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Menstrual cycle: what it is, how hormones work and how to handle PMS with officinal plants

As hormones change, your body and mind will change with them. Understanding the female cycle is fundamental in learning how to deal with premenstrual syndrome.

Understanding the menstrual cycle is important as it impacts every aspect of our days. In this article we will briefly explain the different stages of the cycle and the variables that could affect them, understanding the why and how premenstrual syndrome happens. 

Menstruation and menstrual cycle: what it is

To put it in simple words, menstruation is the shedding of the lining of the uterus (endometrium) which is made visible by bleeding. Conventionally the first day of bleeding is called the first day of the cycle, HOWEVER, menstruating has more to do with the end of a cycle. 

The time between one menstruation and the other is referred to as the menstrual cycle. Normally, menstrual cycles range from 24 to 38 days (That’s one uniqueness already!). Only 10% of women have the famous “28 day” cycle. Also, at least 25% of women have irregular periods meaning that they are longer or shorter than the average 24 to 38 days, and this is OK too.

The hormone cycle: how it works and its phases

And now a (tiny) physiology class to explain how the menstrual cycle works: let’s go!

The menstrual cycle is regulated by hormones. Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are produced by the pituitary gland (in the brain). These promote ovulation (the release of the ovule from the ovaries) and stimulate the ovaries to produce oestrogen and progesterone

Oestrogen and progesterone stimulate the uterus and breasts to prepare for possible fertilisation. Therefore, they are responsible for all the signs and symptoms we experience in our bodies. 

In other words, the brain, ovaries and uterus communicate through hormones to keep the cycle going. 

The menstrual cycle has two main phases (plus an intermediate one):

  • Follicular phase: prepares the uterus (proliferative phase). During this phase, oestrogen levels rise. It occurs from day 1 of the period to ovulation
  • Ovulation: as oestrogen levels rise, it signals the brain which dramatically increases LH. This produces the egg to be released. 
  • Luteal phase: after ovulation, the body and uterus prepare to either accept a fertilised egg (pregnancy) or start the next cycle. During this phase we can experience premenstrual syndrome. Usually, oestrogen and progesterone are high, being responsible for most of the symptoms. When there is no fertilised egg, hormones drop, allowing menstruation to occur and giving start to a new cycle.

How to alleviate premenstrual syndrome

Though all menstrual cycles are regulated by hormones, the sensitivity of our bodies to the hormones differ. Some people have no symptoms at all, while others suffer from the pain. This is specific to each individual  thus, it is impossible to have a “one fits all” solution.

As with most things, the cycle is also affected by our habits. Premenstrual syndrome is a collection of signs and symptoms, usually caused by an imbalance of oestrogen and progesterone levels. Stress, insufficient sleep and unhealthy eating will affect these hormones, making our symptoms worse. 

Therefore, the best solution is to apply a multidisciplinary approach

  • Stress: stress is a risk factor for premenstrual cycle, making symptoms more intense. Relaxation techniques make these manageable. 
  • Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin E are all essential for the cycle to work properly. A balanced diet will help our body function better, and help soothe the premenstrual syndrome. 
  • Exercise alleviates symptoms of PMS. The famous endorphins (also a hormone) are key in moderating our mood swings. However, dopamine (pleasure hormone) and serotonin (happiness hormone) are also triggered, balancing out many of the mental symptoms associated with menstruation.  Additionally, hip and back exercise increases blood flow to the uterine and abdominal muscles, easing tension that leads to cramps (yoga helps a lot!). 
  • Sleeping will also affect the hormones released by the pituitary gland. Having a healthy sleep cycle will help this gland function normally and regulate the hormone levels. 

How to handle PMS with officinal plants (and find your balance back!)

The new Wilden.herbals line aims towards finding a balance with our health. We look back into traditional knowledge to connect with our body. 

An infusion made with Agnocasto (Vitex agnus castus) and Raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus) looks to balance the oestrogen levels in the body in order to maintain our hormonal cycle in sync. The action of achillea (Achillea millefolium) regulates uterine bleeding and cramps, while Alchemilla (Alchemilla vulgaris,) e Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)  provides an anti-inflammatory effect. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) offers a relief for bloating and stomach pain as well as relaxing effects. Finally, rose (Rosa damascena), used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to regulate the cycle, has an antioxidant effect, helping alleviate fatigue and headache. 

Looking to balance out hormones and induce relaxation, this infusion is ideal to go along the multidisciplinary approach to alleviate the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

Lemon balm leaves