Let’s face it. Being a girl isn’t always easy. Especially when it comes to that monthly visitor that seems to show up at the most inopportune times. And when she brings her friends that drag down your mood and make you reach for the heating pad and a few Advil, it’s time to make some changes to your choice of company!
How Your Menstrual Cycle Works
Although there are lots of moving parts and a variety of hormones that have multiple job titles, here’s the simple breakdown of how it works. During the first half of your monthly cycle, estrogen, which is produced by your ovaries, will gradually increase until it reaches its highest level around day 12. During this time, the follicle, which holds the egg, is bathed in estrogen, helping it mature and become stronger and stronger, hopefully, ready for fertilization.
At the same time, estrogen is also priming the uterus in preparation for possible implantation by a fertilized egg. In order to have a nice comfy spot for a “maybe baby” to call home, estrogen helps the uterine lining grow, making it thick, spongy and ready to accommodate a growing embryo.
Once the estrogen spike occurs somewhere around day 12, another hormone is released (Luteinizing hormone or LH) which does two very distinct things: a) it triggers the release of the egg from the ovary (ovulation) and b) it stimulates the production of progesterone from the corpus luteum which then begins the second half of your cycle.
The final 14 days of the menstrual cycle, known as the luteal phase, is when progesterone begins to thicken the uterine lining, ensuring sufficient blood supply to support a growing embryo. If the fallopian tubes deliver an unfertilized egg, the uterine lining begins to slough off, and menses begins once again.
Where Things Begin to Break Down
Instead of a regular 28-day cycle, some women find themselves having longer (or shorter) cycles, which creates an imbalance in the way the two primary hormones interact with each other, resulting in a myriad of unpleasant symptoms. When the first half of the cycle is too short, there won’t be enough estrogen to form a healthy follicle or prepare the uterine lining. Conversely, if the first half of the cycle is too long, the prolonged exposure to estrogen can cause an overbuilding of the uterine lining and subsequent heavy bleeding or cramping during menses.
And as you might expect, the health of the 2nd half (luteal phase) of the cycle is entirely dependent on how well things go during the 1st half (follicular phase) of the cycle. So if ovulation doesn’t occur until day 18 (should be on or around day 12), there isn’t enough time for progesterone to prepare the uterine lining for implantation. Mood and energy changes can occur along with disruptions in sleep and food cravings.
If ovulation occurs too early in the cycle (before day 12), the egg doesn’t have sufficient time to ‘ripen’ under the influence of estrogen which can lead to a prolonged exposure to progesterone during the 2nd half of the cycle and of course, more unwanted hormonal side-effects.
3 Ways to Support a Normal Menstrual Cycle
Fortunately, your body has all the tools it needs to support a normal menstrual cycle. All you have to do is find the targeted support your body needs and then allow your body to reset its hormonal timing. Periods will then be a breeze!
1. Be consistently kind to your liver
As your primary filter, the liver has the important job of regulating hormones that circulate through your entire body. But the liver can only do so much, especially if the detoxification pathways are all gummed up. The good news is that with a little attention and the right nutrients, your liver can begin filtering out excess hormones that may be increasing the thickness of the uterine lining and causing other disruptions within your cycle.
Include at least one serving per day of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and kale. Spanish black radish, garlic, and onions can also get things moving along nicely. Some of the best herbal choices include schisandra and milk thistle. Once you get the liver detoxification pathways working well, excess hormones will be a thing of the past.
2. Clean up your cosmetics
Your skin will absorb anything you put on it, including xenohormones, which are found in a large number of cosmetics and personal body care products. These hormone-like chemicals are used to enhance the way the skin looks and feels, often promising the reduction of fine lines, smoother skin and being a virtual “fountain of youth.” Despite clever marketing tactics, these ingredients will wreak havoc on an otherwise normal menstrual cycle. Cosmetic companies are not required to disclose on the label whether the product contains hormones or not, so further investigation is required.
If you suspect this might be part of the problem, start by switching out your products. (Check out ewg.org for more information on companies that provide organic cosmetics and body care products.) Once you’ve found something cleaner, add in some liver-supportive foods and herbs to help your liver clean up and eliminate these endocrine-disrupting chemicals as quickly as possible!
3. Encourage normal cycle timing
Although it’s easier said than done, making sure your menstrual cycle runs on a 28-day rhythm with 14 days for each phase can dramatically reduce unpleasant symptoms. One of the most widely used herbs for the treatment of menstrual-related disorders is chaste tree. This amazing herb helps reduce breast tenderness, supports dopamine and melatonin production, and most importantly, improves normal cycle timing. But in order to be effective, the herbal product must contain a sufficient amount of diterpenes (one of the most important phytochemicals in chaste tree) in order to confer these benefits.
With the right kind of support and a little time, your menstrual cycle should return to normal within a few months. If you find that it’s not happening as quickly as you want, or you have a more complicated situation, there are other herbs and nutrients that can help correct the underlying issue. Remember that your body is 100% capable of maintaining a normal menstrual cycle, as long as it has the right kinds of food and quality herbs to nudge it along.