Have you ever felt like your hormones were all over the place during “that time of the month”? And sometimes, you just couldn’t figure out why your body was acting up during the rest of the month too. You’re not alone. Mood swings, cramps, acne, and more can make it feel like your Menstrual cycle just doesn’t want you to catch a break. Your hormones feel all over the place.
Did you know there is a way to feel in sync with your body, your hormones, and your cycle? And when you do that, that also means you’re going to be on top of your health.
It’s time to regain control over your hormones and understand what’s going on with your Menstrual cycle.
In this blog, we’re going to break down your menstrual cycle as you’ve never seen it before. From the female anatomy involved to the science behind the hormones and even the four phases of the cycle, we’ll help you understand why your hormones seem to go crazy 4 times a month. And how to keep them in check and make them work for you with easy tips and additional resources.
What is the difference between Menstruation & Menstrual Cycle?
The terms Menstruation & Menstrual Cycle are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect. Let us understand why.
Menstruation is a phase in your menstrual cycle when you have your period and experience bleeding, typically lasting 5–7 days. On the other hand, the Menstrual cycle is the pattern of hormonal changes your body goes through each month in preparation for menstruation. It includes four phases: Follicular, Ovulatory, Luteal, and lastly, the Menstrual phase, aka your periods.
Understanding Female Anatomy Involved in the Process
Whether you’re looking to manage a health concern or condition sustainably or improve your overall health and well-being, taking the time to learn about the female reproductive system is the often forgotten but right first step. After all, it’s this system that governs how your entire body and its organs function.
The female reproductive system consists of the Ovaries, Uterus, and Fallopian Tubes, playing vital roles in the Menstrual cycle.
The Ovaries produce eggs and hormones, including Estrogen and Progesterone. These hormones regulate the Menstrual cycle and can impact your health and well-being.
The Uterus, also known as the womb, is where a fertilized egg can implant and grow. If pregnancy occurs, the Uterus provides a supportive environment for the developing fetus. If pregnancy does not happen, the Uterus sheds its lining through menstruation.
The Fallopian Tubes connect the ovaries to the Uterus and serve as the path for the egg to travel from the ovaries to the Uterus. Fertilization occurs if sperm is present in the fallopian tubes.
Let’s uncover another crucial system that is involved in the regulation of your Menstrual cycle.
The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal Axis
Your Menstrual cycle is controlled by a series of hormones in your body, which the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal (HPG) Axis manages.
First, your Hypothalamus, a small part of your brain, releases a hormone called Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone (GnRH) that signals your Pituitary Gland to release Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH). These hormones then travel to your Ovaries, which prompt the production of Estrogen and Progesterone.
Estrogen and Progesterone regulate your Menstrual cycle by preparing your Uterus for pregnancy and maintaining the Endometrial Lining. When these hormones are in balance, your Menstrual cycle runs smoothly.
Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle
The Menstrual cycle is a complex interplay of hormones that affects a woman’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being. By understanding this system of hormones, you can learn how to take control of your Menstrual cycle and lead a healthier and happier life.
Before anything, let us understand the hormones, the driving factors of our Menstrual cycle.
FSH (Follicle-Stimulating Hormone): The pituitary gland releases FSH to develop follicles, tiny sacs in the ovaries containing eggs. It also regulates the production of Estrogen.
LH (Luteinizing Hormone): LH is also released by the pituitary gland and is responsible for the final maturation of the follicles. It triggers the release of an egg from the ovary, a process known as Ovulation.
Estrogen & Progesterone: These are female sex hormones that are produced by the ovaries. Estrogen regulates the menstrual cycle, maintains bone health, and regulates cholesterol levels. Progesterone helps to prepare the Uterus for pregnancy and supports pregnancy if it occurs.
Testosterone: Testosterone is a male hormone produced in small amounts in women’s ovaries. It helps regulate the menstrual cycle and affects sex drive and energy levels.
Oestradiol: Oestradiol is a type of Estrogen that regulates the growth of the Endometrial lining and affects bone health and mood.
Prostaglandins: Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances produced in the body that play a role in pain and inflammation. They are involved in the regulation of menstrual cramps and can cause the Uterus to contract during menstruation.
Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone (GnRH): Hypothalamus produces GnRH that stimulates the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland. GnRH regulates the menstrual cycle by controlling the release of FSH and LH, which regulate the production of Estrogen and Progesterone.
The level of GnRH changes throughout the Menstrual cycle. A surge in GnRH leads to a surge in FSH, LH, and Ovulation. By controlling the release of hormones throughout the menstrual cycle, GnRH plays a critical role in regulating the Menstrual cycle and maintaining hormonal balance.
A balance in the levels of these hormones is crucial for a healthy cycle. By tracking your hormonal balance, you can take control of your Menstrual cycle and lead a more productive life.
What are the Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle?
The Follicular Phase
The Follicular phase starts after your period and lasts until Ovulation. During this time, your body produces a hormone called Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which stimulates the growth and maturation of tiny sacs in your ovaries called Follicles.
As the Follicles mature, they produce Estrogen hormone that impacts mood stability, complexion, bone health, and cholesterol levels. At the same time, there is a surge in Testosterone, which plays an important role in maintaining muscle mass and bone strength and enhancing sex drive.
At the beginning of the cycle, multiple Follicles grow equally until a dominant one emerges. Estrogen produced by the matured follicles contributes to increased Luteinizing Hormone (LH) levels. This combination of high Estrogen and LH levels triggers complex biochemical interactions that lead to Ovulation.
The Ovulatory Phase
The Ovulatory phase starts when your body releases an egg from your ovary. This usually occurs around day 14 of a 28-day cycle, although it can vary from person to person. During this phase, your body experiences a Luteinizing Hormone (LH) surge, triggering Ovulation and helping the egg move from the ovary into the fallopian tube.
Ovulation is generally regular and occurs without noticeable symptoms aside from changes in vaginal secretion. During Ovulation, cervical mucus increases in quantity and becomes clear and stretchy, like egg whites. Different types of vaginal discharge occur throughout the Menstrual cycle, so discharge that slightly changes colour and consistency are usually considered normal.
Some women may experience mild soreness on the side of the body where the ovary is releasing an egg, called Mittelschmerz (German for “middle pain”), which can last from a few minutes to one to two days. It is entirely normal not to experience it.
However, if there’s a sharp pain in the belly during Ovulation or excessive discharge, there may be underlying health issues that need medical treatment.
After Ovulation, the hormone Estrogen spikes, and the hormone Progesterone increases.
The Luteal Phase
The Luteal phase begins after Ovulation and lasts until your next period (14 days on average). During this phase, the follicle that released the egg transforms into the Corpus Luteum, which produces the hormone Progesterone.
Progesterone helps to thicken the lining of your Uterus (Endometrial Lining), preparing it for a possible pregnancy. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, Progesterone and Estrogen decrease in their levels around days 22–24 of the cycle, signalling the start of their next period and the beginning of a new menstrual cycle.
This hormonal fluctuation can start the onset of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Common symptoms include increased appetite, tiredness, acne, fatigue, and oily hair and skin.
The Menstrual Phase
If pregnancy doesn’t happen, the hormones Progesterone and Estrogen levels will decrease in the Luteal phase’s later stage. This increases Prostaglandin levels which cause the uterine muscles to contract, resulting in Menstruation or Periods. During this phase, your Endometrial lining sheds, resulting in “bleeding,” and lasts anywhere from 3–7 days. This process serves as a reset for your body, preparing it for the next cycle.
These hormonal changes can cause various physical and emotional symptoms if you’re not following a healthy lifestyle, such as cramping, tenderness of the skin and breasts, mood swings, fatigue, headaches and migraines, and lower back pain.
There are many ways to alleviate menstrual symptoms in the meantime, including pain-relieving medication for intense cramps, heating pads for lower back and abdominal pain, and dietary changes to compensate for the loss of nutrients from heavy bleeding. The best, sustainable solution is of course to follow a healthy nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle routine throughout the month.
However, if your period lasts longer than average or is particularly intense, it’s a good idea to consult a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying health issues.
How can you Maintain Hormonal Balance During the Menstrual Cycle?
Life transitions such as puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, and menopause can cause fluctuations and imbalances in hormone levels. In addition, medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid problems, eating disorders, stress, tumours, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), primary ovarian insufficiency, and certain medications can also cause hormonal imbalances. All of these will negatively impact your body and health if you are not following a healthy nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle routine. The way to ensure these fluctuations do not lead to imbalance or harm is to start living in sync with your cycle and not against it.
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance
The symptoms of a hormonal imbalance vary depending on the underlying cause and which hormones are affected. Some common symptoms include irregular or heavy periods, hair loss, vaginal dryness or pain with intercourse, acne, weight gain, hot flashes or night sweats, growth of facial hair, and skin tags.
How to balance the hormones?
Exercise: During this phase, low energy levels may be experienced, but light exercises such as walking, yoga, or light stretching can help reduce cramping and increase blood flow.
Nutrition: Iron levels are lower during this phase, so it’s vital to replenish it with foods such as leafy greens, nuts, cereals, lentils, and red meat. B12-rich foods and omega-3 supplements can help combat inflammation and fatigue. Vitamin C-rich foods like red pepper, broccoli, and oranges can aid in iron absorption.
Lifestyle: The menstrual phase is when you are least fertile and may need more self-care and recovery. This is an excellent time to focus on your well-being and limit exposure to people who may drain your energy.
Exercise: You may feel more energetic and motivated with increased estrogen levels. Engaging in high-intensity activities such as Zumba or cardio-heavy workouts.
Nutrition: Nourish your ovarian follicles with foods high in zinc and fermented foods such as sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, and kale.
Lifestyle: This phase is characterized by increased motivation and creativity, so it’s an excellent time to pursue your passions and engage in activities that bring you joy. There is a lower chance of pregnancy during this phase as the egg has not yet been released.
Exercise: With estrogen levels at their peak, you may feel at your best during this phase. Engage in high-performance activities such as dance class, high-intensity workouts, or strength training.
Nutrition: High sex drive during this phase may lead to low appetite, so it’s important to eat nutritious, energy-boosting foods such as citrus and berries and foods that support gut health, such as couscous and quinoa.
Lifestyle: This is the most fertile phase, so you may feel social and in a good mood. Take advantage of this time to connect with friends and family and engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfilment.
Exercise: Decreased estrogen levels and increased Progesterone can lead to feelings of anxiety and fatigue, so yoga, pilates, or meditation may be a good option. Avoid heavy cardio or hot yoga, as your body may have difficulty retaining water.
Nutrition: The body needs more energy during this phase, so focus on eating foods with healthy fats, such as avocados, seeds, and walnuts, and slow-digesting carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes and beans. It’s also important to eat full meals and stay hydrated.
Lifestyle: This is a time to slow down and allow your body to rest and recharge. The increased progesterone levels may tire you, so prioritize rest and sleep during this phase.
These recommendations are intended to be a guide and may not be suitable for everyone. If you have any questions or concerns, it’s always a good idea to consult a medical expert.
Summary of Key Points
- The female reproductive system, including the Ovaries, Uterus, and Fallopian Tubes, plays a crucial role in the Menstrual cycle.
- The Menstrual cycle is a complex interplay of hormones that affects a woman’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
- It is controlled by the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal (HPG) axis and hormones such as Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH), Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone, Oestradiol, and Prostaglandins.
- The Menstrual cycle has four phases: Follicular, Ovulatory, Luteal, and Menstrual.
- Understanding the Menstrual cycle and the hormones involved can help women take control of their Menstrual cycle and lead healthier and happier life.
We know that navigating the menstrual cycle can be tough, but we hope this blog has provided you with a better understanding of the menstrual cycle and why your hormones go crazy 4 times a month.
Remember, every woman’s cycle is unique, and it’s important to listen to your body and seek help if you identify hormonal imbalances. But by making lifestyle changes, like incorporating exercise and a balanced diet, you can help maintain hormonal balance and take control of your cycle.
A regular menstrual cycle is typically said to begin at menstruation. The first day of the period is counted as the first day of the menstrual cycle. More details in the blog.