Menstrual Cycle Explained - Chapter One
Who’s been there: just now you felt like smashing your phone against the wall, 10 minutes later you almost burst into tears when you spot a cute elderly couple holding hands. Welcome to the fabulous world of hormones. To be honest, the menstrual cycle can remind us of a blockbuster. Gory and nerve-wracking with unexpected plot twists on one hand - beautiful moments and a surprising climax on the other. You might think we are ovary-acting now but hear us out!
The menstrual cycle is one of nature’s miracles - without it we wouldn't exist! When we came up with the subject of the menstrual cycle in our girls’ crew, we were a little shocked to discover that many of us don’t really know that much about it. Between us, if we could give the education around the menstrual cycle a grade, it would receive a solid E-. That’s why we think we need more empowerment around the menstrual cycle! After all, living a more cycle-conscious lifestyle can be a gamechanger for your health and overall wellbeing.
Back to the Basics
The menstrual cycle is regulated by an interplay of sex hormones. Simply put, hormones are our bodies’ messengers that transmit information and regulate bodily processes. Scientific sources usually indicate 21-36 days as the length of a “healthy cycle” for adults. In the following we will refer to a typical cycle length of 28 days.
The cycle is divided into two halves - the follicular phase and luteal phase.
Due to the different events within the two halves of the cycle, we will specify again:
- The follicular phase includes our period and the proliferation phase*.
- Basically, ovulation takes place between the two cycle halves.
- The luteal phase, often referred to as the secretory phase, lasts from ovulation until the period.
1. First Half of the Cycle - Follicular Phase
The follicular phase starts with the first day of your period and ends at ovulation. The main event in this phase is the maturation of follicles in the ovaries, one of which is eventually released at ovulation.
Period: Day 1-5
Our menstrual blockbuster starts with a bloody scene: the period. The process is a little more complex than many would suspect: Over the course of the cycle, the body prepares itself for a possible pregnancy. In the process, eggs mature, and the lining of the uterus is built up. If the egg is not fertilized, the lining of the uterus is shed during menstruation. During this, the uterus contracts in a cramp-like manner, which can cause period-typical cramps. Ouch.
The menstrual phase lasts an average of three to seven days. Your hormone levels are at their lowest during this time. Up on the agenda are symptoms such as fatigue, pain and the need for rest and withdrawal. It’s estimated that more than half of all menstruating women regularly suffer from period pain (!). This can be a big challenge, especially in everyday life.
Snuggling up in bed with a hot water bottle and watching a cheesy movie - 100% acceptable, considering all that belly pain! Our secret weapon for cravings is a cup of hot chocolate. Not only does cocoa taste heavenly, but it’s also rich in potassium, iron and magnesium which can have a positive effect on your cramps, skin and mood.
Check out our Period Power product selection where you'll find cacao specifically for PMS and sustainable alternatives to plastic period products.
Proliferation Phase: Day 6-13
We've arrived at the part of the blockbuster where everything goes smoothly and according to plan. In the proliferative phase* from the end of the period, the hormone estrogen dominates. This ensures that the lining of the uterus is built up, where an egg can nest in case of fertilization. Estrogen also ensures the maturation of several follicles, of which only one will eventually prevail. Follicles are eggs cells that are surrounded by a protective sack called a vesicle. But more on this later.
Due to the increase in estrogen leading up to ovulation, your energy and mental well-being increases.
You can think of estrogen as the Beyoncé of hormones: confident, determined, and living her best life.
It's the best time to make use of this energy boost, whether it's in your relationships, at work, or in sports. We are convinced from our own experience: you can benefit tremendously from riding this wave of the emotional & physical high.
2. Half of the Cycle - Luteal Phase
Climaxes are breathtakingly awesome, but as we all know, they don't last forever. Before the blockbuster comes to an end, there is a plot twist that turns everything into a big mess... The so-called corpus luteum is now developing from the follicle which remained after ovulation. During this process, the hormone progesterone is also formed, which has its biggest increase in the middle of the luteal phase.
You can think of progesterone as the Emma Watson of hormones: introverted, deep, and rather low-key.
Are your social batteries running low and you're dealing with life's crucial questions? Welcome to the luteal phase. For many menstruators, the roller coaster of emotions is bound to happen during this time. The list of other troublesome PMS symptoms is long.
You can imagine the cause of PMS as a battle between Beyonce and Emma Watson. Beyoncé (estrogen) dominates over Emma Watson (progesterone); this is also known as estrogen dominance. Good news: numerous studies show that monk's peppercorn extract can effectively relieve the symptoms of PMS. This super plant has a hormone-regulating effect. Studies also show a positive effect of the plant substance for those trying to conceive.
Back to the corpus luteum: within the next ten days, it regresses and stops producing progesterone. Progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone reach their low point before menstruation. The luteal phase ends with the last day before the next period. Aaand, you guessed it, the game starts all over again.
FSH: Follicle Stimulating Hormone
LH: Luteinizing Hormone
We've put together a few Period Wonder Women who will always fight by your side through all the ups and downs, so that you can be well prepared for every cycle phase.
Disclaimer: If your cycle symptoms are so severe that you can barely manage them (e.g., depressive moods or severe pain), the root of the problem might be a serious hormonal imbalance or disease. In this case it’s very important to consult your gynecologist so that appropriate treatment can be taken.
Note: for menstruators who take the pill, hormone levels are constant due to the supply of synthetic hormones. The body suppresses the hormonal fluctuations of the cycle phases and thus does not prepare the body for pregnancy. Ovulation and the cycle phases we have discussed above do not occur.
*Other sources often refer to the proliferative phase as the follicular phase. We do not find this clear enough. In our depiction the follicular phase describes the time from the first day of the period up until ovulation. Therefore, we find it important to conceptually delineate the phase after the period until ovulation and describe it as the proliferative phase. Source: https://helloclue.com/articles/cycle-a-z/the-menstrual-cycle-more-than-just-the-period (retrieved Oct 14, 2021)
**Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/vitex-agnus-castus (retrieved Oct 14, 2021)