I am so excited to share today’s post with all of you brought to you by my friend and former co-worker, Brooke McGregor. Brooke and I met in sunny Scottsdale, AZ when we both worked at Kaleidoscope Juice, an amazing juice bar with multiple locations in the Valley. She is such a wealth of knowledge when it comes to health and wellness and truly embodies everything she promotes. Not only is her approach to health based in science, but she takes a deeper, spiritual look at things as well. Today’s post is all about hormones and the female menstrual cycle. I, quite honestly, found this post to be SO insightful and something that every woman should read and be informed about. I love that Brooke was able to provide this useful information to my readers and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
We live in a world where the word period is only acceptable when used at the end of a sentence. Contrary to popular belief, the female cycle is freaking magic! We, as women, are so incredibly blessed to have our menstrual cycle in our toolkit, telling us what is going on with our bodies on a monthly basis. We also have the ability to create life, so that’s pretty damn cool too. The only problem with our periods is that we are never given the proper handbook to educate us on the magic behind our cycle.
It wasn’t until my first year of human biology in graduate school that I was exposed to the detailed hormone fluctuations of the female cycle. Excuse me, but that is INSANE! Why did it take me until my mid-twenties to know what was happening with my own body, and require the dialect of medical terminology to understand what the hell my professor was talking about? Even more disheartening, was that it was not laid out in an easy to comprehend format. It required several drawings of hormone charts, googling YouTube videos, and re-reading textbooks to understand something my body has been doing since I was 13. I was embarrassed to ask questions or express opinions about my cycle, because we had been taught periods are gross and not a conversational topic. But, when I started talking about it I realized females I came into contact with were craving knowledge to understand their body. So before I dive into hormones, let me just repeat myself, the female cycle is freaking magic!
To start, let’s talk about a few of the major hormones: Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone. Hormones are chemical messengers that pretty much tell your body what to do. So, the next time someone tells you that you are being hormonal, take it as a compliment because you’re telling them what you want. First, we have estrogen. There are three types of estrogen: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2) and estriol (E3). The ovaries primarily produce E1 and E2, while the placenta produces E3 during pregnancy. You NEED estrogen to grow the uterine lining during the first part of your cycle, otherwise known as the follicular phase. You also NEED estrogen for your bones. It slows the breakdown of bone, which our bodies naturally do to supply calcium when needed. When you have low estrogen your bones are at risk for low calcium levels and sex is painful because your uterine lining is thinning. So, ladies, check your estrogen levels because the last thing you need is osteoporosis or a weak sex life. Next is progesterone, which is also produced by the ovaries, but after ovulation. Progesterone tells you if your cycle is working normally. It also preps the uterus for a fertilized egg. No fertilized egg, aka no baby, the progesterone levels naturally decline and BOOM, a period. Finally, testosterone, a lipid made from cholesterol produced by the ovaries and adrenals. If low in women you can experience fatigue, weight gain, and fertility issues. It too, aids in the shedding of the uterine lining (your period), and promotes muscle development, regulating red blood cells, and increases sex drive.
Now, comes your cycle. Day 1 of your cycle is your period. Your hormones are at a baseline level. This allows the right and left parts of your brain to have the most communication ever during your cycle. Due to the decreased hormones your energy is low, which is why you feel tired. This is a good time for low-level workouts like yoga, and light Pilates, to compliment your body changes and gracefully work through any discomfort you may be having. However, since you are not pregnant your uterus must contract to shed the uterine lining. Prostaglandins are responsible for that contraction and those pesky menstrual cramps. If you are having horrible cramps, too many prostaglandins are being produced. That is not normal. The only time you want increasingly high prostaglandins is in labor for contractions to push out a baby. You do not need to reenact labor pains every month because someone once told you painful cramps are a normal part of the menstrual process. You could be suffering from nutrient deficiencies, fibroids, or hormonal imbalances. Do not settle for intense pain being a normal way of life. Get help to find the root of the problem. Suggestions during the menstrual phase are to recognize the decrease in hormones and know how to properly fuel your body. This means you need healthy fats and proteins as precursors to make all of the hormones required throughout the next phases of the cycle. Heavy menstruation causes a drop in hemoglobin. If this something you struggle with, chlorophyll has been luckily similarly structured to hemoglobin but with a binding affinity for magnesium instead of iron. Chlorophyll can be a wonderful addition during this time not only for its similarity to hemoglobin but it’s magnesium ion. Magnesium is a power house mineral aiding in creating new proteins, DNA repair, and muscle movement like the contraction and relaxation of the uterine lining (reducing cramps).
Next, your body is focusing on growing a follicle with follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) because a healthy female body wants to get pregnant. Even if you are not trying to get pregnant, understand that in order for you to feel GOOD you need healthy hormone levels. The body is increasing in estrogen during this time and you should feel GOOD. This is a great time for cardio and high-energy workouts your body was probably despising during your period. You also want to make sure your gut is in check to properly metabolizing all of the hormones coming into play for the next phases. This is a great time to incorporate fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi. You may want to focus on phytoestrogens (plant based compounds similar to estrogen) to aid in the desired increase in estrogen. Miso paste, miso soup, flax seeds, and hummus are all good choices. Focus on energy sustaining foods.
Now we get to ovulation. The follicle that was created in the follicular phase is now a little egg and released due to luteinizing hormone (LH). Your body will have a little rise of testosterone giving you better muscle recovery so lift weights, go to HIIT workouts, etc. You may also notice you’re a little chattier with increased desire for activity because your body wants to be social from hormonal stimulation. Cervical mucus is prominent during ovulation for the sole reason of fertilizing the egg, and you will be able to tell if you have cervical mucus. If you’re not trying to get pregnant DO NOT have sex during the ovulation window since sperm can survive up to 5 days in females cervical mucus. You want to support blood flow to your ovaries during ovulation. Food items that promote vascularization (increasing blood flow) are things like leafy greens, citrus fruits, turmeric, garlic, beets, and fatty fish. I personally use this time in my cycle to consume a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables through organic cold press juice and smoothies to keep up with energy demand. The addition of fruits and vegetables will also aid in increasing your fiber intake, which enhances excretion of any excess hormones that are still lingering. This is vital if you suffer from PMS due to excess estrogen right before your period in the upcoming phase.
Finally, we are in the luteal phase where all of our hormones are present: Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone! During this phase you can keep up with strength training and more intense routines. Your workouts in the beginning will be elevated with your hormones and decrease the closer you get to your period. This is also a good time to get any necessary blood work done in order to determine your hormone levels. Estrogen is there keeping the uterine lining thick, and progesterone should exist to get the lining ready for egg placement if there is a fertilized embryo. However, of the three hormones present, the only one you want surging is progesterone. Progesterone is the happy, anti-anxiety hormone, but you need to ovulate in order for it to be produced. In simple terms no ovulation no progesterone, no pregnancies, and your mood is s**t. You need to make sure what you are eating is supporting the conversion of pregnenolone to progesterone. Pregnenolone is a cholesterol-based precursor for all sex hormones, and the conversion is essential to healthy progesterone levels. You still need estrogen, just a healthy balance of it to avoid PMS (poor mood and breast tenderness) and estrogen dominance. Focusing on B vitamin rich foods like organic pasture raised eggs, legumes, dark leafy greens, algae, and whole grains is ideal. You will want to make sure mineral content is maintained to support your upcoming period as well. This includes magnesium (mentioned earlier), potassium, and calcium. Foods such as broccoli, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, brussels sprouts, winter squash, oranges, almonds, collards, celery, black beans, scallops, and whole grains are encouraged. The B vitamins and minerals will aid in starving off sugar cravings as well. Your progesterone along with all other hormones will decrease due to an absence in pregnancy after about a week and your period will begin.
The female body was made to ebb and flow, literally. Your period does not have to hold you prisoner. Instead, view it as an opportunity to understand what your body needs and optimally when, to feel as incredible as possible throughout the entire month!
By Brooke McGregor
A little bit about Brooke:
Brooke McGregor has her undergraduate degree in Nutrition Dietetics with a certificate in Sustainability, emphasizing in sustainable agriculture. She is currently an MS Nutrition and Functional Medicine candidate while working as Kaleidoscope Juice’s Chief Operating Officer and partner in Phoenix Arizona. Her passions include intuitive and spiritual eating, environmental medicine, and female hormones. She also enjoys public policy nutrition from her time as a Nutrition Fellow in the United States Congress during reformation of the 2018 Farm Bill. Her spiritual based nutrition approach to whole body wellness was developed through her diploma in Angel Healing Therapy accreditation. Brooke’s objectives are to take science based nutrition modalities and combine them with spiritual and emotional body connections. The goal is to truly achieve optimal wellness, mind, body, and spirit.
You can follow Brooke on instagram over at bcmcgreg.