How often do you feel really tired or angry or want to eat crap food just before you have your period?
How often do you actually think about your energy levels and your monthly cycle?
If you do still have periods, the most useful tool you can get – is a menstrual diary or app. Yes, honestly! The younger you can start it the better. Once you start knowing when you are due on and when you ovulate, you can exercise right for your body and also eat the right foods for you too. It can help your overall health, energy, stress and your weight.
Even if you are on the Mirena coil or are post natal or have had a hysterectomy, you can still create a monthly rhythm for your body.
The importance of the hormones
I am sure that by now, you have heard about the sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone and how they go ‘up & down’ during the monthly cycle & then start changing a lot in the peri-menopause. These are the main hormones talked about, and yes they are the main ones we can focus on to help with your energy levels throughout the monthly cycle.
Be aware – there are many other hormones – like thyroid, cortisol, insulin – which also are very important and can affect energy, mood & weight. For now I’m going not going into these, I will next time.
So once you understand the roles of the hormones you can then begin to understand why they affect your energy and memory or mood during the month.
The role of Oestrogen
Imagine oestrogen as the hormone which creates more growth or is the popular hormone that the whole body wants. A great quote in Lara Bryden’s ‘Hormone Repair Manual’ – she quote’s a scientist Natalie Angier who describes oestrogen as being like chocolate “because it is a near universal symbol for Eat Me… very few parts of the body hate or ignore oestrogen ….organs or tissue want a bite of it”
Oestrogen is therefore really important for maintaining strength, brain health & even a natural appetite suppressant. It helps maintain out metabolic rate & hence the ability to lose fat around your waist. With progesterone, it enhances insulin sensitivity & can help prevent insulin resistance and diabetes.
Hopefully you now understand that oestrogen basically is in every cell of our body and it (with the other hormones) helps maintain a healthy body.
The role of Progesterone
I listen to a lot of American and Australian women’s health experts. They seem to be much more appreciative of progesterone than the specialists here in the UK!!
We do need progesterone – mainly to control our uterus lining – it thins the lining of the uterus (as oestrogen has been thickening the uterus lining). This means progesterone can prevent someone getting too heavy periods. It seems this is the only thing that is often talked about as the benefits of progesterone.
However, when I 1st went on HRT I had a consultation with a London hormone specialist. Even though I don’t have a uterus – (most GP’s would tell me I don’t need progesterone.) However, I booked with the consultant because of my anxiety and sleeplessness. She prescribed me Utrogestan – a body identical progesterone.
The reason for this is that progesterone has a calming effect on the brain so it can reduce anxiety and help sleep – it helped me with both!
Progesterone can also help reduce inflammation, helps with bone and heart health & like oestrogen, it helps maintain/increase the metabolic rate – hence can help with weight.
The one problem is some women can’t tolerate much progesterone and those women are the ones who have progesterone sensitivity. For these women it can actually cause more anxiety as progesterone can cause and adverse reaction to any changes in the level of progesterone – either up or down.
If this is you then maybe look at speaking to a naturopath or nutritionist – often Vitamin B6 can be helpful – BUT you need to see someone who understands the B vitamins and knows any contra-indications.
The role of testosterone
This is the more controversial hormone for those in the menopause! I’m not going to go into it in great detail, especially as I am going to a lecture on it with the British Menopause Society next week! I’ll update this if there is anything new!
Basically, we all have testosterone and it does help with our muscle mass, bone density & it is most well known for giving us sexual desire / helping our libido.
So yes we want it and need it and it can help with our energy levels, however, it is not officially prescribed in the UK and hence this is why it is controversial. If you are on HRT and you still have little get up and go and still a low libido then sometimes it will be prescribed.
The Hormones, Your period, Exercise & Fasting
Now you know the basic roles of the main sex hormones it is worth understanding their roles in your menstrual cycle.
The basics are that day 1 of your period – when you start the proper flow (not just spotting) – you will start to have increasing levels of oestrogen – hence you will begin to have more energy and feel happier and want to exercise. I would make the most of the 1st 2 weeks of your cycle. Go out running, lift weights. As you near your ovulation your testosterone levels will begin to rise too, hence a really good time to lift weights.
You may find just after ovulating you have less energy, so go easier before then getting more energy again 3 or 4 days after ovulation. This is because after ovulation oestrogen drops rapidly & so too does testosterone. However, they then pick up again a few days later as well as a rise in progesterone.
You finally have the run up to the period – the 3 or 4 days before when all the hormones drop. You are better off being kind to your body just before you ‘come on’ and maybe do less intense exercise – yoga, Pilates.
Have you thought about your nutrition/fasting at this time? It is a whole new topic and there is a great book, very interesting – on WOMEN & INTERMITTENT FASTING. Dr Mindy Pelz has done research into the benefits of fasting for women – around the menstrual cycle. Some of the long fasts may not be for you, but it is an interesting read.
She not only goes through the general fasting phases she also offers advise for those with infertility problems, diabetes, adrenal fatigue, thyroid conditions etc.
There is too much to go into but here is the link: Fast Like A Girl by Mindy Pelz
She basically advises – similar to exercising during the month. You can generally fast through your cycle. Similar to exercise – make the most of the 1st 10 days and try longer fasts (only if you want to and have no contra-indications), then over ovulation slightly shorter, then week 3 can do longer fasts and then in the final week before your period – AVOID FASTING.
Remember – the week / 4 or 5 days BEFORE your period should be a nurturing/loving time. Be nice to your body, don’t over stress it or push it too hard. Eat as well as you can – yes I know it is a time when you want to binge eat – but do try and eat the healthy foods too.
NO PERIODS ANYMORE
Don’t think that because you don’t have periods anymore that your hormones wont be changing. You can still create your own body rhythm and work on trying to have a 4 or 5 nurture days the same time each month.
I wrote a blog on the menstrual cycle last year. I go more into detail on the best exercises to do when, through the month. I also have a number of blogs about the menopause that you may want to have a look at. Here is the link to the exercise specific blog: monthly cycle & what is happening to the hormones