Information to Help You Manage Your Cycles
Hormones are one of the key ways that men differ from women. They are responsible for many of our attributes; mood, energy level, weight, appetite, fertility, sex drive, muscle tone, etc. Hormones are secreted in minute amounts and transported through the body via the bloodstream. Specific hormones have specific functions and the cells requiring each hormone have specific receptors for each specific hormone. Hormones function through regulating cell reactions by affecting gene expression (often gene transcription factors)
Women have 3 sex hormones:
Estrogen – Stimulates growth of breast tissue, maintains vaginal blood flow and lubrication, causes lining of the uterus to thicken during the menstrual cycle, keeps vaginal lining elastic, and many other functions, including preserving bone and regulating serotonin level to regulate mood.
Progesterone - Prepares lining of the uterus for fertilized egg and helps maintain early pregnancy.
Testosterone- Plays a key role in women’s estrogen production, contributes to libido, may help maintain bone and muscle mass.
The menstrual cycle is the “monthly cycle” all fertile women go through. It is centered around ovulation. The varying levels of hormones through the cycle have predictable effects.
Frustration – A week before the first day of menstruation (progesterone & estrogen levels decrease): Depression, skin troubles, increased appetite, binging, fatigue.
Recovery - A week after the first day of menstruation (estrogen slowly rising, progesterone stays low): Body begins to feel better, skin clearing up, decreased body temperature.
Calm – A week after ovulation (estrogen drops, progesterone rises sharply and slowly decreases): High body temperature, appetite increase, decreased energy, withdrawn
Great- A week before ovulation (estrogen peaks, progesterone stays low): high metabolism, skin is at its best, energetic, positive mood, outgoing and social
All of these symptoms are completely normal and are a result of the varying hormone levels you are experiencing. However there are certain effects that are not normal and if you experience them, you should see your doctor. These are; periods that are less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart, missing more than 3 periods in a row, periods lasting longer than 7 days, painful or nauseous periods, bleeding or spotting between periods.
Lifestyle has a pronounced effect on hormone levels and the monthly cycle. Stress, diet, exercise and disease can alter hormone levels, modifying duration and intensity of the stages and symptoms of your monthly cycle.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is the physical and emotional symptoms that occur in the one to two weeks before a woman's period. 85% of women have at least one PMS symptom each monthly cycle. Symptoms include mood swings, tender breasts, food cravings, fatigue, irritability and depression. Symptoms and intensity may be predictable for you but vary from woman to woman.
For many women, supplements and lifestyle changes can help relieve PMS symptoms, but for some medication may be required. If you are lucky, the lifestyle changes can provide effective relief (healthy varied diet, regular exercise, avoid sugar, salt, caffeine and alcohol, keep hydrated (with water) sufficient sleep, and avoid smoking). Helpful supplements include calcium, magnesium (reduces water retention & breast tenderness), vitamin E (reduces cramping and breast tenderness), Ginkgo biloba (reduces symptom severity), Ginger (cramp relief), Vitex (helps stabilize cycle irregularities), Evening primrose oil (symptom reduction), St. John’s Wort (mild depression relief).
This is the time shortly before the onset of menopause. On average it occurs at age 46 (39-51). It lasts on average 5 years. As ovulation becomes more unpredictable, the length of time between periods may be longer or shorter, your flow may be light to heavy, and you may skip some periods. Many women experience hot flashes. Intensity, length and frequency vary. Most sleep difficulties can be attributed to hot flashes or night sweats, but not always. Mood will often change; swings, irritability and increased risk of depression. Mood changes may be attributed at least in part to sleep difficulties.
Due to the changing hormone levels, vaginal tissue may become dry, tender and less elastic. This can make sex less enjoyable and even painful. Hormonal changes also impact sex drive. Of great concern is the effect reduced estrogen has on bones and blood. Your risk of fractures and osteoporosis increase dramatically as your rate of bone loss is now greater than your rate of bone growth. Additionally you may find your bad cholesterol increases while your good cholesterol decreases, leading to greater risk of heart disease.
For many women, supplements and lifestyle changes can help mitigate most perimenopausal symptoms, but for some medication may be required. If you are lucky, the lifestyle changes can prove effective (healthy varied diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, stress reduction ie yoga and avoid smoking). Helpful supplements include Sage (hot flashes and night sweats), Vitex (hot flashes and night sweats), Black cohosh (night sweats), isoflavones & lignans (reduce symptoms).
One year after your last period you have officially entered menopause. Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51. Menopause is a natural process. Although it also ends fertility, you can stay happy, healthy, vital and sexual. Many women feel relieved because pregnancy is no longer a concern.
Menopausal symptoms closely resemble those of perimenopause. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, bone loss, cholesterol changes and depression. Additionally there may be a mental “fogginess” The same lifestyle and supplements that can be used for perimenopause can help here with the addition of losing weight (if overweight) to reduce symptoms, Ginseng (concentration and memory) and St. John’s Wort (depression).
There may be times when you curse your body's hormones but you have to keep in mind that they play an important role in every woman's life. They are the key player with the most important events we experience, from pregnancy and childbirth to menopause.