Our hormones play a central part in our daily lives. Often growing-up, women are taught that they have a period. But did you know your cycle is actually what is happening ALL of the time? Your hormones are changing on a daily basis. Even crazier, did you know MEN have hormones too?
That might seem like a no-duh, but how many of us overlook these basic facts when we are trying to optimize our health, figure out why we are sad or don’t want to “get it on” with our partner, or even why our appetites are fluctuating? Our hormones matter. Here is what you need to know to help your hormones instead of letting them be something that happens to you.
The hormones that we will focus on are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The male sex hormone is testosterone, while women need all three of these. Women’s hormones run on a cycle that is approximately 28 days in length. Men, on the other hand, cycle through their hormones every 24 hours. We will cover men’s hormones in a later article. For now, let’s focus on hacking women’s hormones.
A “normal” cycle for women’s hormones will go through the follicular phase, proliferate phase, ovulation, the luteal phase, and the secretory phase. During each phase progesterone and estrogen are either rising or falling.
The cycle begins: Days 1-7: when you experience bleeding (menstruation). This is due to the low levels of progesterone and estrogen that cause the lining of the uterus to be shed. It is during these first 7 days of a women’s cycle that estrogen levels rise.
At the beginning of the cycle, estrogen levels are at their lowest. This is usually why a woman may experience fatigue and a desire to be a “homebody”. As the estrogen levels rise throughout the week, you should experience a boost in mood, energy and desire to socialize. But of course, if your hormones are imbalanced or dysregulated, you won't experience normal symptoms or benefits.
As estrogen rises, a woman should also expect to experience a rise in libido.
Into the second week: Days 8-14, estrogen will continue to rise as the body prepares for ovulation. The benefits of increased estrogen continue, and you may also experience:
- A desire for adventure
- Increased confidence
- Increased coordination
- Faster thinking and a quicker ability to learn new skills
- Ability to build muscle quicker
Surprisingly, a woman’s body will also experience slight alterations in facial tissue as her body attempts to “be more attractive” in preparation for ovulation.
Testosterone also increases during the latter part of the second week. This may increase the desire to be competitive, be more impulsive and at the point of testosterone peak, increase libido even MORE.
After ovulation, the third week (roughly day 15-21 of the cycle) begins. During the first part of this week, progesterone rises, testosterone and estrogen fall. The rise in progesterone can cause a mood shift causing you to feel quieter, foggy-headed, cautious and physically tired. Depending on your sensitivity to progesterone, this could also cause feelings or bouts of crying and sadness. You are also more susceptible to drops in blood sugar during progesterone’s escalation.
Finally, progesterone can cause a significant decrease in libido. For many, this can be experienced as an anti-libido. Is there a word for that? The progesterone can create an anti-touch desire...locked up the libido and threw away the key.
During the second part of the third week, estrogen levels begin to rise again. This is beneficial to combat sadness and major mood shifts that might occur from the increase of progesterone.
While this second rise in estrogen you may start to help you feel stabilized in your mood but it does not create the same high as felt in week two.
Week four (Days 22-28) is when women tend to experience PMS. The second drop in estrogen can cause anxiousness, sadness, irritability, and, in more extreme cases, feelings of depression and hopelessness. Lifestyle and diet can play a part in how much you are impacted by these symptoms, however, they are not the only cure or cause. Having a healthy diet is beneficial for almost all cases, but that does not mean that broccoli will solely cure symptoms of PMDD.
I want to clarify this because I know many women who would feel discouraged if they were told that their eating and lifestyle were causing their PSM. Why? Because they already eat clean and exercise and do everything that traditional western medicine would tell them to do. PMS is not normal. I have experienced hormonal dysregulation for most of my life, even after I cleaned up my diet nad lifestyle. I don’t care how much it is normalized by media, extreme mood shifts and unbearable pain are not something women are just supposed to get over. There are other causes for PMS and pain experienced during menstruation and we will get to those.
Chronic pain or health issues are also likely to be worse during week four. This is due to the low levels of estrogen and falling progesterone levels. This includes chronic health issues of all sorts, from IBS to asthma. Progesterone is falling during this week. If you started off with low levels of progesterone and then those already low levels are decreasing even more, you will experience an exacerbation of all symptoms from mood to body aches. These symptoms all fit under the umbrella of PMS or PMDD.
Your cycle can often be experienced in 4 unique phases, each lasting around a week (for a “normal” cycle). The second week is like summer. You will most likely experience a desire to be out, socialize, be adventurous and confident. The world, in general, feels warmer. The third week is like fall. Your body begins to feel sleepy, preparing for the colder months by storing more nutrients, and emotionally may experience the sadness that comes with losing sunlight (mood shifts, less active, etc.). The fourth week is like winter. You are more prone to staying inside, taking care of your body and home. Emotionally, you may feel “bundled-up”, quiet, and conserve your energy. Surprisingly, the first week, the week of menstruation can often be experienced like spring. There is still a desire to be inside, but slowly you may desire to start venturing out. Something new is happening and your body replicates this process.
Planning Your Life to Best Support Each Season
- Take care of your body (rest, rest, rest!)
- Make sure you are getting enough iron through grass-fed beef liver and cooked cruciferous vegetables
- Take natural pain relievers to help with cramps; my favorite is Curamin
- Try weight resistance training during this week
- Plan your most “important” events during this time as you will be your most focused and confident
- You will also have a higher pain tolerance during this week, so now would be a great time to go to the dentist or get your blood drawn
- Try not to overcommit yourself in the future based on how you feel right now (remember the routine of the cycle)
- Now is a great time to try something new! Cold plunge, anyone? VIDEO
- Remember, week one and week two are when your testosterone is increasing; focus on building muscle in your workouts!
- Be aware of your cravings (usually for high fat and high-calorie foods)
- You burn more fat when you have the combination of progesterone and estrogen; try an aerobic HIIT workout like cycling (12-18 mintues maximum)
- Lots and lots of hugs and hand-holding (with someone you are close to)
- Working out is extremely important to combat mood shifts during this time
- Have patience with yourself
- Talk to your partner about what it is you experience during this time in your cycle eforehand so that they can better support you
- I personally lovvvveee heat therapy during this time in my cycle; try a sauna!
- Try a workout that is soothing for your mind and body like pilates or yoga
Warning Signs That Something is OFF
For starters, if you are attempting to better understand where your personal health is, it is important to check your hormone levels. I recommend getting them checked on the 21st day of your cycle. Additionally, if you are concerned that hormone imbalance may be causing unwanted symptoms in your life, it is important to note that some traditional western medicine doctors have a very large range for what they consider to be “normal” in their test readings. If you receive results that do not seem to be congruent with the health you experience, be sure to show the results to someone who specializes in treating hormone imbalance. Often, this person may be an integrative medicine doctor, some specialized nutritionists or other naturopathic doctors who have experience with healing women’s hormones.
Common problems that a woman may experience include:
This is just to name a few. Symptoms of these vary from depression and anxiety to extremely painful periods to irregular spotting to prolonged periods to missed periods...you get the point. Periods are complex and balancing hormones is pivotal for good health. It is important to remember that when we are discussing women’s hormones, we are discussing an entire, month-long process that can be very delicate.
Though I cannot list all of the possible warning signs for hormonal imbalance, some of the major indicators include:
- Heavy, irregular or painful periods
- Weight gain
- Thinning or fine hair
- Facial hair growth
- Decreased sex drive
- Lack of appetite or increased appetite
Friendly reminder: our bodies are interconnected. When we are experiencing one thing in our body, it is likely impacting every other part of our body. It is possible that a hormonal imbalance could be causing “other” health issues in your life. If a hormonal imbalance is the root, this does not mean that fixing the hormonal imbalance will now cure all the new, “extra” symptoms, however. This is why it is important to keep tabs on your hormones and address any potential red flags as soon as possible.
It is also necessary to remember that symptoms of hormonal imbalance can present themselves first as mental or emotional symptoms. This means that if you were already experiencing symptoms of anxiety, and then you started to experience other symptoms of hormonal imbalance (such as extremely painful periods), you might have likely had a hormonal imbalance all along.
Natural Ways to Balance Hormones in Women
Okay, we are about to get real personal. How is your poop? Are you pooping regularly/daily? As much as constipation is a symptom of hormonal imbalance, it can also be feeding the problem. Our bodies are designed to deposit toxins and unnecessary material through our poop...so what happens when we have this sitting in our system for too long? We begin to absorb the material that our body was initially trying to protect us from. This can cause a myriad of problems, one of them being hormonal imbalance. This is a great article that goes into how constipation can feed hormonal imbalance.
TRY THIS: Start taking magnesium. Magnesium has healing abilities to get you going regularly, plus it can help you sleep, relax your muscles and combat anxiety!
Another important aspect of healing hormones is to heal the gut so that your body can absorb as many nutrients as possible. This is a multifaceted process that involves diet, supplements, and lifestyle. If you are interested in starting the process of healing your gut, I recommend doing a Whole30 elimination diet to give your stomach a “break” from any foods you may be sensitive to.
TRY THIS: Start a Whole30 elimination diet. Around day 7, I would recommend starting to take bentonite clay. This clay is super packed with nutrients and there are practically no potential side effects to taking it. You can read about the benefits of bentonite clay here.
Perhaps the most obvious step to take is to start drinking MORE water. Water is truly healing for just about any problem you might have. Feeling anxious? Drink water. Feeling tired? Drink water? Hormone problems? DRINK WATER. The amount of water you drink directly impacts the production of anti-diuretic hormones, but even bigger, it impacts your body’s functionality as a whole. Being dehydrated impacts your ability to poop, your appetite and cravings, your energy levels and clear-headedness...if you are trying to level your hormones, you HAVE to ensure you are drinking enough water.
TRY THIS: Did you know that coffee, alcohol, diuretic teas and even drinks like kombucha can be dehydrating? This means that not only do you need to drink half your body weight in ounces in water daily, but you also need to drink water that replenishes for any drinks you have that are dehydrating. Let’s say you weigh 100 pounds. That means you need to drink at least 50 ounces of water daily. BUT on a day that you decide to have 8 ounces of coffee in the morning and 7 ounces of wine in the evening, you need to add an additional 15 ounces of water to your daily intake for a total of 115 ounces.
Healing naturally takes time! Don’t give up or give in to the notion that there is an overnight fix. Document the day that you start your natural healing protocol and give yourself a few months of being consistent in your new routine to start checking for results. Depending on your body’s ability to heal, it could take anywhere from a few weeks to a year to really see a difference. Even still, healing is worth it, the work is worth it! Don’t give up. You have to be your body’s best advocate.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the medicine you take can greatly impact your healing process. If you have been on birth control, this will obviously impact your hormone levels and slow down your ability to heal. This is primarily because the hormone replacement in the birth control has caused your body to stop creating hormones of its own and now your job is to get your body to function on its own again. Other prescribed medicines can also impact your healing process (whether you are on them or are just getting off of them), including antibiotics and anti-depressants.
Valentine’s Day Hacks for Healthy Hormones and Happy Bodies (Quick Tips)
Products and resources:
- Daysy fertility tracker
- Fertility tracking app recommendation: Clue
- Coconut oil as a natural lubricant (bonus: balances pH levels!)
- Use organic products (lube, condoms, feminine care products)
- Recommended reading: Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
- Follow on Instagram: Nicole Jardim
Foods to boost your libido:
- Red ginseng
- Pistachio nuts