FEWE Crew: An interview with Dr. Zoe Williams

FEWE Crew: An interview with Dr. Zoe Williams

22nd September 2021

Dr. Zoe Williams a practising NHS GP and media medic. FEWE is here to help you understand the science of your self, which makes Zoe and her medical background a vital part of FEWE's mission.

Why is whole cycle care so important? 

Whole cycle care is important if we want to fully optimise our health and wellbeing. People are more engaged in their own health than ever before, and self-care contributes hugely when it comes to our overall health. Looking after ourselves starts with understanding ourselves, and for people who have a menstrual cycle, our hormones contribute to how we feel, function and perform differently from week to week. Understanding our own pattern can help us to optimise our personal lives, work lives and know when best to take it easy.

Do you feel there is a lack of education around full cycle care, and if so, is it something that should be taught from an early age?

There is a real lack of education around full cycle care, and it’s a shame because we are missing a trick. We are missing an opportunity to fully understand the wonderful science of ourselves and therefore missing the chance to capitalise on that science. Learning about our menstrual cycles from an early age would help us to get the best out of each month and also know when to rest and be kinder to ourselves. Ultimately resulting in better quality of life and even better physical and mental health. This is why FEWE’s community ethos is so great - their priority is to educate people about their cycles and how they affect their bodies and their lives, while their product portfolio aims to help feel one’s best throughout the cycle. 

At a basic, biological level, please can you break down what happens to the body at each stage of the menstrual cycle?

Menstruation (day 1-7ish)

The first phase is menstruation. This is when the lining of the uterus is shed, so we are bleeding (usually lasts between 3-8 days) and may have period pains. During this phase the brain is producing gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which tells the ovaries to mature follicles (which have potential to become eggs). These developing follicles also signal oestrogen to be produced. During this time the brain is more susceptible to pain, and emotions can be heightened too, but it is a good time for our brain to do focussed thinking.The first phase is a bit like winter, you may want to slow down, rest and be gentle with yourself. A good time for planning and thinking ahead.

Follicular phase (day 8-14 ish)

The second phase is called the follicular phase. It usually lasts from the end of menstruation till ovulation, around day 8-14. This phase is called follicular because it is when the follicles are developing thanks to FSH, as one reaches maturity, the others start to die off and this signals the release of luteinising hormone. This phase can feel like spring, re-emerging from hibernation. The hormones are likely to help us feel at our best, our skin and hair seems to ‘glow’, pain threshold is higher and psychologically we have a boost of drive and confidence. A great time to push yourself in the gym and book up your diary with the hardest tasks of the month. 

Ovulation (day 15-21ish)

The ovulatory phase is around day 15-21. LH and oestrogen peak and at their highest level an egg is released. Once the egg is released these two hormones start to dip and progesterone rises. This phase of the cycle is like summertime. You’re likely to feel bright, experience higher sex drive, have an increased appetite and feel as though you want to go out and party. Towards the end of this phase memory can be less focussed and you might benefit from starting to wind down.

Luteal phase (day 22-28ish)

If a pregnancy has not occurred you then enter the fourth phase, which is the premenstrual phase or luteal phase (day 22-28). The body produces progesterone and levels of FSH and LH drop as they’re no longer needed. In this phase you’re more likely to feel the typical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) – which include headaches, bloating, breast pain, anxiety and low mood. This phase of the cycle is like autumn, everything can feel a bit grey and lifeless. Energy levels are likely to dip and if you’re not able to take time to yourself away from the demands of the world you may find yourself feeling irritable and short-tempered. Best not to overpack the diary and schedule in some me-time for self-care. Reading a book, long baths, a massage or walks in nature – whatever works for you.  A good time to opt for more restorative forms of exercise like yoga or pilates.

How does the menstrual cycle and hormones affect people’s libido and sex life throughout the month? 

There are many things in life which will affect a person’s libido from one day to the next – stress, sleep, experiences, mood to name just a few, but different hormones play a role when it comes to our sex drive too. Oestrogen for example is thought to increase sexual desire and progesterone reduce it. So, we are most likely to feel horny around the time of ovulation which, not surprisingly, is also when we are most fertile – funny that!

Please can you explain why some people find it so painful at specific points of the monthly cycle? 

Period cramp pains aside – many people experience other types of pain, such as musculoskeletal pain whilst menstruating. During the menstruation phase of our cycle the brain tends to be more susceptible to pain in general due to the hormonal activity at that time. In contrast we tend to be less susceptible to pain in the following week after our period.

Why are people’s sleep patterns so affected during the menstrual cycle?

As our hormones change throughout the menstrual cycle, so we may see a correlating pattern with how well we sleep at night and how sleepy we feel during the day. The commonest complaint is of restless sleep in the days leading up to a period. We know that the amount of REM sleep - which is when we have most of our dreams – is less in this part of the menstrual cycle. Hormonal changes at this time (e.g., sudden drops in progesterone) affect the body’s temperature control. In turn this can affect sleep quality.

What are the benefits of cycle tracking to both mental and physical health?

Simply understanding and pre-empting how we will feel at each phase of our menstrual cycle means we can plan accordingly. Timing events when our hormones will support us to perform optimally - to get the absolute best out of life, and ensuring we rest and avoid unnecessary stressors in our more vulnerable weeks. This approach is a way to hack our hormones to optimise quality of life and also to take good care of our physical and mental health. This cycle hacking approach is the rationale behind the FEWE product portfolio and therefore can be used to benefit you in so many ways throughout your cycles.

What are the benefits of FEWE’s key ingredients included within their product line?

FEWE’s range of products use ingredients which help and support people to feel their best through the four phases of their menstrual cycle. They've labelled these as 'FLOW, SOAR, TRANSFORM and RESET' and include an oral spray to support sleep, which can be affected especially in the pre-menstrual phase, and a variety of face serums designed for each phase and respective skin issues from acne to dry skin.