Understanding the natural menstrual cycle
Much of a woman’s life is lead and guided by hormonal cycles from adolescence all the way through to post-menopause. Maintaining a healthy cycle and hormonal balance will impact upon a woman’s whole-body health, vitality, and wellbeing. Hormones affect literally every part of our lives, including whether we feel tired or awake, relaxed or stressed, happy or sad. They also play a role in our appetite, sleep, body temperature and sex drive. The ebb and flow of hormones change throughout the month and can profoundly impact our health and how we relate to the world around us. Each phase of your monthly cycle brings about different physical and emotional feelings. The menstrual phase is made up of 4 phases: menstruation (our period), follicular phase, ovulation, and luteal phase. Your cycle length is the days between the first day of your period and the last day before your next. Understanding how your hormones work in each phase of your cycle is the key to maximizing your true potential. By understanding these different phases then we can tune into how we might feel at certain times during the month and have the awareness to plan our work, social and life events to better suit our needs. It’s important to listen to your body, respect your rhythm, focus on activities that make you feel good, and honour those times when we might need a little extra care to nourish ourselves.
Menstrual bleed- day 1-6
A period is often referred to as your monthly report card- it’s a valuable tool to understand what is happening with your health in general and how your hormones are working. The menstrual period is the time to take it easy. Before and during menstruation hormones oestrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest. With this comes low energy which may explain why you feel a little more fatigued. It’s normal to want to slow down and take time for yourself. You’ll likely feel reflective and introspective so schedule some down time, remove all expectations and give yourself permission to rest. Focus on nourishing, nurturing, and grounding yourself in whatever way works for you.
Follicular next 7-12 days
The rise in oestrogen brings back our physical and mental energy levels. Oestrogen is often referred to as our happy hormone as it stimulates mood and libido. It also boosts serotonin and dopamine to promote happiness, motivation, and pleasure. Hopefully, this time is filled with energy, fun, and vitality, and is mostly care-free. You may notice feelings of creativity, curiosity, and growth so now is the time to plan your month, set intentions and, most importantly, allow yourself to have fun. Build up this stamina and endurance with a little more movement in your day-to-day activity.
Ovulation Day 13-16
The surge in hormones as your body prepares for ovulation brings high energy, confidence, and clarity. For many this is the most productive, exciting, and energetic phase. You may notice that you’re feeling a little more communicative, sociable, and vivacious. Just remember to not give all your energy away. Ovulation is a one-day event and it’s how your body makes progesterone. Once the egg has been released from the follicle, it turns into a progesterone-secreting gland called the corpus luteam. Progesterone is a key hormone when it comes to period health and it is known for calming the nervous system, promoting sleep, and enhancing our mood.
Luteal phase: day 17 to bleed
During this phase, progesterone tends to rise and oestrogen falls, so you may notice that your intuition is telling you to slow down and go inwards. This is the time to complete projects as you may notice an improved focused and productivity. Be gentle with yourself and others around you; self-care and self-love should be your top priority right now. During this phase, your metabolism speeds up so you may find yourself reaching for something sweet and comforting. It’s natural to want different foods at different times of your cycle and your appetite may change according to your levels of activity, sleep and stress. Instead of reaching for that sugary treat, try a cup of herbal tea such as Womankind tea to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Let’s look at some ways we can bring our hormones and health back into balance:
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is the cornerstone to good health and vital for healthy hormone production. Herbal sleep teas can provide an array of calming and nourishing benefits to help you unwind after a busy day. These soothing herbs found in sleep tea such as valerian, lavender and chamomile create a sense of overall relaxation in the body which helps pave the way for a good quality night’s sleep. If you struggle sleeping, join our 7-day Sleep with Ease challenge to create a sleep space, pattern and routine to help you sleep better, naturally. You'll find expert-led tips from Pukka's herbal team along with a free digital sleep diary to track and record your progress.
Embrace rest and relaxation
Chronic stress has a huge impact on hormones. Chronic stress leads to a greater production of cortisol, which can decrease progesterone and thyroid hormone production and disrupt the gut microbial balance; this in turn plays havoc with the natural rhythm of our monthly hormonal cycle. Stress comes in many forms and both internal and external stressors can have the same physical and psychological effect. Identifying the main culprits of stress and having a regular self-care routine will help will you gain control and disperse anxious feelings. Meditation and mindfulness are powerful ways to reduce internal stress and gain perspective on life’s challenges.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
A healthy menstrual cycle requires a healthy balanced diet and good nutrition. Nourish yourself with a diet rich in colour organic fruits and vegetables, protein, complex carbohydrates, and fats. Phytonutrients are naturally occurring plant compounds which benefit health. To harness their power, enjoy a variety of fresh organic fruits and vegetables at every mealtime. It can be helpful to reduce your consumption of refined sugar and processed foods as they may disrupt your blood sugar balance which can impact on energy, mood, and concentration levels. Eating a diverse and colourful variety of fibrous plants can also feed the gut microbiome which plays a vital role in hormonal balance. Gently increase prebiotic foods and herbs such as oats, bananas, artichokes, chicory, turmeric, and rosemary which will support a good balance of gut bacteria and promote regular bowel movements to keep our hormones in check. Eating at least 30 different types of fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts and seeds each week is a helpful way to improve the diversity of your microbiome. Diversity is key here, so why not challenge yourself to get creative in the kitchen with an array of colourful plants. Try to eat an organic fermented food each day e.g.: sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, miso or plain natural yoghurt. What you eat is just as important as how and when you eat. Begin your meal with a moment’s reflection to create a calm space - food is best digested in a peaceful atmosphere.
Exercising can help burn off stress, increases endorphins, improve circulation, and prevent excess hormones building up. Choose the type of exercise that you enjoy- this will make it much easier to commit to going forward. If you’re frequently exercising, it’s important that you’re eating enough to sustain the level of activity, otherwise hormonal imbalances can manifest, and you may start to feel depleted and low. It's normal for the body to respond to exercise and movement differently throughout each phase of your cycle due to the fluctuations in hormones. Tune into your individual needs and plan your exercise routine based on how you feel during each phase of your menstrual cycle.
Endocrine Disruptor Chemicals (EDCs) are groups of chemicals and toxins that we become exposed to in the outside world. This may be through inorganic cosmetics, agricultural pollutants, and household cleaning products for example. When our body becomes exposed to unnatural chemicals it can take time for it to figure out how to process them efficiently and disrupt the maintenance of hormonal balance. It’s been reported that women use on average 12 products per day, containing a 168 chemicals. Use natural and organic cosmetics wherever possible as parabens and other chemicals can act as oestrogen in the body which disrupts the delicate hormonal balance. Choose glass containers or stainless-steel containers to store your food in.
Author: Marion Mackonochie
Senior Herbal Specialist
Marion is Senior Herbal Specialist at Pukka and a practising medical herbalist dedicated to furthering herbal knowledge and understanding. Degrees in pharmacology (UCL) and herbal medicine and a masters degree in plant chemistry and medicinal natural products (UCL) mean she is well placed to help plan Pukka’s extensive programme of herbal research, as well as advising across Pukka on herb benefits. She has worked on the Journal of Herbal Medicine since its launch in 2011 and is currently Associate Editor.
B.Sc qualified in herbal medicine (Middlesex Uni, 2009), M.Sc (mCPP) qualified in pharmacology & physiology (UCL, 2002), MSc medicinal natural products and phytochemistry (UCL, 2016)
Years of experience
12 years in medical herbalism
Member of College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy