The Menstrual Cycle – Be Aware of Your Fertility: Part 1
Written by Andrea Maxim, Naturopathic Doctor
The Menstrual Cycle
Always remember that a long time ago, we did not have all the cool gadgets and lab tests available to measure our cycle and fertility. The body is capable of giving us all the information we need, we just need to become more in tune with what it is telling us. Understanding the foundation of your menstrual cycle and the changes your body goes through is very easy but does take time to track in order to be confident. The more you practice this awareness and identify how your body changes over your menstrual cycle, you will better be able to determine the time of ovulation and when attempting to conceive (or avoid conception) is at its most critical.
The Basics of the Menstrual Cycle
A typical menstrual cycle is anywhere from 28-35 days, but most resources will base their information on a 28 day cycle. Your menstrual cycle is broken down into 3 phases. Phase 1 (days 1-5) is our Menstruation Phase where we shed our endometrial lining due to lack of fertilization. At the same time, the new cycle’s eggs are starting to mature. The Proliferative Phase (Phase 2 – days 5-14) is when we start to see more growth of the new egg and release of specific hormones required for proper development of the egg: Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH). Estrogen levels begin to rise during this phase as well. Usually by day 12, estrogen will have reached its peak, causing FSH to decline, thus shutting off further egg development and LH spikes. This spike in LH is known as an LH-surge which is marked by an increase in body temperature and release of the egg. This marks ovulation.
The final phase, Secretory Phase kicks in from days 15-28. This phase is designed to create and maintain a healthy endometrial lining to which a fertilized egg will attach and remain during pregnancy. All hormones in the first 2 phases decline and the Secretory Phase is predominantly controlled by another hormone, progesterone. If the egg is not fertilized, progesterone will decrease and our menstrual cycle will begin again at Day 1. If the egg is fertilized then it is the responsibility of progesterone to remain in high levels to keep the environment for the fetus healthy and viable.
The Lunar Menstural Cycle
Historically, the woman’s menstrual cycle followed the lunar calendar based on the phases of the moon and the tide patterns. This is one of the reasons why animals tend to be more “sexually primed” during a full moon – the full moon represented the time of ovulation and thus optimal time to try to conceive. When the moon is at its darkest period is when women would start their menses. Some women may find that once their menstrual cycle begins, they want to curl up and take time for themselves, others may find it a period of cleansing and will also find they organize their houses/offices the best when the menstrual cycle starts.
Embrace your Menstrual Cycle
It is important for all women to embrace their menstrual cycle! If your mood changes, then embrace that change and allow yourself to eat the foods you crave or watch a typical chick flick that gets you sobbing by the end – those tears are amazing at releasing cortisol and help relieve stress. In fact, I encourage all women to create a “menses luxury”. Once your cycle starts you’re allowed to do one or two things you never let yourself do the rest of the month – sleep in, read a tabloid magazine, gorge on deep-fried foods, etc. Have something to look forward to in order to create a more positive stigma around your cycle. Just Go With The flow!!
Methods on how to track the cycle will continue in the next blog, Be Aware of Your Fertility: Part 2 – Basal Body Temperature
Do not hesitate to contact Dr. Maxim today to MAXIMize on your Fertility and Hormonal Health!
Hudson, T. (1999). Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.
Northrup, C. (1998). Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom.