Biohacking Your Cycle
Although the male and female body are regulated by the nervous and hormonal system, the female reproductive system, and the predominant hormones it produces, are quite unique. Understanding this complex system can provide the tools for the ultimate bio-hack and improve a woman’s work/life balance.
As Dr. Allison Divine, Ob/Gyn at the Austin Diagnostic Clinic and Faculty at Texas A&M Medical school, notes, there are direct links between our hormones and our neurochemistry. Hormones are natural substances produced by the body and responsible for many bodily functions, in addition to relaying messages between cells and organs. For females, the main sex hormones are oestrogen (usually referred to as estrogen) and progesterone. The production of these hormones primarily occurs in the ovaries and adrenal glands. The female sex hormones influence mood, body weight, hair growth, bone, and muscle growth.
These hormonal cycles have natural fluctuations. Tracking the 4 phases of the women’s 28 day menstrual cycle can be beneficial in identifying and addressing any issues or symptoms that can be associated with hormonal imbalances. Cycle tracking can also be used as a guide to identify patterns in ovulation, sex drive, and navigating the monthly cycle mood changes. Moreover, knowledge of each phase can generate self-understanding and awareness of how best to align the cycle with a woman’s lifestyle.
Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
The length of the menstrual cycle is typically 28 days but it can be highly variable. In some women it may be as short as 20 days or as long as 40 days. The female hormones fluctuate significantly throughout the cycle, which can be broken down into three phases—follicular, ovulatory, and luteal.
The follicular phase starts on the first day of a woman’s period. This is the productivity portion of the cycle, or the “superstar” time for a woman. This is a good time to start new projects and dream big.
During this phase, two hormones, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), are released from the brain and travel in the blood to the ovaries. These hormones stimulate the growth of about 15 to 20 eggs in the ovaries, which are held in follicles. These hormones also trigger an increase in the production of the female hormone estrogen. As estrogen levels rise, the production of FSH ceases. This unique balance of hormones allows the body to limit the number of follicles that mature. As the follicular phase progresses, one follicle in one ovary becomes dominant and continues to mature. This dominant follicle suppresses all the other follicles in the group. As a result, they stop growing and die, then the dominant follicle continues to produce estrogen.
The ovulatory phase starts about fourteen days after the follicular phase. This phase is the halfway point of the menstrual cycle. Collaboration and communication skills are at the highest all month. The brain chemistry during this phase also heightens verbal skills. This is a great time to have those important conversations.
During this phase, there is a rise in estrogen from the dominant follicle, which triggers a surge in the amount of luteinizing hormone that is produced by the brain. This causes the dominant follicle to release its egg from the ovary. As the egg is released (the process called ovulation), it’s captured by finger-like projections on the end of the fallopian tubes (fimbriae). The fimbriae sweep the egg into the tube. Also, during this phase, there is an increase in the amount and thickness of mucus produced by the cervix (lower part of the uterus). If a woman were to have intercourse during this time, the thick mucus captures the man’s sperm, nourishes it, and helps it to move towards the egg for fertilization.
Luteal Phase of the Menstrual Cycle
The luteal phase of the menstrual cycle begins right after ovulation. The luteal phase is the power phase for accomplishing things. Completing projects and being task oriented creates the most contentment.
In this phase, once it releases its egg, the empty follicle develops into a new structure called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum secretes the hormone progesterone. Progesterone prepares the uterus for a fertilized egg to implant.
If intercourse has taken place and a man’s sperm has fertilized the egg (a process called conception), the fertilized egg (embryo) will travel through the fallopian tube to implant in the uterus. The woman is now considered pregnant. If the egg is not fertilized, it passes through the uterus. Since there is no need to support a pregnancy, the lining of the uterus (endometrium) breaks down and sheds, and the next menstrual period begins.
With so many complex hormonal functions happening during these 28 days, learning to sync the hormonal cycle with life and work schedules can be seen as the ultimate bio-hack. By shifting from the masculine biochemical 24-hour schedule to the female 28 day cycle women can take charge of their health and wellness, harness their energy, and take advantage of their bodies natural cycles.
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