How to work with your menstrual cycle?

Have you ever wondered why you feel different emotionally, physically and mentally through the month? Well there is good reason you do my female friend. It's your hormones babe. Hormones are suppose to fluctuate. The key to feeling well and respecting your incredible feminine being is to tune in and work with these natural fluctuations rather than against them.  

Once you have a better understanding of how hormones fluctuate during your cycle, it helps you to make better decisions that align with what your body is needing and telling you in those moments. It also empowers you to accept and honour your body as it goes through these changes. Are you ready to dive in?

Image from Dr. Meagan Stroden, ND @drmegbd

Image from Dr. Meagan Stroden, ND @drmegbd

Note: If you are on hormonal birth control (pill, implant, injection, nuvaring etc) this natural cycle that I am going to speak to is not occurring whilst you are on contraception. That's the whole premise of how contraception like the pill work, they suppress ovulation, and thus suppress your cyclical hormonal rhythm. You can read more about this here

I am going to breakdown each major stage of the menstrual cycle. I'll take you through some of the hormonal changes that occur and give you some tips on how to best support your body during this time.

This is going to fun. Ok, shall we?

A healthy period can be looked at in three main phases, the timing and length of which can vary from woman to woman, meaning that a normal cycle can be anywhere from 21 to 35 days, and 28 being the average. Let's get a visual as I am going to refer back and forth to this picture, so you can follow along. 

3972834_orig.jpg

On to the stages:

1. First is the FOLLICULAR PHASE, which occurs for approximately 14 days (but can vary from say 7 to 21 days).

It includes MENSTRUATION, which can last for about 3 to 5 days. As you can see in the image above, oestrogen and progesterone levels are at there lowest. As we will soon find out these hormones play a particular role in governing how we feel. During this time, energy will also be at your lowest, you may feel tired and a little withdrawn and hey that is ok. 

Holistic Health Tips During Menstruatiion:

  • Try not to schedule social events, presentations, hard training sessions or anything that requires a lot of high energy and outward expression.

  • Consider taking a day off from training (and ideally work).

  • Instead schedule yourself some ME time. Ideas: run yourself an epsom salt bath, meditate, journal, house choirs, short walks, stretching, gym based recovery and just kind of plotting around the house are all totally welcomed.

  • By respecting the fact that you hormones are at their lowest level and giving yourself that time to nurture and relax, you are going with the flow of your body rather than against it.

  • Avoid foods that promote inflammation in the body: alcohol, refined sugars, processed foods, processed cows dairy, gluten, and inflammatory oils (corn, canola, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower) - not just now but in general, especially if you have any diagnosed hormonal conditions like endometriosis, PCOS or infertility.

  • Opt for nutrient dense anti-inflammatory foods like cold water fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), grass fed meat (also a great source of iron and zinc which your body will be using), seafood, oysters (high in zinc), sea vegetables like (kelp and nori which are high in iodine), colourful vegetables and fruits, fermented foods, bone broths and turmeric.

  • Consider adding in a magneiusm supplement. I like magnesium glycinate at 300-400mg daily as most women are under stress and need more magnesium than that obtained through diet along.

  • Oils to support you at this stage: ClaryCalm over the lower abdomen twice daily; Clary Sage, Lavender, Geranium in the bath or mixed with carrier oil for a self massage or in the diffuser to support emotions & hormones. Frankincense for mediation and self reflection.

As you move through the follicular phase, out of menstruation, the pituitary gland, starts to release Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which stimulates your follicles (the little sacs that contains an egg) towards ovulation. 

These follicles, secrete oestradiol and testosterone, that make you feel happy and stimulate libido, as they boost serotonin and dopamine, two very important neurotransmitters responsible for mood, pleasure and motivation. 

Here, you may naturally experience a boost in energy, strength, improved mood & brain function! Woot woot, our time to shine ladies. 

Holistic Health Tips for the second half of the Follicular Phase:

  • From a physical perspective this is were engaging in strenuous exercise, metabolic conditioning, strength and power training is a green light IF your body is ready for it

  • This is also a great time to brainstorm on ideas and projects as creativity is high and set intentions and really take action on major decisions

  • Get plenty of nutrient dense, energy sustaining carbohydrates (especially if training) like root vegetates, buckwheat, oats, rice, gluten free pasta and fruits. As well as quality fats and proteins.

  • The body tends to burn more fat at rest and is more sensitive to insulin making it good time to fuel up on quality food and train well, don't skip out of meals or be skimpy (don't do that ever, under eating is a bad idea for hormone health in general)

  • Oils to support you: A synergistic blend of oils, like Clary Sage, Geranium, Fennel, Basil and Rosemary, that exert a balancing effect on oestrogen ie. they help create an equilibrium depending on what the body needs would be ideal - diffused or applied topically, diluted into a carrier oil. DoTERRA ClaryCalm has a great combination of these so you could continue using that daily. Inhaling peppermint prior to workouts and throughout the day to support mental and physical stamina.

2. The second major phase is OVULATION baby. This is were your winning follicle swells, ruptures and releases a precious egg. The release is known as ovulation. Some of you may even feel this event happening, with a mild twinge on one or both sides of your lower pelvis. Other signs include an egg white sticky discharge that you may notice a few days prior to ovulation and a change in your cervix position. 

Things really start to heat up during this the stage, like actually heat up, as in your body temperature rises, due to the rising levels of progesterone. Oestrogen increases to further thicken your uterine lining and testosterone surges, driving sexual desire, and then drops again. Your empty follicle sac morphs into an amazing progesterone secreting gland called the corpus luteum (latin for "yellow body" because it's a yellow mass of hormone secreting miracle).

Holistic Health Tips for Ovulation:

  • Hopefully you're thinking it but I am just going to say it out loud - hot, steamy or whatever floats your boat, sexy time (with your partner or yourself for that matter).

  • It's also a good time to mingle, party and be social as the verbal and social centre of the brain are being stimulated by the hormones floating around at this time. Did someone say par-tay?

  • Testosterone and oestrogen levels are high hence so to are energy levels and confidence making it a good time to engage in more metabolic conditioning type training and resistance training, tensile strength or power.

  • The hormone relaxin is also increased at this time which triggers laxity in ligaments, activates collagenase and promotes bony remodelling. So avoiding maximal lifts and instead working on tensile strength and stiffness drills, multidirectional power and deceleration training is a good idea.

  • Be sure to load up on fruit and vegetables for fibre, whey protein for glutathione, sea vegetables/iodised salt for iodine, eggs, liver and grass fed animal meat for important nutrients like folate, Vit B6, Vit B12, zinc, selenium and amino acids to support healthy oestrogen metabolism through your liver and out your large intestine.

  • Fermented foods and a healthy gut is also important for ensuring oestrogen is cleared out of the body and not reactivated by bad bacteria

  • Getting rid of environmental toxins from around your home (those found in chemical cleaning product and personal care products that can act as endocrine disruptors) is also key for ensuring healthy oestrogen levels in the body

  • Oils to support a healthy libido: Passion Blend, Whisper Blend, Sandalwood (for healthy testosterone), Ylang Ylang and Jasmine Touch. You could wear any of these as a perfume over your wrists and neck to support your own natural pheromones which are high at this time, making you irresistible!

I love this image so much. I can't credit the artist but it was posted by Dr. Aviva Romm @avivaromm, she's awesome.

I love this image so much. I can't credit the artist but it was posted by Dr. Aviva Romm @avivaromm, she's awesome.

3. The third phase is the LUTEAL PHASE. This is where things can get pretty interesting for us "so called crazy" females. Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels reach their peak levels and then start to decline to their lowest concentration right before menstruation (if pregnancy does not occur). It's important to note that PMS is common towards the end of this phase but is not "normal". It's a clue that things are a little out of whack. 

This phase tends to last about 10 to 16 days. Now remember that yellow mass of hormone secreting goodness? Well it is really the star of the show along with the key hormone it releases, progesterone. Now progesterone or pro-gestestation, is really about supporting and nourishing a pregnancy. But don't tune out if pregnancy isn't your thing right now, because  beyond that major role, progesterone also has many other benefits including: reducing inflammation, building muscle, promoting sleep, calming the nervous system, making us cope with stress better and opposes the effects of oestrogen (ie. thins your uterine lining, prevents breast cancer, boosts thyroid hormone - all of which oestrogen has the opposite effect on). 

Important stuff, that we want to have around right?. The key to plentiful progesterone is ovulation, so everything you do in the lead up to this phase matter to make this a breeze not a living hell. So managing stress, quality sleep, enough food, good food, adequate nutrients (magnesium, Vit B6, selenium, zinc, vitamin C, L-arginine), a healthy gut to absorb nutrients and a healthy liver to metabolise excess oestrogen all will help. 

Holistic Health Tips for your Luteal Phase:

  • At the beginning of this phase, post ovulation, energy levels will likely still be good. So you can use this energy to train well - strength training, metabolic conditioning and well more sex (just be safe ok if you aren't planning on babies right now).

  • This is a good time to focus on attention to detail tasks and ticking things off your to do list. So set aside some time for focus and getting jobs completed.

  • Towards the end of this phase, as hormones decline to their lowest levels, energies shift. It's time to go easy on yourself.

  • Activities this week might be more like restorative yoga, float tanks, sleep ins, passive recovery sessions, nesting at home and doing small chores around the house

  • It is normal for you to get more hungry during your premenstrual time due to the effects of progesterone. So go ahead and eat more quality nutrients. But don't be fooled into sugary treats as this will only make matters worse. Instead opt for boiled eggs, avocados, protein smoothies, that will satisfy your hunger without having a huge effect on your blood sugar.

  • Magneiusm and Vit B6 can help with cravings. Allowing yourself a few squares of dark chocolate is totally ok too. Just not the whole block so opt for the quality dark stuff that doesn't allow you to consume the entire block.

  • Oils to support you: ClaryCalm on the lower abdomen twice daily during this phase (as you can see this blend is amazing for all phases, I use it daily). Smart and Sassy, 2-3 drops, into smoothie or water bottle to control sugar cravings and support liver detofixaton and fluid retention. Frankincense, 1-2 drops, under the tongue to help lower inflammation. Balance on the soles of the feet every morning and night to stay grounded. Bergamot and Elevation to manage lower moods.

  • PMS support: Inhale clary sage and geranium daily. Apply 1 to 3 drops of clary sage, fennel, geranium and basil to the lower abdomen, up to three times per day.

Remember that your menstrual cycle gives you clues into your overall health. It's like a little monthly report on how well you are doing at looking after your health. It gives you an opportunity to do better again next month. 

The key to optimising your cycles and working with your body really starts with the daily lifestyle habits that you create for yourself - nourishing food, smart and effective training, stress management and smart supplementation can have a powerful impact.

Your cycle should be a celebration of health and fertility. But if you are struggling with symptoms during your menstrual cycle know that you are not alone. But please take action to do something about it. And remember that the pill does not "regulate" your cycle. It shuts down your bodies natural hormonal cycle and gives you synthetic hormones to act in place of your natural ones which do not elicit the same amazing benefits as your natural hormones, so that is not an effective solution. 

If you are struggling with hormonal issues, then please feel free to reach out so we can get started on creating a holistic health plan to get you feeling comfortable and confident in your own skin and celebrating your amazing womanly ways. If you are interested in getting your hands on some essential oils to help throughout your cycle then you can read more here or simply hit reply. 

Our female design is really something to marvel over; it is not something to suppress or oppress but unfortianely that is how it has been treated for most of our history. But times are changing - many incredible, intelligent women who are health professionals are speaking up about female hormone health and raising the bar in how we view and treat conditions - I intend to be one of them, because enough is enough! So please don't suffer in silence and do not let someone tell you that what you are feeling is normal or in your own head. Trust yourself. You know your body. Own it and know that you are worthy of feeling happy and healthy in your own skin. 

Love,

Chantel

Resources for this blog:

  • All things training related: my friend and epic coach, John Sinclair - Director of Programming at the Institute of Motion

  • The Period Repair Manual by Dr. Lara Briden

  • My Flow App, by Alisa Vitti