In the last post, I explained what happens during the menstrual cycle and why ovulation (& the production of progesterone) is so important for our overall health. Especially our hormonal balance and skin quality!
But what if you aren’t ovulating, or your progesterone levels are super low on blood tests? This is the question we should be asking, not immediately turning to the birth control pill or completely ignoring our symptoms. There is something preventing you from ovulating and we need to find out what that is.
I like to call these the obstacles to ovulation…
Low thyroid function, nutrient deficiencies, stress, insulin resistance, inflammation, under eating and over exercising are the most common
reasons that I see. Lab testing and the help of a skilled practitioner can help you to determine which one (or several) of these issues may be
throwing your hormones ‘out of whack’.
Every woman is different, however the female body does have some specific needs, regardless of what condition or symptoms you are
dealing with. These are:
1. A nutrient dense diet
2. Daily movement
3. Stress management
4. High quality sleep
5. A non-toxic environment
Another tool that I love to recommend and have seen great success with is CYCLE SYNCING.
Women, on average, follow a 28 day (monthly) cycle, whereas men are on a 24 hour (daily) cycle. This is part of the reason why men can
eat, move and live the same way every single day with no problems. As females, our hormones are constantly fluctuating throughout the entire month. You have probably had the experience of really killing it in your workouts and productivity one week? Then the next week you leave the gym after 20 minutes and don’t feel as motivated to complete certain tasks.
Your body requires different foods, nutrients, exercise and self care practices, depending on which phase of the menstrual cycle you are in.
Despite what you may have been taught, our menstrual cycle is comprised of 4 unique phases. Each slightly altering your mood, energy
levels and sometimes physical appearance. Your skin can be highly influenced by the fluctuations in hormones throughout the month, with
the most common times for breakouts being during ovulation and the few days leading up to your period.
Next, I will describe each of the phases and share how to best support your hormones and skin health during these times. I also like to refer to them as being like seasons of the month, as this helps us to more easily understand what’s going on.
Menstrual phase (winter)
During this phase you have your menstrual bleed, as hormones have dropped to their lowest level, which triggers the release of the
endometrial lining. It is normal to feel slightly more fatigued and introverted during this time, however you shouldn’t be suffering with
heavy, painful bleeding and severe exhaustion.
Your skin may be prone to acne breakouts or dryness during this time, because of low hormone levels. Therefore, we should support our body with nutrients needed to rebuild oestrogen, in particular. Up your intake of healthy fats, such as coconut products, nuts, seeds, grass fed butter/ghee and olive oil, during this phase.
Try to avoid consuming a lot of ‘cold’ or raw foods during your period as the body is already in a depleted state. Provide your body with warming, nourishing meals and herbal teas, using herbs and spices like ginger and turmeric too.
Follicular phase (spring)
Once your period has finished, your hormones are rising and your body is preparing for ovulation once again. Because hormones aren’t
super high or low right now, many women find that their skin is the best looking during this phase and for some women. This can be the only time of month when they don’t have any hormonal symptoms, which is sad.
Inflammation can delay or prevent ovulation, therefore focusing on an anti-inflammatory diet and stress management can help to prevent this. Focus on consuming high quality protein, like oily fish, eggs and grass-fed beef during this phase, as protein helps to regulate blood glucose levels and provides amino acids which are crucial for phase 2 liver detoxification.
Although dairy is a good source of high quality protein, I find that a lot of women with hormonal imbalances (especially PCOS & Endometriosis) are actually sensitive to dairy and it can promote inflammation within the body. I recommend completely eliminating all sources for 30 days, then reintroducing organic dairy (raw if possible) to see if you react negatively to it. Dairy is also a well known acne trigger, therefore if you are struggling with acne (or any inflammatory skin condition), you will likely benefit from ditching dairy. Even if this is just for the short term whilst you work on restoring your health.
Ovulation phase (summer)
Hormones including oestrogen and testosterone are at their highest this week, which can be a good or bad thing depending on
the individual! If you experience breakouts during this time, you could have excess oestrogen and/or androgens (‘male hormones’), which can increase sebum production and inflammation within the skin.
Supporting liver detoxification can actually help to reduce the occurrence of breakouts during this time. I recommend that you
consume one raw, organic carrot (medium sized) and a handful of broccoli sprouts every day during this phase because of their benefits in supporting healthy oestrogen detoxification. These foods are also rich in fibre, which helps the excretion of ‘used hormones’ via the bowels.
You should also aim to consume 1-2 portions of cruciferous vegetables per day (lightly cooked) such as kale, cabbage, cauliflower,
broccoli, pak choy and Brussels sprouts. Cruciferous vegetables are particularly beneficial for our hormones because they contain sulphur compounds and nutrients like diindolylmethane (DIM) which promotes the detoxification of oestrogen metabolites down the 2-OH (healthy) pathway, rather than the 4-OH (harmful) route. This is beneficial for most women, but particularly those with a family history of hormone dependant cancer (such as breast cancer).
Luteal phase (winter)
Hopefully, progesterone is now on the scene if you have successfully ovulated! Even if you don’t want kids right now (or even at all) you still need to ovulate and produce progesterone because it has so many health benefits.
Hormones are still elevated right now, however it is the sudden drop towards the end of this phase that triggers menstruation (aka Aunt Flo arrives). This is also known as ‘PMS week’ for so many women, because a lot of us have to deal with a ton of symptoms. PMS is common, but this doesn’t make it normal, despite what we may have been taught! Our skin is usually oiler and we are more susceptible to
breakouts during this time.
Sugar cravings tend to occur around this time of month. However, binging on chocolates and sweets may actually make your symptoms
during this phase (and whilst you are on your period) worse! Focus on blood sugar balance during this time by consuming a source of protein, fat and fibre at each meal (and snack!). Avoid going longer than 6 hours without eating too as this can be stressful on the body. If you continue to crave sweets and chocolate, go for complex, starchy carbohydrates like stewed apples with cinnamon or roasted sweet potatoes, and a few squares of high-quality dark chocolate (80%) dipped in nut butter.
Related: Download a FREE cycle syncing guide!
Then the cycle starts all over again! How cool is that? I don’t know about you, but I was never taught this stuff at school or by my parents.
If your hormones are ruling the roost right now, I truly believe that we can use food as medicine, and balance them naturally. Even if you
decide to remain on hormonal birth control, these recommendations can help you to support your body and protect against some of the negative effects you may experience whilst on these medications or if you eventually decide to transition off.
Instead of thinking of your female hormones and menstrual cycle as a ‘curse’ or hinderance, use it as a feedback tool to assess your
hormonal balance and any irregularities as a message from your body.
Your period is your 5th vital sign, after all!