Reproductive-age women experience a menstrual cycle roughly every month. This cyclical process is connected to all the other systems that keep our bodies running and support our capacity for reproduction. The menstrual cycle is sensitive to the other changes that occur in our lives—environmental, emotional, or other.
Many bodily changes occur throughout the menstrual cycle. The main hormones responsible for these changes are the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Testosterone—although considered a male sex hormone—also plays a role as all people produce it to some extent. Although unexpected irregularities can be a signal that something is amiss, not everyone is blessed with a consistent menstrual cycle.
The menstrual cycle is divided into three main stages: follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. The highs and lows of our oestrogen and progesterone levels dictate how we experience the changes throughout the various stages of the cycle. It can seem like there is no sense to the depletion or increase of energy that you may be experiencing; however, energy fluctuations are a perfectly normal part of the hormonal dance happening inside your body.
The follicular phase is the time between the first day of your period and ovulation, and can be divided into two parts—your period and the days leading up to ovulation:
The ovulatory phase is the next and shortest phase of the cycle, lasting only around 24 hours. This usually happens around the 14th day of your cycle following the first day of the follicular phase. Oestrogen and progesterone levels are at their peak now. This surge in hormones alerts your pituitary gland to increase its production of the luteinising hormone (LH) and release an egg. If during this time an egg isn’t fertilised, it is reabsorbed into the body. But before that happens, your body tries its best to achieve impregnation. You will likely experience an increase in your sex drive and a heightened sense of smell, among other reactions. Studies have shown that women look and feel more attractive during ovulation. Your energy levels are at their highest, and it’s a good time to make the most of your work and relationships.
The luteal phase begins after your body has released an egg and, unless fertilisation occurs, lasts around 14 days. During this phase, progesterone levels rise in preparation for a potential pregnancy. You may also experience a rise in body temperature, and you will feel your energy drop. Although it doesn’t impact all women in the same way, this is a real and measurable effect. PMS often accompanies this decrease in energy. Now is a good time to prioritise nourishment and relaxation.
Today women are becoming more aware of the impact the menstrual cycle has. Paying attention to the changes you experience can help you manage the cyclical fluctuations. You can do this by taking your basal body temperature each morning and monitoring your vaginal discharge. Period apps, such as WomanLog can also help you keep on top of your cycle. Working with the differences in energy and mood instead of trying to power through all of the highs and lows equally, could be a key to a more balanced lifestyle.
Hormones are essentially chemical sensors that send signals to the body, telling it what to do. When there is a hormonal imbalance, the signals get skewed, and this can cause some serious problems.
Here’s what happens if the hormones responsible for your menstrual cycle get out of whack:
Oestrogen dominance is when the body produces too much oestrogen, and there isn’t enough progesterone to balance it. Normally, oestrogen not only regulates the menstrual cycle but also promotes bone and tissue health. However, too much oestrogen can cause heavy and painful periods, an increase in PMS symptoms, a decrease in sex drive, and can also make you more prone to anxiety or depression. Oestrogen dominance has also been linked to health issues such as breast cancer, fibroids, PCOS, and endometriosis.
Progesterone dominance occurs when the body produces too much progesterone and too little oestrogen. While it’s not as common as oestrogen dominance, it is as likely to cause problems. Fatigue, urinary tract infections, muscle weakness, and mood swings are all common symptoms of excess progesterone. Progesterone dominance occurs mainly in women going through hormonal therapy.
Hormonal imbalance is often caused by external factors such as stress or hormonal birth control. Causes will differ depending on which hormones or glands are affected. Some of the most common causes include:
Stress is the root cause of many health issues and hormonal imbalance is no exception. When we are stressed, our bodies produce cortisol—the stress hormone—which causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. The release of cortisol is our body’s first trigger in the fight or flight response. While a bit of stress won’t do you any harm, if you are under long-term chronic stress, your body keeps producing cortisol, leaving you in an ongoing fight or flight state.
Some types of hormonal birth control suppress ovulation by restricting the production of progesterone, which can lead to oestrogen dominance. The synthetic version of progesterone—progestin—is often a key component in different types of contraception. It works by preventing the release of eggs from the ovaries.
Detoxification is the process of removing toxic substances from your body. This is mainly carried out by the liver. Your liver is the organ that gets rid of any excess oestrogen, meaning if your liver is not filtering properly, you could end up with a surplus of oestrogen.
There are a number of medical conditions that can cause hormonal imbalance.
Other causes include pregnancy, menopause, genetics, and taking certain medications. All of these factors can influence the production of hormones and are important to consider when dealing with any hormonal imbalance.
The first step to balancing your hormones is to identify the cause. Self-diagnosis isn’t a reliable route. The body is complex, and we can easily scare ourselves by asking Dr Google. Contact your doctor and explain the situation. They will be able to offer a professional opinion and suggest some next steps. Since there is no single test that identifies the causes of a hormonal imbalance, you may have to take a series of tests before discovering an answer.
Treatment depends on the cause. There are a variety of treatments used to balance hormones, including hormonal birth control and various hormone therapies. Most of these options have some side effects, so be sure to have all the information you need to make a good decision.
Natural remedies and supplements can complement medical treatments, and sometimes are enough to get you back to where you want to be. Certain food groups can impact your hormones, but they are not the same for everyone, and good quality supplements can help you get enough nutrients that play a role in your well-being.
Although it won't solve all of your problems, eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, and managing stress levels will make you better equipped to deal with anything that might negatively affect your health.
Tracking your cycle has many benefits, not only as a birth control safety measure. It can help you predict energy levels and plan your monthly schedule. It can also heighten your awareness of any unusual changes, making it easier to identify when something isn’t quite right.
You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now: