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The superpower of the menstrual cycle

Explore the untapped emotional, physical and spiritual power of the female body’s natural hormone cycles

Abigail Harper exhibits the circular nature of the menstrual cycle
Abigail Harper exhibits the circular nature of the menstrual cycle
Photo by Emarie Majors

Every human body, female and male, goes through natural hormone cycles, says Dinara Mukh, a certified women’s health coach. Similarly to the daily male hormone cycle, the 28-day female hormone cycle called the menstrual cycle, follows distinct patterns of hormone fluctuation that affect mood and behavior, says the American Psychological Association. When women know and understand how the hormone fluctuations throughout their menstrual cycle affect their eating, exercise and resting needs, they can empower themselves and live to their full potential.

Female brains can change up to 25 percent in one cycle, says Mukh, which means women’s appetites, moods, desires to be social, desires to be alone and more often change drastically from week to week during the monthly menstrual cycle. “Why not plan for this if it means less emotional and physical discomfort?” she asks. As Mukh says, “Menstruators, are you ready to learn your superpowers? Men, what about you?”

The menstrual cycle

The first week, menstruation, is when women shed their uterine lining and bleed, says Amanda Montalvo, a registered dietician and nutrition practitioner. All hormones drop to their lowest concentration, says Montalvo. During this phase, the left analytical and right emotional hemispheres of the brain have the greatest amount of communication. “This makes menstruation a great time to reflect and make decisions,” said Montalvo. She added menstruation is a time to slow down and let women’s bodies rejuvenate. If women do not, it can lead to feeling extra emotional, she says. “Your mind wants some peace and quiet and will thrive if it gets this,” Montalvo shares.

Mukh encourages moving the body in every phase of the menstrual cycle but suggests different kinds of movement for each. In phase one, she says it is good to slow down and have gentle movements like a walk in nature.

The follicular phase happens during the second week of the cycle, says Montalvo. It is marked by an increase in a follicle-stimulating hormone that helps eggs in the ovary mature, Montalvo explains.The maturing follicles give off estrogen which leads to ovulation, the next phase in the cycle. If estrogen levels are imbalanced it can lead to inflammation and symptoms like acne and mood changes, she says.

This week’s strength is an increase in energy, says Montalvo. Creativity is also a strength of the follicular phase, says Mukh. For movement during this week, Mukh recommends endurance exercises and suggests activities like running, biking, hiking or dancing.

Phase three of the menstrual cycle is the ovulatory phase, says Montalvo. She explains an egg is released from the ovaries into the uterus and women can become pregnant for about a week during this phase. Testosterone rises during this time, giving the body more energy, capacity to handle stress and resiliency, says Montalvo.

Confidence peaks during the ovulatory phase and weightlifting is one of the best exercises to do during this week, says Mukh.

The last week of the menstrual cycle is the luteal phase, Montalvo says. Estrogen starts to drop and progesterone increases, she shares.

Mukh says the effects of this phase are also known as premenstrual syndrome or PMS. People often use this name to describe the mood swings and irritability that are common during this time, she says. If women channel this energy, however, it can be a superpower, Mukh says. The body will have increased focus, so this week is a great time for deep cleaning or tedious paperwork, she says. Metabolism also picks up, so Mukh recommends nourishing the body with homey foods.

Montalvo says the luteal phase is a great reminder for women to be compassionate to themselves. It is okay, she says, to withdraw a little, as women will require more sleep and have less energy.

Slow and deep movements such as yoga are great ways to care for your body during this time, Mukh shares.

In summarizing the four phases of the menstrual cycle, Mukh shares the menstruation phase is for restoration, the follicular phase is for initiation, the ovulatory phase is for confidence and the luteal phase is for focus.

Why knowing matters

Sister Kelly Brock, a registered nurse who works closely with the Women’s Services & Resources Center as one of the mother baby resource nurses at BYU–Hawaii, said historically, even in biblical times, menstruation has been a subject that was not discussed openly or in mixed company. She said every culture, religion and area in the world has had its unique views and practices concerning women’s monthly menstruation. “Education and understanding the purpose of menstruation is helpful for making healthy choices and decisions,” she said.

Many individuals grew up with different traditions about and information on what to do when menstruating but may not know the facts and medical explanations, Brock said. She recalled a lady in her old neighborhood who had painful menstrual cramps. Brock said she advised her to take a warm bath. The lady was shocked because she was told taking baths is not good during her menstruation, said Brock. “Learning the medical facts is crucial despite the traditional beliefs of the menstrual cycle,” she explained. She said women can learn about why menstruation happens and what is biologically normal to empower them with medical knowledge and help them know when to get help.

Furthermore, expecting women to show up the same every day is not realistic and is detrimental to women’s health, says Montalvo.

Women are 50 percent more likely to experience burnout, says Mukh, likely because they are forcing their bodies to behave in ways that do not come naturally or serve their health due to the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle. Honoring what the body is asking for at different times of the cycle will lead to much better performance in women’s daily tasks, according to Montalvo and Mukh.

Abigail Harper smiles
Abigail Harper smiles for the camera
Photo by Emarie Majors

Tracking health

Sheridan Malaeulu, a sophomore majoring in construction and facilities from Waipio, said during her menstrual cycle, “I get pretty intense cramping, nausea, vomiting, headaches and get super cold.” She said tracking her period helps her prepare for it and helps her husband understand her mood swings. Throughout her life, especially in high school, she said her mom would pick her up during school because of her intense bleeding. “Having menstrual cycles is hard and having them after childbirth isn’t any easier, but I’ve learned how to treat it most times over the years,” she said. Malaeulu added being cautious and keep- ing track of her menstrual cycle is important in preventing her cycle from overwhelming her body and life.

Montalvo explains, “Our bodies want to be healthy and balanced. But it’s hard to do when we live in an unbalanced world.” She says when women’s bodies are compensating for stressors on them, they get un- balanced, she says.These are the most common stressors she sees:

• Under-eating.
• Highs and lows in blood sugar from not eating enough or not eating balanced meals.
• Lack of needed nutrients in meals.
• Poor sleep quality or not enough sleep.
• Excessive mental and emotional stressors that add up over time.
• Over-exercising or lack of exercise.

When bodies compensate for stressors, they take energy from another part of the body and symptoms begin to emerge, Montalvo says. Irregular periods, constant fatigue, difficulty sleeping, temperature dsregulation and acne are a few of the symptoms she lists.To help prevent these symptoms, Montalvo gives four nutrition strategies for healthy hormones:

• Eat within 30-60 minutes of waking to help manage cortisol levels.
• Balance meals with protein, fat and carbs.
• Eat regularly throughout the day, with eating every 3 to 5
hours recommended.
• Avoid eating protein or carbs alone, as this will spike blood sugar.