Start here- Your Period
Understanding what your menstrual cycle (period) is and how it works, is the key to having control over your hormones. Here we understand, what a normal period is. It is only from here that we can then understand how hormone imbalances may be affecting our health, and make lifestyle choices like contraception, food and exercise that our suit our current needs and future goals.
A textbook period is 28 days, however it can be normal to have a period anywhere from 21 days to 35 days (up to 45 days if you’re still a teenager). Your period is split into 3 phases; early phase, ovulation and late phase. As you may know, hormones change during these phases, this is to help grow and mature the egg, release the egg and allow it to attach to the uterine wall for a little swimmer to come and fertilise it. Sounds simple, right? It is a beautiful nuance between the brain, gut and reproductive organs that creates these changes. When something is off, everything else alters. Hence hormonal issues but more on that later, let’s start with understanding what happens when everything is working as it should.
Also known as the follicular phase, this is where your body grows and develops your egg to get ready to be fertilised (maybe). Oestrogen is the dominant hormone here, as it’s like super juice, it helps things grow in females bodies. One of which is your eggs (other things like muscle and bone too). This phase spans from the first day of bleeding to ovulation. It is the only variable part of your cycle, so that’s why you may be a 28 day girl, but your BFF could be a 35 day girl. It can be normal for some women to have a couple of days of spotting before ovulation as oestrogen dips and progesterone is still low, this is most common in fit women).
This is the ‘New Years Eve, BALL DROP’ moment. Once oestrogen levels hit their peak and the brain perceives it is safe to fall pregnant, ie. no outer stress on your body or reason for your cortisol (stress hormone) levels to raise (of which there is a few), the brain will release a hormone called Luteinising Hormone (LH), this signals the release of the egg, only then will progesterone be created. So if no ovulation, no progesterone. This might be fine for a couple of months, but the more often this happens, the more ‘out of whack’ the ratio between oestrogen and progesterone can get. Ovulation has been linked to a more resilient mental state, healthier digestive function and stronger bones as we age. So it’s more than just being able to fall pregnant. Ovulation is key, it occurs over 1 day, but you’re fertile window is generally around 3-6 days, because that’s how long sperm can live for.
This length of this phase is pretty well locked in, it ranges from 10-16 days depending on the woman. Here is where your Progesterone dominates (Up to 100x more than oestrogen). Progesterone is important for with-holding a pregnancy as it helps to develop the cervical mucous. Practically you can notice thicker white discharge around the earlier stages of this phase. When your body detects the egg is not fertilised, oestrogen and progesterone spike (around 5 days before bleeding) and then rapidly drop off, this drop off in both hormones triggers bleeding and the start of your next period. Note: The hormone spike in both of your hormones 5 days before your period has been linked to the PMS signs we can experience… Read on below for a run down on how your hormones can impact the rest of your body.
PhD Exercise Physiologist and Nutritionist
Dr. Stacey Sims
Hormones tell our body what to do. How to eat, sleep and even when to grow. They give us our appetite and sex drive. They help us have babies, They make us happy, sad and giddy in love.
In men, these hormones are pretty stable day in and day out (though they certainly change over a lifetime). In women, however, it’s another story. And that story centres around the menstrual cycle.
Oestrogen Why Do we care?
Oestrogen’s primary role, if you forget everything else is to; Build and grow things! In technical terms it is an anabolic hormone. It does great things for us like; develop our follicles into eggs ready to be fertilised, protects our bones by making them strong and helps to prevent alzheimers. It has also unfortunately been known to feed female cancers because of its ‘growing’ nature, allowing damaged cells to grow and replicate. Oestrogen is sourced from several areas; It can be produced in your body (endogenous) the best kind, from plants (Phyto-oestrogens) and from plastics or non-organic compounds (Xeno-oestrogens and synthetic oestorgens). As a general hard and fast rule, endogenous oestrogen and phyto-oestrogens promote good health and xeno-oestrogen’s are like the evil twin, that promotes the negative affects of oestrogen. Check out these recipes high in naturally occurring phyto-oestrogens. Also this website has a great list of chemicals to check for and avoid on your skincare and makeup.
Progesterone Why Do we care?
Remembering this bad boy hormone is dominant in the late phase of our cycle, it has a calming affect on our brain, and has been called an anti-anxiety hormones. It boosts our feel good chemicals (serotinin), is sleep promoting and acts like a repellant with water, hence why we can be having more frequent trips to the lou and feel bloated in the later stage of the cycle. When our hormones are out of balance, or our progesterone levels are low, we can notice; PMS, insomnia, anxiety, migraines, miserable periods, irritability, and even rage. These symptoms can come around Peri-menopause when we stop ovulating regularly, more on that here.
If you're on a contraceptive pill, the answer is no. You won't ovulate. That is how the pill works, it stops ovulation and the bleed is a drug withdrawl. If you're not on hormonal contraceptives, the best way to tell is your Basal Body Temperature (BBT), other signs like PMS and mucous changes are also signs that most likely point to 'yes' when talking about ovulation.
Yes you can. You should be noticing some mucous changes around the middle of your period. Think, thin egg white and cottage cheese *note: these should be relatively odourless, if they smell, it could be a sign of infection like Bacterial Vaginosis (speak to your Healthcare practitioner)
No darrlingg... The hormones in the 'pill' are synthetic so work to stop pregnancy but don't provide all the great effects your natural hormones do. Intact they stop normal production, especially of natural progesterone.
Hormonally when we bleed is when both our oestrogen and progesterone are both low.
If you're bleeding and the blood dosen't look fresh or it's out of character for you, it's a good idea to go get your coochie looked at by a professional, it could be something and it could be nothing. Best to get it checked out, for peace of mind.
Founder of TSOM
The best person to control your health is you. Arm yourself with knowledge, have the courage to act on that knowledge, and live in your power.
Fritz, M. and Speroff, L., 2010. Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology And Infertility. 8th ed. Lipponcott Wilkins & Williams.