5 Tips to Reclaim Your Hormone Health
Hormones influence every single biochemical reaction in the body and can be linked to almost every single health condition. As chemical messengers, hormones provide snail mail to every single cell, provided we are healthy enough for them to do so. They influence our behavior, emotion, brain chemicals, immune system and how we turn food into fuel.
The female anatomy is quite complex, especially when compared to our male counterparts. Women are much more vulnerable to hormonal imbalances than men. But what does that mean, and what does that even look like?
Here are my 5 Tips to reclaim your hormone health!
TIP #1: Know your Cycle! (the most important)
A menstrual cycle is a roughly four-week span of time when three key hormones—estrogen, testosterone and progesterone—rise and fall in a specific pattern.
Depending on how high or low these hormones go and the direction they’re headed, they impact you in a wide variety of ways, like your mood, energy, exercise and recovery, sleep quality, food cravings and overall health.
Why is this important information to know? Since your hormones follow a predictable pattern every cycle, it means the effects they have on you are the same cycle after cycle—and this allows you to know ahead of time what your moods, health and behavior will be.
As a result, it can help you plan your day, week and month ahead and enable you to take advantage of hormonal benefits (such as high-energy days) and overcome hormonal challenges (such as countering fatigue on low-energy days), making every day of your cycle better.
TIP #2: Eat More Iron Rich Foods during week 1 of your cycle
WEEK 1 Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7
HORMONE: Estrogen Rises
During your Week 1, estrogen starts out at its lowest point and begins a steady climb. For the first day or so of this cycle week, the low level of this hormone combined with period-related aches and fatigue may make you a bit quiet and have you preferring to stay close to home.
OVERALL: As estrogen rises throughout this cycle week, this hormone will be boosting your mood, energy and patience and ramping up your desire for adventure and to socialize. For some women, these hormone-fueled benefits kick in quickly; for others it takes a few days or longer.
MOOD: You become more and more optimistic and motivated, your verbal skills and memory improve and it’s easier to absorb new facts and learn new skills.
NUTRITION: ensure to eat enough iron-rich foods (beef, turkey, spinach, egg yolks) to make up for iron loss as you bleed during menstruation. When iron dips, it can trigger fatigue, fogginess and a down mood. Rising estrogen also has a slight appetite-suppressing effect, which makes it a bit easier to eat smaller portions and opt for healthier foods.
EXERCISE: You’re also building more muscle and building it faster due to rising estrogen.
BOWELS: You may find that irritable bowels, crop up at the start of your Week 1. This is because, even though your estrogen level is climbing daily, you still start out with a relatively low level of this hormone.
TIP #3: Focus on resistance and strength training during week 2
WEEK 2 Day 8 to ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)
HORMONES: Estrogen and testosterone rise till they peak
Estrogen continues to rise all throughout your Week 2 and, as it does, it revs all the positive effects you experienced during your Week 1.
OVERALL: Your mood, energy and patience continue to increase, you crave adventure and new experiences and you’re happiest when surrounded by lots of people and engaged in conversation. High estrogen also makes you braver, more confident, coordinated and ready for a challenge. You’re thinking quickly, have a sharper memory and learning new facts and skills more easily.
MOOD: The high level of this hormone is also making you more self-assured about your appearance. In fact, estrogen is actually boosting your attractiveness by prompting subtle shifts in soft tissue that make your facial features slightly more symmetrical.
One downside of your Week 2: Some women experience anxiety or greater stress during this cycle week due to high estrogen triggering excessive arousal in the brain. Meditation, yoga, moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) and chamomile tea all help reduce this hormone-fueled anxiety.
NUTRITION: You tend to be a bit less hungry due to rising estrogen’s slight appetite-suppressing effect. During ovulation, research shows your appetite drops even further, leading to eating less than during any other time in your cycle. You’ll find it’s also easier to opt for lighter, healthier foods since estrogen increases willpower (boosting your ability to resist temptation) and revs your motivation to reach good-for-you goals.
EXERCISE: You build more muscle and build it faster when you do resistance exercises during the first half of your cycle—your Week 1 and Week 2—compared to when doing them in the second half of your cycle—your Week 3 and Week 4—thanks to rising estrogen.
TIP #4: Focus on endurance exercises in Week 3
WEEK 3 Begins the day after ovulation and lasts 8 days
HORMONES: Progesterone rises; estrogen and testosterone drop the first half this week, then estrogen rises again.
Your Week 3 is really a two-parter: During the first half, plunging estrogen can kick start a “pre-PMS” phase. The symptoms are like a shorter, less intense version of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and may include irritability, fatigue and a down mood. In our monthly cycle there are two estrogen dips every cycle. Luckily, by the second half of your Week 3, estrogen rises again, putting a stop to any annoying pre-PMS symptoms, helping level out your mood.
MOOD: As progesterone rises, it slows you down and makes you quieter, more cautious and a bit foggy and physically fatigued, because progesterone is a sedating hormone. If you’re sensitive to progesterone, you may experience bouts of sadness or crying.
NUTRITION: Rising progesterone has you craving favorite comfort foods that are high in fat and calories. Your appetite is greater and you’re hungrier more often. All this is because your body thinks you might have gotten pregnant during ovulation, so progesterone wants you to eat enough for two. If you eat too little during this cycle phase, you run the risk of experiencing a dramatic shift in mood that leads you to feeling angry or sad due to fluctuating blood sugar.
EXERCISE: On the upside, you’re burning up to 30% more fat when you exercise thanks to the combination of estrogen and progesterone making your body more efficient at using fat for fuel. Bonus: Exercising reduces hormone-triggered water retention by helping you sweat out excess fluid.
BOWELS: Other side effects of progesterone: It can trigger constipation because it slows down digestion as a way to help your body absorb more nutrients from food in case you got pregnant. And, it prompts water retention, causing temporary bloating.
TIP #5: Give into some of your cravings during Week 4
WEEK 4 Final 6 days of your cycle
HORMONES: Estrogen and progesterone plunge
Estrogen drops throughout your premenstrual Week 4 and the lower it goes, the more it has the potential to drag down your mood and make you sad, irritable or anxious. Not all women have bad moods during their premenstrual weeks.
MOOD: Regardless of what type of mood issues you experience, generally, plunging estrogen can make you more cynical, pessimistic and critical since it has you focusing more on negatives than positives.
ENERGY: Surprisingly, this typically isn’t the most tired week of your cycle. That honor goes to your Week 3 when rising progesterone saps your pep. Research shows that as the level of this sedating hormone goes down in this cycle week, you get a bit more energized.
NUTRITION: Descending estrogen can trigger cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods, such as sweets, pasta and bread. The reason? As the level of this hormone drops, it drags down levels of mood-moderating serotonin in the brain—and carbohydrates help replenish it, so your body pushes you to eat more of them. You will likely still feel the urge to eat foods high in fat and calories and have a greater appetite due to rising progesterone.
EXERCISE: You burn up to 30% more fat during aerobic exercise up to a couple of days before your period due to the combination of estrogen and progesterone firing up your body’s fat-burners.