Don’t be at the mercy of your period – make your monthly cycle work for you and be happier and healthier than ever – The Sun

WHETHER it’s a sudden outbreak of spots, bloating or welling up at a pet insurance advert, it’s usually hormones that get the blame.

The changing balance of your reproductive hormones each month affects everything from energy levels and mood to fertility.

However, one 2016 study found that less than a third of women knew about the different reproductive hormones, and only half were able to say when their next period was likely to be.*

Here’s how to get your hormones to work for you.

Get to know your cycle

“IT'S important for women to track their periods in order to know what a normal cycle is like for them and what could be a sign that something’s not right,” says Dr Christine Ekechi, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Imperial College Healthcare.

“The first thing a doctor will ask if you see them about a gynaecological issue is the date of your last period.”

Start keeping a note of when you have your period, how long it lasts and also other symptoms throughout the month, such as changes in your mood or skin – just jotting down a couple of words each day about how you feel is enough.

Moody Month (free for iPhone users) is a period tracking app designed to help you connect changes in your mood and emotions with your cycle.

The app asks you how you feel each day – with options including “foggy”, “fatigued” and “confident” – and will also tell you what’s happening to your hormones that day, based on where it thinks you are in your menstrual cycle.

How long should my cycle be?

DOCTORS tend to assume a typical menstrual cycle is 28 days, but anything between 21 days and 35 can be normal, says Christine, who works with gynaecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal.

“If you’re only having a period every two months, then that’s when we’d want to start some investigations, as you could have a condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).”

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance, which can mean sufferers don’t ovulate regularly.

“They may have periods only three or four times a year,” says Christine. “But there are other, more subtle symptoms, too, such as weight gain, bad skin and excessive facial hair.”

However, it can be normal to have the occasional cycle that’s slightly shorter than usual.

“If it’s a one-off, this can be down to an anovulatory cycle, which means an egg hasn’t been released that month.

"But one of the things we really want to watch out for is periods that seem to be very close together – if a woman is bleeding every 14 days, it’s probably not actually a period, it’s likely to be caused by something else, such as fibroids (non-cancerous growths on the womb) or an abnormality on the cervix.”

You should always see your GP if you have any bleeding after sex or in between periods.

What if my monthly cycle changes?

A CHANGE in your menstrual cycle could be a sign that something in your lifestyle is throwing your hormones off kilter.

“Any disturbance to the hormonal signals that come from the brain or the ovaries will cause changes to your period and menstrual cycle,” explains Christine.

Culprits include rapid weight loss, being underweight or too much strenuous exercise, which can cause periods to be shorter, lighter or to stop altogether. Stress can also disrupt your cycle.

“An acute period of stress, such as a really busy time at work or a death in the family, can delay the arrival of your period by increasing levels of cortisol, which can affect the levels of other hormones,” says Christine.

“Cortisol can interfere with the signals sent from the ovaries to the brain, which in turn means the message for oestrogen and progesterone to be released isn’t given.”

This can mean you ovulate later than usual, which can then make your period late, and if your progesterone levels are too low, your body may not realise it’s time for your period to start.

When it comes to diet, Maisie Hill, a women’s health coach and author of Period Power, recommends eating regular meals with plenty of healthy fats – such as salmon and avocado – protein and not too much sugar or “beige foods”.

This is to avoid a blood sugar rollercoaster, especially in the second half of your cycle.

Maisie explains this is because a certain amount of progesterone needs to be released and blood sugar spikes can interfere with ovulation, therefore disrupting when your period arrives.

The power period

ALTHOUGH we tend to think of “being a bit hormonal” as a bad thing, there are huge positives to understanding your hormones and working with them, says Maisie.

For instance, the pre-ovulation phase (once your period has finished and oestrogen is steadily rising) is the time of the month when we feel most able to get stuff done.

“During pre-ovulation there can be a feeling of invincibility,” Maisie explains. “Women often feel they can do more on less – they have more energy, their appetite may be smaller and they feel like they can get away with less sleep.

"So this is the phase when you might find it easier to cope with a big night out. We also tend to feel more confident, so it’s a good time to get out there and socialise or try out that new exercise class.”

Enjoy sexy time (of the month)

“LEVELS of oestrogen peak just before ovulation, and this hormone can make you more articulate,” says Maisie.

“So this is a good time for interviews, presentations or anything that involves an audience. For the same reason it’s a good time for dates, as you’ll be at your most chatty and flirty.

"However, beware of rose-tinted glasses at this time in your cycle because your hormones are basically trying to encourage you to have sex!”

FYI, just before ovulation is when you’ll be most likely to get pregnant, so make sure you’re using contraception if baby-making isn’t on the agenda right now.

The hibernation phase

YOUR emotions begin to change after ovulation because progesterone starts to kick in, says Maisie.

“The hormone is there to prepare the lining of the womb for pregnancy, so it tends to slow us down and makes us want to stay inside more,” she says.

“It can bring a sense of calm and also helps us to sleep better, so this is a good time to top up on shut-eye and have quieter nights.

“Be careful about saying yes to everything when you’re in your energetic pre-ovulation phase, because the social events you’re booking in will likely be for a couple of weeks’ time when you’ll then be in your pre-menstrual hibernation phase, and you might not have the same energy for them,” Maisie adds.

“Working with your cycle means you can learn to give yourself some space and time when you’re likely going to need it.”

  • Period Power by Maisie Hill (£12.99, Green Tree) is out now 
  • Michigan State University and Calvin College

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