The female reproductive system is intricate and unique which facilitates all stages of a woman's reproductive life stage including puberty, menstruation, conception, pregnancy and childbirth, through to menopause.
As women, we all have our own journey with our menstrual cycle.
Understanding how to support your emotional, physical and nutritional needs at each phase in your cycle is important to restore harmony and balance within yourself, including your hormones.
What are the different phases of the menstrual cycle, and what generally happens within the body during each?
There are four phases to a woman’s menstrual cycle - menstruation, follicular phase, ovulation, and luteal phase. Each woman’s cycle varies in length but a normal/regular cycle is classified between 21-35 days.
01/ During menstruation (typically days 1-6), hormone levels (i.e. progesterone) decrease as menstruation commences. Day 1/first day of your cycle is the first day of your bleed.
02/ The follicular phase (days 7-13), otherwise termed pre-ovulation, involves an increase of oestrogen levels.
03/ This progresses into ovulation (days 14-21) where oestrogen levels are at their peak! You may notice your libido climaxes as this is your most fertile time frame. You also may notice more cervical fluid/discharge appears which is a good indication that you’re ovulating.
04/ The luteal phase is classified as the premenstrual phase (Day 22-28) which is characterised by increasing levels of progesterone as the body naturally prepares for pregnancy, however if this does not occur then progesterone will decline and this will initiate another menstrual cycle.
Are there any particular foods and/or nutrients we can eat to support the different phases of our cycle?
As we’re menstruating and losing blood, I would recommend consuming blood-building nutrients, warming and iron-rich foods such as slow cooked stews, bone broths, nuts/seeds/beans, and legumes. Consider including carminative herbs/spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, ginger to support anti-inflammatory/antioxidant status.
Reduce consumption of inflammatory foods/beverages to minimise inflammation, cramping and menstrual pain. Try swapping your coffee for a herbal tea or cacao. Minimising/avoiding gluten and dairy products can be helpful too; opt for gluten-free/dairy-free options if needed.
We tend to crave sweets and carby foods for an energy source or comfort. If this is the case for you, try dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate varieties; and complex carbohydrates such as sweet potato, whole grains and quinoa... this will maintain blood sugar levels and help to give you that source of energy you're after without the crash afterwards!
Focus on liver detoxification support to encourage optimal metabolism/clearance of hormones to ensure they remain in balance! This means increasing consumption of cruciferous vegetables (i.e. broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, rocket, bok choy, cauliflower, silverbeet). Steaming these vegetables for a short period (less than 5 mins) increases the amount of antioxidant content!
Avoid xenoestrogens as they tend to mimic our hormones. They're typically found in soft plastics, cleaning/beauty products, perfumes, room diffusers, air fresheners, and fragrances. Choosing natural/organic products (household/personal), reusable glass keep cups/tupperware containers, natural deodorants, and allowing fresh air to filter through the home helps to limit exposure to these endocrine disrupting chemicals!
Hydrate! The best and simplest way to support detoxification is to maintain adequate hydration levels. Aim for at least 2-3L of filtered water per day, and an additional 500ml-1L per hour of exercise (depending on intensity).
Whilst you’re feeling your best and most energised self, you may feel more inclined to enjoy more decadent flavours/meals and an array of cuisines.
Focus on nutrients that support hormonal health, ovulation and provide antioxidant support such as selenium, zinc, vitamin C and omega 3’s
Boost Selenium rich foods: Handful of brazil nuts, eggs, mushrooms, oats, tahini, seafood
Boost Zinc rich foods: Handful of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, oysters, shellfish, red meat, spinach, lentils, beans, eggs
Boost Vitamin C rich foods: Broccoli, spinach, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, red capsicum, lemon, oranges, berries, papaya, guava.
Omega 3’s: Walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds + all seafood
Avoiding trans/saturated fats and pro-inflammatory foods/beverages (i.e. processed foods, excess sugar/sweets, sodium, alcohol, caffeine) as this is our premenstrual phase and where we typically see PMS symptoms occur (i.e. mood swings, cravings, headaches, fluid retention, bloating, fatigue/low energy).
Continuing consuming foods to help support hormonal balance as mentioned above (Selenium, Zinc, Vitamin C, omega 3’s, dietary fibre, protein, antioxidants)
How are our energy levels affected throughout each stage? How can we adapt our exercise routines to suit whilst in a specific phase?
01/ Menstruation: This is the time to slow down, turn inward, and allow yourself to rest. If you feel up for it, I would encourage restorative practices such as yoga, gentle walks, stretching.
02/ Follicular: There’s an increased desire to exercise and you may feel more inclined to partake in moderate intensity practices such as walking, pilates, hiking.
03/ Ovulation: As libido peaks, this is time to explore your sexual needs/desires with a loved one or yourself. In terms of movement, you will be able to maintain higher intensity practices here - HIIT circuits, cycling, swimming, running, barre pilates, dancing etc.
04/ Luteal: As your energy reserves begin to slowly decline, you’ll notice the intensity of your physical activity slowly reduce to a light-moderate intensity and may opt for practices such as pilates, yoga, walking.
What changes in mood/mental health may we notice during each phase?
01/ Menstruation: you may feel withdrawn, unmotivated, lethargic, introverted. Take time to care for yourself through guided meditation, hot water bottles, clary sage essential oil, magnesium spray on your abdomen for pain relief, slow restorative yoga practice or stretching to move your body in a kind + gentle way, or simply just resting in bed.
02/ Follicular: you may feel more outgoing, social, motivated. Consider planning a date night with your partner or enjoy spending quality time socialising with friends/family.
03/ Ovulation: Emotionally you're at your best! Driven, confident, attractive, social, creative, energised, spontaneous. Enjoy spending time going on spontaneous adventures/hikes or utilising your creative talent to brainstorm ideas/work projects/future plans.
04/ Luteal: you begin to crave space after being social for a few weeks, may notice a tendency to implement more self-care rituals here as you spend time alone (i.e. face masks, hair treatments, infrared saunas, dry body brushing (especially helpful if you tend to hold fluid retention or feel swollen around this time), gua sha ritual, reading, massage).
What could be a few possible reasons for a woman to stop experiencing a period bleed each cycle?
High prolactin levels
Coming off the oral contraceptive pill
As you can see, there are many reasons a woman may suffer from an absent menstrual cycle (amenorrhea) which is why it’s important to seek professional support (i.e. Naturopath) if this is an issue for you in order to investigate and treat the underlying cause(s) to rebalance hormones and improve cycle regularity.
Need Individualised Support? Book in for an online Naturopathic consultation with me via my website https://curawellness.co/pages/book-now (available Australia-wide) or email me at email@example.com
This article was made in collaboration with Inner Wellness Co.https://innrwellnessco.wixsite.com/my-site/post/optimising-different-phases-of-your-menstrual-cycle-with-naturopath-tayla-gardiner
Briden, L. (2017). Period repair manual 2ed. Pan Macmillan; Australia.
Johnson, W. G., Corrigan, S. A., Lemmon, C. R., Bergeron, K. B., & Crusco, A. H. (1994). Energy regulation over the menstrual cycle. Physiology & behavior, 56(3), 523–527. https://doi.org/10.1016/0031-9384(94)90296-8
Reed, B. G., Carr, B.R. (2018). The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. Endotext. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279054/
Trickey, R. (2004). Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle. Allen & Unwin. Crows Nest, N.S.W.