help your health care team support you best.
- Reed, B. G., & Carr, B. R. (2000). The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. In K. R. Feingold, B. Anawalt, A. Boyce, G. Chrousos, W. W. de Herder, K. Dungan, A. Grossman, J. M. Hershman, J. Hofland, G. Kaltsas, C. Koch, P. Kopp, M. Korbonits, R. McLachlan, J. E. Morley, M. New, J. Purnell, F. Singer, C. A. Stratakis, … D. P. Wilson (Eds.), Endotext. MDText.com, Inc. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279054/
- Hawkins, S. M., & Matzuk, M. M. (2008). Menstrual Cycle: Basic Biology. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1135, 10–18. https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1429.018
- Abdi, F., Ozgoli, G., & Rahnemaie, F. S. (2019). A systematic review of the role of vitamin D and calcium in premenstrual syndrome. Obstetrics & Gynecology Science, 62(2), 73–86. https://doi.org/10.5468/ogs.2019.62.2.73
- Arab, A., Rafie, N., Askari, G., & Taghiabadi, M. (2020). Beneficial Role of Calcium in Premenstrual Syndrome: A Systematic Review of Current Literature. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 11, 156. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_243_19
- Fathizadeh, N., Ebrahimi, E., Valiani, M., Tavakoli, N., & Yar, M. H. (2010). Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 15(Suppl1), 401–405.
- Gudipally, P. R., & Sharma, G. K. (2020). Premenstrual Syndrome. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560698/
- Delgado, B. J., & Lopez-Ojeda, W. (2020). Estrogen. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538260/