Updated: Mar 28, 2022
Find out how a woman's second biological clock known as the infradian rhythm affects more than just the reproductive system.
Our hormones are chemical substances that act as the main messengers in our bodies. There are over 50 different types of hormones secreted by different endocrine glands regulating the activity of cells and tissues and coordinating processes such as sleep/wake cycles, growth, hunger, reproduction and maintaining balance.
The balance of hormones produced by our bodies is essential to long-term good health and wellbeing.
In women, various sex hormones, mainly estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, as well as other hormones like cortisol, insulin, and DHEA, exert powerful effects not only on our ability to reproduce, but also on the optimal functioning of our brain, cognition, nervous system, metabolism, digestion and immunity throughout life.
A healthy menstrual cycle is now considered a woman's 5th vital sign and is linked to long-term better health outcomes.
The latest science on women’s health tells us of the importance to support hormone balance through nutrition and lifestyle interventions to reduce our risk of the main diseases that affect women disproportionately: dementia, cardiovascular disease, autoimmunity, strokes, depression and accelerated aging during perimenopause.
Knowing how our hormones ebb and flow throughout the month is a very powerful- and dare I say essential - step to creating balance and health in our bodies and minds. This has the potential to not only create menstrual bliss (yes, that is possible despite everything we have been told to the contrary) but more importantly future-proof our health.
On top of the circadian rhythm (24-hour clock), which we share with men, women have a 28-day infradian rhythm aka menstrual cycle which is dictated by shifting sex hormone levels.
The infradian rhythm has four phases and how they impact our physiology and moods can be likened to the change in seasons:
❄️Menstruation phase (days 1–5) - a time for going inwards, reflection and critical thinking
🌷Follicular phase (days 6–14) - a time for new beginnings and increased energy
☀Ovulatory phase (days 15–17)- a time when we feel most confident and social
🍁Luteal phase (days 18–28)- attention starts turning inwards again. Time to finalise pending projects
Each phase changes our internal physiology and biochemistry and requires different levels of key nutrients and lifestyle practices in order to maintain hormonal harmony.
In essence, we are 4 different people throughout the month with very different needs. Your moods, appetite, metabolism, need for rest, stress levels, digestion, energy, creativity, productivity, need for socialising or withdrawing, movement and rest, and even immunity are all dictated by your shifting hormones.
Finding ways to promote optimal hormonal levels for each phase allows us to develop a routine for work, play, rest, and nutrition that supports our unique physiology.
Supporting your infradian rhythm can not only improve our physical health through hormonal balance but has been proven to improve our mental health due to increased inner-awareness, improved body-mind connection (interoception) and a reduction in stress and anxiety.
So where do we start? Start by tracking your menstrual cycle and its length. What are some common patterns, feelings, energy levels? What helps to alleviate them? This will also give you an idea of the length of each of your phases which varies by individual. You can use an app or a journal to do this.
Tracking your cycle and then using this information to vary your interventions to support your unique biochemistry in each phase is quite possibly the best form of self-care you can do as a woman.
Once you have tracked your cycle, you can start to harness your hormones by incorporating some key nutrients for each phase to support your internal biochemistry and promote balance. You can click here for my next article on this series.
Happy infradian rhythm tracking!