Why cycle sync?

Graphic by Kay Ali Copyright 2020.

Three days into the New Year, an email popped up that had me screeching for joy. Glamour Magazine asked for an interview. It was a surreal moment because not only is this the magazine I grew up reading, just three days before, I jotted it down into my book of manifestations for 2020. The cynical scientist in me says it's just coincidence. But my inner mystic says I totally drew them in. Either way, here's the unedited interview I gave them about why we should work with the rise and fall of our hormones in our menstrual cycle. In other words, cycle sync...

"Living in sync with your period is the key to unlocking a happy and healthy life. That’s because the rise and fall of our sex hormones throughout our menstrual cycle not only impacts ovulation and menstruation, but our overall wellbeing. Understanding the changes that occur allows us to adjust our lifestyles in a way that feels right for us. It’s about dropping stress and guilt for the choices we make; rather accepting that our bodies change on a daily basis and choosing to work with it.

Why our sex hormones are important for overall health

Graphic by Kay Ali Copyright 2020.

I like to think of hormones as messages that an organ produces to deliver a specific instruction to a cell, ultimately telling it what to do. For example, when our ovaries produce oestrogen in the first half of our cycle, it targets cells that line our uterus instructing them to grow. This is so that in the event of pregnancy, there’s a rich blood supply for successful implantation.

However, oestrogen can only deliver its message by the presence of specific oestrogen receptor sites on cells. Each hormone has their own receptors; they act as a letter box that allows the hormone to effectively deliver its instructions. Understanding this is important because wherever we find these receptors, indicates where the hormone influences our health.

We know that oestrogen receptor sites exist on bone tissue, the liver, throughout the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, urogenital and gastrointestinal tract as well as across the reproductive system. We even find oestrogen receptors in adipose tissue suggesting that the hormone can impact our body fat composition. It’s not surprising then, that the role of this sex hormone is much bigger than reproduction and menstruation. Research shows that it influences insulin sensitivity, inflammatory response, our moods and so much more.

It’s worth keeping in mind, that I’ve illustrated the impact of just one sex hormone. We see a similar pattern across different tissues in the body with progesterone and testosterone receptor sites too; indicating the importance of all our sex hormones for overall health and wellbeing.

The power of cycle syncing

This is why getting in tune with our menstrual cycle is powerful. In fact, it’s so powerful it transforms our bodies into four distinctive characters every month; I like to think of them as Hormone Heroines. When we don’t understand this about ourselves we can wind up feeling unstable and like there is something wrong with us, when in fact there isn’t. We’re just out of tune with where we are in our cycle.

Menstruation Days 1-7: Our Batwoman emerges

Graphic by Kay Ali Copyright 2020.

On the first day of our period all three of our main sex hormones are at their lowest. As a result, we tend to be a little more withdrawn. Clients report feeling flatter and fatigued. In extreme cases, our skin can feel drier due to the lack of oestrogen. Oestrogen has been shown to boost skin hydration. I recommend increasing foods high in Omega 3 during this time. Foods like sardines, mackerel and anchovies are naturally high in Omega 3 which have been shown to increase dermal ceramides, essential for reducing transdermal water loss in the skin. At this time, it may help to switch out your moisturiser for a heavier formula too.

Follicular Phase Days 7-14: Our Catwoman pounces

Graphic by Kay Ali Copyright 2020.

By day 7 oestrogen production builds momentum, peaking at day 14. Progesterone and testosterone remain low. Clinical data shows that oestrogen improves insulin sensitivity; therefore we tend to crave sugar less and notice our energy levels are more stable during this phase. As a result, I recommend women optimise their lifestyle as much as possible around this. It’s easier to eat less sugar and follow a high protein and good fats diet. Due to improved energy, now is also a good time to commit to high intensity workouts.

Similarly, for some women oestrogen causes our blood vessels to dilate, resulting in improved circulation and raised body temperature. With improved blood flow around the body, your skin may appear plumper, rosier and more youthful. Most of us feel sexier and more confident at this time of the month, much like Catwoman. I recommend making the most of it; organise that date, socialise with friends more or be bold and get yourself noticed at work.

Ovulation Day 15: Our Wonder woman moment

Graphic by Kay Ali Copyright 2020.

Unfortunately, for one day only we see a peak in all three of our hormones. This is your day of ovulation, which I think of as our Wonder Woman phase. Testosterone is at its highest, which alongside oestrogen has been shown to increase libido. It’s common to feel frisky and incredibly sociable on this day.

Luteal Phase Days 16-28: Our She Hulk rises

Graphic by Kay Ali Copyright 2020.

Post ovulation we enter what I call our She-Hulk phase. In a healthy cycle, oestrogen and testosterone dip and progesterone rises. You may notice a drastic shift in your energy. There’s two main reasons for this. Firstly, due to the effects oestrogen has on modulating insulin, you may notice poor blood sugar balance as it dips in this half of your cycle. This tends to be when most of us crave more sugar. We are also at greater risk of feeling guilty for these cravings after a week of feeling like we were in control. I tell my clients to drop the guilt and lean into the cravings, lest you want to enrage your inner She-Hulk. The trick is you want to increase the amount of complex carbohydrates you’re eating to help satisfy the craving. I call this ‘Hulking’. What you don’t want to do, is work against your hormones and resist eating carbohydrates, only to binge on more sugary foods later on as oestrogen continues to decline, taking insulin sensitivity and balanced blood sugar levels with it.

The second reason for lower energy is due to the rise in progesterone. Progesterone has the ability to stimulate GABA receptors in the brain enhancing our sleep quality. As a result, you may notice that your body wants more sleep; albeit better quality.

The good news is that with higher progesterone in circulation, we see in clinical research an improvement in our visual and verbal memory. Now is the time to take that exam or participate in self-help workshops and events. It’s also a time that our significant others don’t want to upset us; we’ll remember every detail of their mistake.

Kay Ali will be talking about cycle syncing at Women's Health Live this year on 4th April.

As both progesterone and oestrogen decline in the last 7 days of your cycle, your inner She-Hulk may become a little more temperamental. This is normal. I encourage women to exercise more self love and patience with ourselves. Both progesterone and oestrogen have been shown to support serotonin production. When levels dip, our ability to produce this happy hormone is compromised resulting in lower moods and emotional sensitivity. I recommend women practice meditation a little more religiously during this phase to help manage feelings of stress and anxiety better. Research shows that as little as 5, 20 minute sessions of Integrative Body Mind Training improved response to aggression, depression, fatigue and vigour.

Of course all of this supposes that your hormones are fluctuating in the right balance at the right time. If they're not, the effects on our wellbeing can be overwhelming. From low moods to poor immunity, skin issues and low sex drive. Nevermind infertility, missing or painful periods. There's so much information available out there to help us understand our hormones better. However, nothing beats working with a specialist in this area who can comprehensively test your hormones and tailor a plan that works for you."

If you suspect your hormones are out of balance and you would like to work with Kay, please get in touch with our office manager Angela here.

Alternatively, why not join Kay at Women's Health Live this year on Saturday 4th April 2020 at 11.25am? She will be at the Science and Nutrition stand sitting on a panel with two endocrinologists sharing her expertise in this area and how to support your hormones naturally. Tickets are only £5. Use Kay's discount code KAY10 for 10% off.

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