Where men go through a daily 24h hormonal cycle, women go through an additional 23-35 day infradian cycle. This refers to the monthly hormonal cycle experienced by the female body in preparation for a potential pregnancy, aka the menstrual cycle. It is recognized as a crucial indicator of a woman's overall health and has been designated the 5th vital sign by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Every month, one of the ovaries releases an egg through ovulation, while hormonal changes simultaneously prepare the uterus for the potential implantation of the fertile egg. If fertilization does not occur, the uterine lining is shed through the vagina, resulting in menstruation.
The menstrual journey of a woman
Menarche, which marks a woman's first menstrual cycle, is the final stage of puberty in females and typically occurs around the age of 13 on average. The menstrual cycle is centrally regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, beginning around the age of 8. As hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) pulses increase in amplitude and frequency, the ovaries become active, leading to the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These hormones stimulate the ovary to release estrogen.
On average, menstruation begins at the age of 12, but it is considered normal for it to start anytime between 8 and 15 years of age. The menstrual cycle continues for approximately 40 years. Women can have regular periods until perimenopause, the transitional phase preceding menopause. During perimenopause, menstrual cycles may become more prolonged or irregular. While periods may vary among women, the amount of blood lost is generally small, ranging from 30 to 50 milliliters.
Understanding the menstrual cycle is crucial for women as it provides valuable insights into their health. Recognizing what is expected and identifying abnormalities can help detect hormonal imbalances.
Figure 1. Illustration of an average menstrual cycle for a woman. Green days represent the fertile window, during which either conception takes place or contraception should be used to prevent pregnancy.
Figure 1. illustrates the stages of the menstrual cycle, which is counted from the first day of one's period until the next. A menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but a range of 21 to 35 days is considered normal. The menstrual cycle consists of four phases: Menstruation, Follicular phase, Ovulation phase, and Luteal phase.
Let's review each phase in detail:
The endometrium sheds as hormonal support is withdrawn at the start of the menstrual cycle. Day 1 of the cycle corresponds to the first day of menstruation. From days 2 to 3, while still menstruating, the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) rises, signaling the ovaries to produce estrogen. Multiple follicles begin to grow during the early follicular phase, but only one primary follicle matures. Around day 8 of the cycle, estrogen levels peak, which may result in enhanced curves and reduced fine lines. Around day 10, testosterone levels increase, often leading to heightened libido, making it a suitable time for sexual exploration.
This may seem counterintuitive, as ovulation has yet to occur. However, the female body can retain sperm for several days, increasing pregnancy chances when ovulation occurs. Although the egg only lives about 24 hours, a woman can be fertile for approximately five days each month.
Usually, somewhere around after day 12, the ovaries ramp up estrogen production, so it spikes. This stimulates the pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormone (LH). This triggers ovulation and the primary follicle is then released.
Ovulation, the release of the ovum from the follicle, is the shortest phase of the cycle, lasting only 24 hours. This is when the egg is released from the follicle, usually occurring around 36 hours after the LH surge begins and about 10-12 hours after it reaches its peak. After being released, the egg travels through the fallopian tube. If sperm is present and fertilizes the egg, it implants in the uterus, leading to the possibility of pregnancy. However, if no sperm is present, the egg dissolves and the uterine lining is shed during the next period.
The remaining follicle after ovulation is called the corpus luteum, which produces hormones like progesterone and estrogen to prepare the body for a potential pregnancy. This phase following ovulation is known as the luteal phase and lasts approximately two weeks. It's worth noting that ovulation is necessary for the production of progesterone. Towards the end of the luteal phase, if the egg isn't fertilized, hormone levels decrease. Estrogen and progesterone reach their lowest point in the cycle, triggering the start of a new menstrual cycle.
How to biohack according to your menstrual cycle?
Biohacking the menstrual cycle involves implementing strategies and practices to optimize various aspects of health and well-being based on the cycle's different phases. Here are some general guidelines on how to biohack according to the menstrual cycle:
Exercising according to the menstrual cycle involves tailoring your workout routine to the different phases of your cycle. Here are some general guidelines to consider:
Menstruation Phase: During the first few days of your period, you may experience lower energy levels and discomfort. Listen to your body and engage in gentle exercises that promote blood flow and relieve cramps, such as walking, light yoga, or stretching. Avoid high-intensity or strenuous workouts if you're not feeling up to it.
Follicular Phase: As your energy levels increase, you can gradually incorporate more challenging workouts. Focus on cardiovascular exercises like running, cycling, or strength training to take advantage of the rising estrogen levels, which can enhance endurance and performance. Additionally, include strength training exercises to build muscle and support overall fitness goals.
Ovulation Phase: This phase is characterized by increased energy, stamina, and coordination. Take advantage of these peak physical abilities and engage in more intense workouts, such as HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or circuit training. You can also try activities that require balance and agility, like dancing or kickboxing.
Luteal Phase: As progesterone levels rise, you may experience reduced energy levels. Opt for stress reduction and relaxation exercises, such as yoga, Pilates, or tai chi. Light to moderate aerobic activities like brisk walking or swimming can help maintain fitness without putting excessive strain on your body.
It's important to listen to your body throughout your cycle and adjust your workouts accordingly. Stay hydrated, pay attention to pain or discomfort, and prioritize rest and recovery when needed. Remember that everyone's cycle and response to exercise can vary, so it's essential to find what works best for you. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a qualified fitness instructor can provide personalized guidance on exercising according to your menstrual cycle.
Eating according to your menstrual cycle involves adjusting your diet to support the hormonal changes and nutritional needs during different phases of your cycle. While individual needs may vary, here are some general guidelines to consider:
Menstruation Phase: During your period, you may experience increased iron loss. To replenish iron levels, focus on consuming iron-rich foods such as grass-fed beef, organ meats, poultry, fish, legumes and leafy green vegetables. Include foods high in vitamin C to enhance iron absorption. Additionally, prioritize foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, and avocados which can help reduce inflammation and ease menstrual symptoms.
Follicular Phase: As your energy levels increase, you can incorporate a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. To support hormone regulation, consider adding foods rich in B vitamins (such as eggs, whole grains, and leafy greens). Focus on incorporating antioxidant-rich foods like berries, tomatoes, and colorful vegetables to support overall health and immune function.
Ovulation Phase: During this phase, focus on foods that support reproductive health and egg quality. Include sources of vitamin E (such as almonds, spinach, and sunflower seeds) and foods rich in antioxidants (such as berries and dark chocolate). Additionally, consider incorporating foods that support cervical mucus production, such as flaxseeds, evening primrose oil, or foods rich in healthy fats like avocados and olive oil.
Luteal Phase: As progesterone levels rise, you may experience increased cravings and mood changes. Prioritize a balanced diet with complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats to help stabilize blood sugar levels and support mood. Include foods rich in magnesium (such as leafy greens, nuts, and seeds) and treat yourself to dark chocolate (above 70% cacao) to help reduce menstrual cramps and support relaxation. Additionally, incorporate foods that are high in fiber to support healthy digestion.
Working according to your menstrual cycle involves recognizing and honoring the changes in energy, focus, and productivity that occur throughout different phases of your cycle. While everyone's experience may vary, here are some general suggestions to consider:
Menstruation Phase: During your period, you may experience lower energy levels and possibly some discomfort. It's important to prioritize self-care and listen to your body's needs. Take breaks when necessary, practice gentle exercises or stretches, and ensure you get enough rest. Plan tasks that require less physical or mental exertion, such as administrative work, organizing, or reflective activities.
Follicular Phase: As your energy levels rise, take advantage of this phase for more demanding or creative tasks. You may experience improved focus and a fresh perspective. Use this time to brainstorm ideas, engage in problem-solving, start new projects, or engage in physical activities that require stamina.
Ovulation Phase: This phase is often associated with increased energy, heightened creativity, and improved communication skills. Leverage this time for collaborative work, team projects, networking, and presentations. Take advantage of your enhanced social skills and assertiveness to tackle challenging tasks or engage in public speaking.
Luteal Phase: As you approach menstruation, you may experience changes in mood, decreased energy, and increased introspection. It's important to pace yourself and manage your workload effectively during this phase. Prioritize tasks that require attention to detail, organizing, and wrapping up projects. Practice self-care techniques like meditation, gentle exercises, and maintaining a supportive work environment.
Note: Listen to your body's signals, communicate your needs with colleagues or supervisors when necessary, and create a work environment that supports your well-being throughout your menstrual cycle.
Sexual experiences and preferences vary significantly among individuals, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sex and the menstrual cycle. However, understanding the changes during different cycle phases can provide some insights and considerations. Here are a few general points to keep in mind:
Menstruation Phase: Some women may experience discomfort, cramps, or a higher flow during their period, influencing their desire for sexual activity. However, others may feel no discomfort and find that sexual activity helps relieve menstrual cramps. Communication and mutual consent between partners are crucial during this phase to ensure comfort and respect for each other's preferences.
Follicular Phase: As the period ends and the follicles in the ovaries begin to develop, some individuals may notice increased libido and sexual desire. This phase is characterized by rising estrogen levels, which can contribute to heightened arousal and a sense of vitality. It can be an opportune time for sexual exploration and intimacy.
Ovulation Phase: Ovulation, the release of an egg from the ovary, typically occurs in the middle of the menstrual cycle. Some women may experience a surge in sexual desire during this time due to increased estrogen and testosterone levels. If pregnancy is desired, this is considered the most fertile phase, and couples may choose to have sex to maximize the chances of conception.
Luteal Phase: Following ovulation, progesterone levels rise and can lead to mood and physical sensations changes. Some individuals may find that their sexual desire decreases during this phase. Others may still experience a strong desire for sex. Open communication and understanding between partners are essential to respect individuals' needs and comfort.
Note: It's important to remember that individual experiences may differ, and there is no right or wrong way to engage in sexual activity during any menstrual cycle phase. Every person's preferences and comfort levels are unique, so open and honest communication with your partner is crucial to understanding each other's desires, boundaries, and preferences. Mutual consent, respect, and prioritizing the well-being and comfort of both partners are key aspects of a healthy and satisfying sexual relationship at any time during the menstrual cycle.
Sleep plays a vital role in overall health and well-being and can be influenced by the menstrual cycle. While everyone's sleep needs and experiences can vary, here are some general considerations for optimizing sleep according to the menstrual cycle:
Menstruation Phase: During the menstrual phase, some women may experience discomfort, cramps, and fatigue, affecting sleep quality. It's important to prioritize self-care and create a comfortable sleep environment. Using heat packs, warm baths, relaxation techniques, and anti-inflammatory herbs e.g. turmeric (curcumin).
Follicular Phase: As the period ends and the follicles in the ovaries develop, energy levels tend to rise. This can positively impact sleep quality for some individuals. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and practicing good sleep hygiene (such as avoiding electronic devices before bed, wearing blue light blockers, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensuring a cool, dark, and quiet sleep environment), can promote restful sleep during this phase.
Ovulation Phase: Some individuals may experience changes in sleep patterns during this phase, such as difficulty falling asleep or increased sleepiness. Listening to your body's signals and adjusting your sleep routine can be helpful. Ensuring a comfortable sleep environment, practicing relaxation techniques, and managing stress can support better sleep. Sex (and orgasms) can help you fall asleep during this phase.
Luteal Phase: Increased progesterone levels, which can lead to changes in mood, sleep patterns, and fatigue. Some individuals may experience disrupted sleep, insomnia, or restless nights during this phase. Engaging in relaxation techniques, practicing good sleep hygiene, and incorporating stress management strategies (such as exercise, meditation, or journaling) can help promote better sleep quality.
In addition to these considerations, it's important to listen to your body, prioritize self-care, and prioritize sleep throughout the menstrual cycle. Keeping a sleep diary to track sleep patterns and associated symptoms can help identify recurring patterns or issues. If you consistently experience significant sleep disturbances or have concerns about your sleep quality, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance and support.
Learn how to optimize hormones for better menstrual health + improve your connection with your partner from the Biohacking Love & Relationships online course.
About the author:
Anna Lindfors is a biohacking Sexologist & Psychologist specializing in Sexological Therapy. Through her profession, Anna sees how prevalent challenges with sexuality are. Her passion is to help you reconnect with your vitality and bring back pleasure to ALL areas of life.
Anna's journey to becoming a sexologist started by navigating her own challenges. Being diagnosed with endometriosis at age 20, chronic pain and hormonal treatments shifted her from celebrating womanhood into problem-fixing mode. It empowered all aspects of her through biohacking Endo into remission and reconnecting with her sensuality and femininity.
"Sexuality is our core, and that's why unlocking yourself sexually is so powerful and elevates your entire life."
Anna collected a team of experts and created the 6-week Biohacking Love & Relationships online course to help individuals and couples reconnect with the most important aspect of their health: pleasure. Join the course here.