FEWE CREW: The ultimate guide to your hormones with Nicki Wiliams
12th November 2021
The ultimate guide to understanding your hormones throughout your cycle and how to track these, as well as the symptoms that you recognise in yourself, which your hormonal changes create
Your Monthly Cycle
From the moment you start your period, hormones can feel like they’re in control of you. And we don’t get a handbook to know what to do about it!
No instructions, no education, we’re just left to get on with it. And if we go to the doctor for help, we might either get told that it’s ‘normal’ or get put on medication to ‘suppress’ everything.
So let’s understand our own beautiful cycles so that we can get some control back.
Did you know that periods are so called because they happen periodically (ie every month)? However, a healthy menstrual cycle lasts anywhere from 21 to 35 days, with 28 being the average.
There are 4 key phases of your menstrual cycle;
1. FLOW or Menstruation
Your period is the very start of the follicular phase. Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your heavy flow. As your uterine lining sheds, your oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels. FSH starts to rise and your ovarian follicles are in a race to be selected for ovulation! Bleeding usually lasts between 3-7 days, Your blood should be a reddish brown colour, lighter when in full flow and darker when it’s slower. Small clots are normal but larger and more frequent clots or heavy bleeding for more than 7 days should be checked out.
Symptoms; during this week, you may feel a sense of relief (if you suffer from PMS in the lead up to it), but you may also feel tired, withdrawn, pain sensitive and emotionally fragile.
- SOAR or Follicular
After your period, your follicular phase continues to get everything ready for ovulation. One follicle is selected to start maturing and FSH stimulates the production of estradiol which starts to thicken the uterine lining and cervical fluid.
Symptoms; You are at your most fertile at this stage (before ovulation), and you can feel pretty good, as oestrogen is high, boosting your mood, sleep, skin and libido (serotonin and dopamine are higher than normal). You may notice some ‘fertile mucus’ around this time (it is wet and slippery to help sperm to swim!).
- TRANSFORM or Ovulation
The release of an egg is the most important part of your cycle and the culmination of your hormones working together. In this short 1-2 day phase, one of the racing follicles reaches the finish line and triggered by a surge of LH, releases the egg. The egg is swept into the fallopian tubes and will either be fertilized by sperm or it will break down. Even if you’re not trying to get pregnant, ovulation is important because it’s the main source of oestrogen and progesterone.
Symptoms; If you ovulate, some people feel a twinge of pain or sensation as the egg is released.
- RESET or Luteal
After ovulation you enter the luteal phase which typically lasts around 12-14 days. The follicle left behind after ovulation miraculously forms a new gland called the Corpus Luteum. This is where progesterone is made. And this hormone is super important!
Progesterone’s main job is to prepare the womb for a healthy pregnancy (pro-gestation is how it got its name). But it does so much more than that. Progesterone is your calming hormone. It helps you sleep, reduces anxiety and balances out oestrogen.
If there’s no pregnancy, the Corpus Luteum will start to break down and oestrogen and progesterone will fall rapidly, stimulating the breakdown of the uterine lining. And you will start another cycle!
Symptoms; During this phase, if you don’t have enough progesterone (or too much oestrogen), you can feel typical PMS symptoms which can include low energy, low mood, irritability, cravings, anxiety, breast tenderness, bloating, breakouts and more.
Our bodies are truly amazing! Each month this cycle happens to prepare the body for pregnancy. There are so many complex and moving parts to make this cycle happen so it’s not surprising that it can be problematic for many women!
If you are on the contraceptive pill, you will not ovulate and therefore your natural hormone production will be suppressed.
If you are in perimenopause (typically from 35 onwards) or you have PCOS, you may not be ovulating every month but you can still have a period. This is when a lack of progesterone can result in PMS type symptoms, poor sleep and increased anxiety.
Other conditions such as fibroids or endometriosis can have an impact on your cycle, often increasing cramps and heavy bleeds.
The good news is that there is so much you can do naturally to improve the health of your monthly cycle.
Things you do on a daily basis can have a big impact on the health of your cycle and hormone balance;
- what you eat and drink – a nutrient dense whole food diet, with plenty of protein, healthy fats and slow burning carbs, can help to support hormone balance right throughout your cycle
- what chemicals you inhale, ingest or put on your skin – minimising exposure to plastic, pesticides and synthetic fragrances will limit any hormone disruption
- how much stress you’re experiencing –daily stress management can help to balance your cortisol
- the quality of your sleep – prioritising good quality sleep of around 7-8 hours a night will help to decrease stress and balance all your hormones
- how much your body is moving – getting the right balance between being too sedentary and over-exercising is important for your hormones and general health
- your gut health – your gut impacts your hormones and vice versa. Make sure you’re feeding your gut bacteria and slow down your eating to improve your digestion.
In the next article I’ll be looking at how to hack the phases of your cycle and balance your hormones so you have a healthy and uneventful month!