4 Phases Of Your Menstrual Cycle – What You Need To Know!
By: Madeleine Wisecup
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Over the past year I have been researching, taking courses, and reading as much as I can about women’s hormone health. My husband thinks I am obsessed. And, you know what!? He is right. I am learning more about my body and how it functions today than ever before.
Did you know it’s not normal to have a painful period! Gasp. I know! If you’re as shocked as I was (maybe even feeling a bit duped) about this fact, trust me you’re not alone! Over the past year I’ve been learning things about my hormones (and overall health) I wish I’d learned ages ago. Since puberty my body has been having all these “internal hormonal dialogues” with itself that I was completely unaware of.
If you’re someone who menstruates, has painful periods, who’s curious about the role nutrition plays in supporting your hormones, and wants to learn more about the four menstrual phases women’s bodies go through each month, then you’ll want to tune into today’s episode with registered dietitian nutritionist, integrative and functional certified nutrition practitioner, and holistic health expert, Krista King, MS, RDN, LDN.
Krista was 18 years old when her mother tragically passed away from cancer. Understandably this life altering experience shook Krista to the core, the pain of losing someone too soon changes you. And yet, losing her mother, Krista shares, fueled her passion to uncover and heal the root cause of chronic health conditions so no one has to experience what Krista’s mother went through or lose someone too soon. “After having been diagnosed with cancer she [my mother] started asking those questions that only now a lot of us are starting to ask. Why are these symptoms showing up? What’s the root cause? That piqued my interest in preventative health…so I became a dietician,” Krista shares with me.
Following her mother’s passing, Krista went on to pursue a career as a conventional dietician. While a career she thoroughly enjoyed, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. “I didn’t feel as though it was quite answering all my questions. You know, why are these health issues in clients showing up?” To help her answer these questions Krista decided to take additional training in integrative and functional medicine, a healing approach that treats the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle, not just the disease. Today, as a certified dietician and Integrative and Functional Nutrition Practitioner, Krista is on a mission to help individuals get to the root cause of their health issues, specifically focusing on hormone and gut health.
How much do you know about the endocrine system? When we think about hormones, most of us think of our sex main hormones, i.e. progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. But, obviously, it’s much more complex than that. According to Hormone.org, the endocrine system is a series of glands that produce and secrete hormones that the body uses for a wide range of functions.
So how does it work? “It starts in the brain,” shares Krista. “We have our hypothalamus in the brain, it’s kind of like the CEO or command center, scanning the body to see what needs to be done here. It sends a message to the pituitary, still in the brain, and that sends a message to the organ to release the hormone that’s needed. So whether it’s sending a message to the thyroid to release thyroid hormones or to the ovaries to release sex hormones or to our adrenal glands for our stress hormones…it’s a communication system, a feedback loop.”
Your hormones control various bodily functions, including your body’s metabolism, energy level, reproduction, growth and development, and response to injury. And, unfortunately, sometimes things get out of balance. Hormonal imbalances can be caused by stress, infection, injury, nutrient deficiency, medication, etc. The good news? While talking to Krista I found out there that there are certain changes we can make in our diet and lifestyle to help balance and support our hormones. It won’t solve all our issues but it’s definitely a great place to start!
4 Phases Of Your Menstrual Cycle
Did you know your menstrual cycle is divided into four phases? The menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal phase. Yeah, this was news to me too! Depending on which phase we’re in, our hormone levels increase or decrease as our bodies prepare for possible pregnancy.
For instance, during the follicular phase, estrogen levels rise. Which, shares Krista, “helps to build up the uterine lining.” Following the follicular phase you enter the ovulation phase. This is the phase when your egg is released and travels down into the womb.
Generally speaking ovulation is the only time during the menstrual cycle you can get pregnant. And, as I learned from Krista, “you need to ovulate to produce progesterone.” Progesterone, which increases during the luteal phase — the phase between ovulation and your menstrual phase — is important for fertility as it helps to make that uterine lining sticky, preparing the uterus for pregnancy (a welcoming place for the egg to implant). If no egg is fertilized (pregnancy does not occur) our hormone levels decrease and we enter the menstrual phase. This is the phase where we shed the uterine lining. And, then of course, the cycle begins all over again. If you want more details, hit play as Krista does a great job explaining all the phases in more detail!
Supporting the 4 phases of your menstrual cycle through nutrition
One way to help support your hormones throughout your menstrual cycle is through nutrition. “Certain nutrients,” explains Krista, “can help support these different phases based on what’s going on with the hormones. For example, when we’re on our period we really want to focus on replacing the nutrients lost in the blood. So you want to eat iron rich foods, zinc, b12, etc.”
Another important way to support your hormones through nutrition is by keeping our blood sugar balanced. You want to make sure you’re incorporating enough protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Especially healthy fats, Krista tells me as “fats are essential to our hormone production.” Examples of healthy fats include olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds or fatty fish like salmon. And of course, no healthy diet would be complete without adding those leafy greens!
I’ve often joked with my girlfriends about “periods poops” but turns out it’s actually a real thing! Apparently, right before our period, our bodies release hormones known as prostaglandins. These hormones, shares medical news today, stimulate muscle contractions in the uterus. Which in turn helps the body to shed the uterus lining. I had no idea this was happening inside my body every month!
So, I asked Krista about all this and here’s what she had to say about it: “We release these compounds called prostaglandins right before our period. They’re inflammatory compounds which help with triggering the release of the uterine lining (it’s kind of this relaxing factor). But, if we have too much, if there’s an imbalance in the body, that can contribute to our bowels becoming looser right before or on our period.” So, if you’ve ever suffered from irregular bowel movements around your period, this could be one of the reasons!
Want to learn more from Krista King?
In addition to chatting about the 4 phases of women’s menstrual cycles Krista explores seed cycling, how nutrition can impact anxiety, the importance of a healthy gut and more! I seriously learned so much from Krista and know you will too. For more information, listen to this episode (click link above or download wherever you get your podcast), follow Krista on instagram @composednutrition, or connect with her at www.composednutrition.com
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