Why Your Period is Not the Most Important Part of Your Menstrual Cycle

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Don’t get me wrong, periods are amazing. As a women’s health coach specializing in hormonal health, I’m a huge fan. But sometimes, we get so caught up with our monthly bleed that we forget about the most important aspect of our cycle.

Ovulation.

We only experience a true menstrual cycle after ovulation, and this is only possible when our endocrine and reproductive systems are working properly. This is why anovulatory cycles (a bleed that occurs without ovulation) are an early warning sign of an underlying health problem.

Ovulation usually happens mid-cycle, except for ladies on hormonal birth control. Women on birth control do not ovulate nor have a period; instead they experience what is called a “withdrawal bleed.” The exception to this is sometimes the Mirena IUD, as 85% of women using the Mirena will ovulate by the second year.

Some women who do not take hormonal birth control can still experience anovulatory cycles due to various hormone imbalances caused by factors such as diet, lifestyle, and stress.

Side Note: If your cycle is longer than 36 days, you likely either experienced delayed ovulation, or did not ovulate at all.


3 Reasons Why Ovulation is Critical

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1. Fertility:

You can’t get pregnant if you don’t ovulate, so if pregnancy is on your agenda, ovulation microis a necessity! Even if you aren’t planning for a family now (or maybe ever), you should still want to be fertile because it’s an indicator of good health.

Side Note: I recommend the Fertility Awareness Method (no it’s not the Rhythm Method!) for both pregnancy planning or avoidance. The Daysy thermometer is an excellent device for women not yet fully confident in their charting skills. If you’d like to learn more about charting, then pick up Lisa Hendrickson-Jack’s new book “The Fifth Vital Sign.”

2. Healthy Periods

Each month when you ovulate, a corpus luteum is created and it grows on the surface of your ovary. This is where all of your progesterone is produced.

Cool, huh?!

Progesterone is responsible for lightening your periods, as it counteracts the effects of estrogen. If you are not ovulating, you won’t experience this surge in progesterone, and will most likely be in a state of estrogen dominance, which is a big culprit of heavy and painful periods.

Adequate levels of progesterone are also needed for a healthy luteal phase, and low levels can result in a Luteal Phase Defect (a luteal phase of 10 days or less). Oftentimes, this phenomenon is caused by stress and/or nutrient deficiencies. Stay tuned for some ways to boost progesterone later in the article!

3Healthy Body and Mind

Progesterone is the calming hormone that helps us stay resilient against stress and also healthy1helps us sleep well. This is why women who don’t ovulate (especially women with PCOS) can often suffer from anxiety.

Progesterone is literally nature’s chill pill, so trust me, you want this!

Calming you down is not all that this super hormone can do! Progesterone nourishes our hair and nails by reducing androgens (male hormones), as well as boosts energy by stimulating the thyroid and the metabolism. And recent research has found that women who don’t ovulate experience bone loss at a faster rate than women who do ovulate, so progesterone is also a crucial component of preventing osteoporosis.

Signs of a Progesterone Deficiency

  • PCOS
  • Infertility
  • Endometriosis
  • PMS
  • Hair loss
  • Premenstrual migraines
  • Heavy periods
  • Fibroids
  • Acne
  • Osteoporosis

So how can we boost progesterone?

First of all, by ovulating! But in the meantime, read on for some effective strategies to boost progesterone naturally.

5 Tips to Boost Progesterone

1. Vitamin C

I usually recommend 1,000 mg a day to my clients. Not only has Vitamin C been shown to increase progesterone levels, but it has also been shown to reduce stress, which lowers cortisol. High cortisol will rob the body’s ability to make progesterone, so we really want to keep cortisol and stress levels balanced.

2. Healthy Fats

We need adequate amounts of healthy fats in our diets because all steroid hormones are formed from pregnenolone, which is made from cholesterol. Ideal sources are pasturedavo eggs, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, wild caught salmon, and grass-fed animal protein.

Healthy fats also decrease inflammation, which in turn decreases the release of harmful chemicals in our bodies which can increase cortisol levels and inhibit ovulation.

Bonus: Healthy fats will make your hair and skin glow!

3. Eat Your Greens

We need B-complex vitamins as they are essential for hormone regulation. Leafy greens are high in these B-complex vitamins, so aim to get 2-4 cups of cooked and raw greens into your diet daily. Great options include spinach, watercress, broccoli sprouts, kale, dandelion greens, bok choy and arugula.

4. Vitex (Chasteberry)

Vitex is an herb that promotes ovulation by protecting your hypothalamus gland from stress and preventing your pituitary gland from making too much prolactin. Basically, it increases your levels of dopamine, which lowers your levels of prolactin. This ultimately makes your luteinizing hormone go up, which then makes you ovulate and produce progesterone!

A note of caution about Vitex: Please do not use vitex until you’ve been off of hormonal birth control for at least three months. I recommend 1,000mg a day as a single dose first thing in the morning before breakfast. Stop taking it on days 1-5 of your cycle, and then start again. Discontinue use after six months.

5. Seed Syncing (Seed Cycling)

Seed syncing is an ancient technique that can be used to bring back the balance of estrogen and progesterone. This method of seed rotation works by boosting estrogen levels in the first part of the cycle and progesterone levels in the second part.

The high contents of zinc in sesame seeds and vitamin E in sunflower seeds have been shown to stimulate progesterone production. By adding two tablespoons of sesame and sunflower seeds per day  in the luteal phase, we can naturally support our body’s ability to produce more progesterone.


 

 

Harmful Chemicals are Destroying Your Hormones. Here’s What You Can Do.

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What we eat is crucial to building balanced hormones, but what’s equally important are our beauty products, toiletries and household cleansers!

Our toiletries and cleansers tend to get overlooked, yet the play a crucial part in causing painful periods and serious hormonal imbalances because of the harmful chemicals they contain called endocrine disrupters.

Endocrine disrupters are chemicals that interfere with the production, release, transport, metabolism, or elimination of the body’s natural hormones, and they’re seriously bad news bears for all of human kind. These endocrine disruptors mimic your hormones, and cause you to be estrogen dominant.

About 90% of the clients I see are estrogen dominant, and this is due to the increasingly toxic world we live in.

(This is why it’s imperative to do at least one cleanse a year to get rid of built up toxins like glyphosate in the body.)

Signs of estrogen dominance are painful periods, bloating, breast tenderness, irritability, moodiness, PMS, fatigue, weight gain, short luteal phase, infertility.

The majority of toiletries and household cleansing products on the shelves today contain xenoestrogens. These xenoestrogens mimic the functions of our natural estrogens and interrupt our hormone balance creating symptoms such as heavy periods, PMS, estrogen dominance, fibroids, etc.

Our skin has tiny pores all over the body, which are like tiny mouths after all! So it’s important to use natural and chemical free products! It’s also important to use household cleansers that do not have harmful chemicals as well.

Balance Your Hormones by Avoiding these Chemicals:

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Glyphosate

Glyphosate has been shown to cause cancer, research is linking it to autism, and the EU deemed it so dangerous they banned it for use in crops. My hope is that one day soon it will be banned in the U.S., but for now as consumers we must be proactive to avoid ingesting it.

Most tampons and pads are made from GMO cotton, so they contain glyphosate, and you do not want this stuff inside your vagina! Instead, opt for a menstrual cup like SAALT, or period panties like THINX, or organic, non-bleached tampons or pads.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

To avoid BPA we must avoid foods packaged in aluminum and plastic (BPA free is okay but aim for glass or stainless steel when possible). Always opt for glass Tupperware, and only drink out of stainless steel, glass, or BPA free plastic water bottles.

Phthalates and Parabens

The products you use to clean your bathroom and household are potential stressors to your health. New scientific research shows that many of the chemicals found in everyday house-cleaning products are bio-accumulative and very toxic, which means that once in your system, they stay in your system and allow for increased free radical damage, which makes you more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases and cancers.

Ready to throw things out now?

Find your bleach products, Comet, Ajax, Windex, Lysol, air fresheners, Glade Plug- Ins, cute toilet bowl cleaners, and talc-based baby power. Throw them in a garbage bag and toss them out!

Safe Household Cleansing Alternatives:

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  • Seventh Generation line of cleaning products. You can find this at some grocery stores, Target, and any Whole Foods.
  • DoTerra On Guard house cleanser
  • Arm and Hammer baking powder in replacement of Ajax or Comet
  • Hydrogen peroxide in place of Windex
  • White vinegar instead of bleach (it’s a great grease cutter)
  • Dr. Bronner’s

White Vinegar All Purpose Cleaning Recipe:

  1. In a spray bottle fill with half white vinegar and half water
  2. Put in 15 drops essential orange oil and 10 drops tea tree oil

Safe Toiletry and Beauty Product Alternatives

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  • Makeup: the average women puts 5 pounds of makeup on her face in a year so it’s crucial that you’re using a chemical free brand such as Beauty Counter.
  • Lotions: Throw them away! Instead try extra virgin coconut oil with essential oils.
  • Toothpaste: swap for natural brands like Earthpaste and Jason’s.
  • Deodorant with antiperspirant: ditch the antiperspirant and switch to a natural deodorant such as Oars and Alps. Their deodorant offers excellent coverage, and I love their Deep Sea Glacier scent!
  • Bodywash- I’m a fan of Oars and Alps activated charcoal soap in peppermint. It also contains spirulina and shea butter so it leaves your skin feeling smooth. It also makes for a great face wash as the activated charcoal is exfoliating.

As you can see, one must be proactive to reducing exposure to these hormone disrupting chemicals. But the good news is if you support your body, it will support you!

 

 

 

 

Your Guide to Hormone Testing Kits

IMG_0838Testing your hormones is a great tool to have under your belt to help you gain invaluable insight into the underlying cause of your hormonal health issues. If you are suffering from painful periods, heavy periods, fibroids, ovarian cysts, or fertility issues, I encourage you to order a test. A good place to start is with a comprehensive hormone profile test that tests your progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, DHEA-S, and cortisol levels. This information can help point you and your health care practitioner in the right direction.

Good news is with the technology today we can test our hormones in our own home!

There are many options for at home tests. My prefered is the Dutch (Dried Urine Test For Comprehensive Hormones) as it is the gold standard in hormone testing.

The Dutch test uses dried urine samples to measure your sex hormones, cortisol (some of them test the cortisol with saliva), and metabolites. The Dutch test is extremely precise, and the most advanced version of this test maps your cycle to show your true cycle variation in time.

A runner up would be an at home kit from Verisana LabsThis saliva at home collection test is a more affordable option for those of you just curious about your basic sex hormone profile. Saliva collection, like blood, is a single point collection, so it will not give you the precise cycle variation or precision like the DUTCH, but although not as comprehensive as DUTCH, it still provides very useful information that can let your practitioner know if further testing is required.

So which one is best for you?

If money is not an issue I’d go with the DUTCH. I’d also splurge on the DUTCH if you are experiencing hormonal imbalances that are causing severe pain, infertility, or other health issues that are getting in the way of your daily life. I’d also go for the DUTCH if you’ve tried diet and lifestyle changes yet are still suffering.

However, if you are for the most part healthy and only experiencing minor issues, or if you are simply curious about your hormone levels, the saliva test is definitely the place to begin because it is affordable.

What Day Should You Take Your Test?

Now that you know what test to order, make sure that you take it at the right time! For an accurate progesterone reading you must take it hallway through your luteal phase. I like to stick to the rule of thumb of 7 days before our period is expected. Not everyone has a 28-day text book cycle (a normal period is anywhere from 25-36 days long), so day 21 is not the right testing day for everyone.

For example, if your cycle is 28 days, you would test on day 21, but if it is 31 days you’d test on 24, and if you have a 35-day cycle you’d test as late as day 28!

If you have irregular cycles, that’s where it gets a bit tricky. Your options are to either do an ovulation test or track ovulation signs, and then test 5-7 days after that. If you are not ovulating, it will be very difficult to get an accurate progesterone level, but since you are not ovulating you know you will be progesterone deficient anyways, so I’d just test on  day 21.

Today I sent off my Verisana Lab test and am looking forward to getting my results back soon. I like to test my hormones a few times a year to touch base and make sure all keeps running smoothly! And I’m also a nerd so this thing just really fascinates me! If you’d like to order your own test, Verisana is offering a 15% discount on all of their hormone tests – just type in “JENNA15” at check out.

Happy Testing!

Health Coach Jenna