Phases of the menstrual cycle
YOUR GUIDE TO YOUR MONTHLY HORMONAL CHANGES. EACH PHASE MAY BE SLIGHTLY LONGER OR SHORTER,
DEPENDING ON YOUR BODY
DAYS 1–5: MENSTRUAL PHASE
This begins on the rst day of your bleed when the uterus sheds its inner lining of soft tissue and blood vessels, exiting the body in the form of menstrual
uid. During this phase you may experience abdominal cramps, caused by the contraction of the uterine and abdominal muscles to expel the menstrual uid.
DAYS 1-13: FOLLICULAR PHASE
This phase also starts on the rst day of menstruation and it’s all about fertilisation (whether you are trying to become pregnant or not). During this phase the pituitary gland (located behind your nose, attached to the hypothalamus) secretes the hormone oestrogen, stimulating the egg cells in the ovaries to grow. Over 13 days, one of these egg cells reaches maturity in a sac-like-structure called a follicle, which secretes a hormone that stimulates the uterus to develop a lining of blood vessels and soft tissue called the endometrium. Towards the end of this phase you may experience feelings of calm and wellbeing.
DAY 14: OVULATION PHASE
This is the day that the pituitary gland secretes a hormone to make the ovary release the matured egg cell, which is then swept into the fallopian tube. It’s the day that you are most fertile in your cycle.
DAYS 15-28: LUTEAL PHASE
The main hormone that controls the activities of the luteal phase is progesterone. During this phase, the egg cell released during ovulation stays in the fallopian tube for 24 hours. If it’s not impregnated by a sperm cell within this time, it disintegrates. Progesterone, the hormone that causes the uterus to retain its endometrium, gets used up by the end of this cycle, causing the menstrual phase of the next cycle to begin again. It’s during this phase that we can experience the symptoms of PMS.
So, what happens if our hormones are not in balance? Unfortunately, there’s no ‘one size ts all’ answer – we are all di erent, after all. However, some common signs that things are amiss include: weight gain, mood swings, irregular menstrual cycles, heavy periods, clotty periods, missing periods (amenorrhea), irritability, infertility, miscarriage, insomnia, low self-esteem, decreased libido, fatigue, anger, facial hair and acne, headaches, panic attacks, low mood, bone density loss, vaginal dryness, belly fat, breast tenderness, broids, PCOS, cold hands and feet, endometriosis, cysts, and (our long-standing friend) PMS – just to name a few! In fact, PMS alone has more than 150 symptoms associated with it. And unfortunately, there are so many jokes about PMS that many women feel ashamed to even admit that they su er from it.
So what is PMS, and why do we get it? Unfortunately, most of us will have su ered with it at some time or another – believe me, I’ve been there too. PMS is actually a complex syndrome of physical, mental and physiological symptoms, and for some women it can be really debilitating. We experience it in the luteal phase of our monthly cycle, and it usually improves with menstruation. Symptoms can vary month to month but often we experience a whole spectrum including mood swings, irritability, anger, food cravings, insomnia, abdominal bloating, breast pain, headaches, dizziness and anxiety. Basically, one minute we’re all sugar and spice; the next we are like angry rattle snakes waiting to attack!
It is important to remember that we are all incredibly di erent, and PMS is complicated – what causes one woman to su er with it may be di erent for the next. But, while there are many causes of it, imbalanced hormones, lifestyle and diet play a big role.
So how can we restore hormonal balance? These hormonal whirlwinds can be frustrating and upsetting. But you don’t need to accept this as your ‘norm’ – it is possible for us to restore harmony and balance. When things are thrown out of equilibrium, it can not only a ect your day, but your health too, even if everything else is seemingly perfect. I myself had a season ticket to the hormonal rollercoaster for many years, and I also wear the scars of polycystic ovary syndrome
(PCOS) – hypothyroidism, low progesterone, adenomyosis (AKA uterine endometriosis) and two miscarriages. I had to work hard to stop the ride and climb o , but I am so pleased that I did. My story, if anything, attests to the body’s amazing resilience and the di erence it makes when we honour our hormonal health.
If you su er with PMS, or any of the other symptoms I’ve mentioned, I urge you to read as much as you can on the subject. Through my own years of research, I now follow my six pillars to hormonal health: Nourish, Balance, Nurture, Cleanse, Move, Restore. I can attest that just small changes to your everyday lifestyle can start your journey on the path to that holy grail of hormonal balance.
Clockwise from top:Angelique nourishesher body to help herhormones; moving canease symptoms of PMS;Angelique shares herwisdom in her book,The Balance Plan.