UNDERSTANDING YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE, IT'S MORE THAN JUST A PERIOD.
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
In 2017 research carried out by YouGov for ActionAid showed a shocking 1 in 4 UK women aged between 16-39 don't understand their menstrual cycle. In addition, one in five women (20%) under forty years old say they would feel uncomfortable discussing their periods with their female friends, their mums (21%) and their partners (21%). Stats like this make me even more passionate about supporting women, their hormones, and their fertility.
(Image taken from www.helloclue.com)
Women should feel comfortable and confident talking about periods, emotions, and their reproductive system rather than it being taboo. Menstruation is considered a "fifth vital sign", according to the American College Of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. In other words, menstruation is just as important a health indicator as changes in body temperature, pulse, breathing rate and blood pressure.
WHAT IS YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE
The menstrual cycle describes the regular pattern of periods that your body goes through monthly, with the average menstrual cycle in an adult ranging between 21-35 days.
It is not surprising that most women think their menstrual cycle to be just about bleeding, cramps and mood swings. However, the menstrual cycle is so so much more than that. Across the month, an incredible and intricate hormonal dance takes place between sex hormones; Estrogen, Progesterone, Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH). So let's delve into these hormones, the different phases of the menstrual cycle and how those hormonal fluctuations influence the body.
Estrogen - Estrogen is one of the primary female sex hormones. It is required to develop and regulate the reproductive system (and contributes to other essential processes in the body). Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, the adrenals and fat tissue. There are three types of estrogen; estriol, estrone and estradiol.
Progesterone - Progesterone is a steroid hormone released by the corpus luteum in the ovary. It plays an essential role in the menstrual cycle and maintains the early stages of pregnancy.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH) - ILuteinizing Hormone (LH) - Is produced and released by the anterior pituitary gland. It essentially controls the function of the ovaries, stimulating the ovaries to produce estradiol (the form of estrogen involves in menstruation). It is also is the hormone that causes the ovaries to release an egg. If fertilisation occurs, LH will then stimulate the corpus luteum.
Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH) - is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the hypothalamus required to grow ovarian follicles.
PHASES OF THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE
Duration 4-7 days.
The first day of your period is considered day 1 of your cycle. The period marks the shedding of the uterine lining that has built up across the month. At this point in your cycle, progesterone and estrogen levels are low. These lower levels of hormones can make you feel a little flat and energyless.
This phase can also be associated with cramps, food cravings, nausea and vomiting or the absence of PMS symptoms.
Duration 7-10 days.
This phase is the time between the first day of your period and the ovulatory phase. A lot is happening in this phase as the body gears up for the main event, ovulation. An excellent example of how the mind and the body work together. The hypothalamus stimulates the release of FSH from the pituitary gland, which tells the follicles in the ovaries to mature and get ready to release an egg. During this phase, estrogen is also on the rise, allowing the uterine lining to thicken.
The surge in estrogen is what can make you feel invincible, full of energy, confident and ready to take on new things! This is also when cervical fluid (a marker of fertility) makes an appearance, changing in texture and colour as you get closer to ovulation.
Duration 3-4 days.
This is the main event of the whole cycle. The surge in FSH, the growing follicle, and the peak in oestrogen triggers LH to be released, which causes an egg to rupture out of the ovary - this is ovulation. The egg will then be swept up into the fallopian tubes, where it can be fertilised if sperm is present. Ovulation is different for everyone. It does not necessarily happen on day 14 but can happen earlier or later, depending on your own cycle.
During this phase, you may have an increased libido, more energy, stable mood and increased energy. Spotting can happen, as well as ovulation pain (some women can feel the egg releasing from the ovary) and headaches. Cervical fluid may become stretchy, slippery and transparent as you get closer to ovulation.
Duration 10-16 days.
This is the phase after ovulation has occurred and lasts up until menstruation occurs. During this phase, the body is essentially preparing for a possible pregnancy. This is where the amazing hormone progesterone comes in. The follicle the egg has ruptured from restructures into a progesterone-secreting gland called the corpus luteum (mind-blowing, isn't it!!!). This structure marks the end of your follicles 100-day journey to ovulation.
During this phase, oestrogen drops and progesterone takes over to maintain the uterus lining. An imbalance in the ratio between estrogen and progesterone here can result in PMS symptoms. These can include mood swings, acne, breast tenderness and lumpiness. You may also feel decreased concentration, low mood and, in some cases, anxiety and depression. Body temperature (another fertility sign) will also increase during this phase. If you are tracking your basal body temperature for fertility reasons, this is when you will see an increase in temperature on waking. The cervical fluid after ovulation tends to disappear or change in texture and colour, becoming more sticky and dry.
TAKING CONTROL OF YOUR CYCLE
Knowledge is power when it comes to health. If we can understand all the wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) ways that our bodies are consistently trying to communicate with us, if we can read those signs, and adapt our lifestyles and diet to support its needs, then we can help the body and reproductive organs function at their very best.
Taking control of your menstrual cycle and understanding the natural hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the month allows you to:
Feel in control of your body.
It enables you to plan your life around your natural highs and lows
Recognise when something is not right
Plan and prepare for pregnancy - the better your periods, the more fertile you become.
If you are experiencing bad PMS or any other hormonal-related condition, or if you are wanting to understand how to track and monitor your cycle to support your fertility, get in touch and book your free 30-minute consultation today.