Step-by-step guide on how to master your hormones during your cycle by menstrual health expert DR COLLEEN FOGARTY-DRAPER

One in three women feel they have nowhere to go for advice and guidance about their periods and fertility woes.

That’s according to a new poll that lays bare the reality for millions of women who are left to go it alone.

Holland & Barrett, which commissioned the survey, aims to ‘normalise conversation’ around the topics and has trained 600 staff to act as women’s health coaches in its high street stores. 

It’s also launched a free helpline where specialist nurses can offer wider support on hormonal and menstrual issues, such as what happens during the menstrual cycle.

Here, writing for MailOnline, leading menstrual health expert and Holland & Barrett’s women’s health advisor DR COLLEEN FOGARTY-DRAPER shares her ultimate guide to what happens during your menstrual cycle…

Here, writing for MailOnline, leading menstrual health expert and Holland & Barrett’s women’s health advisor DR COLLEEN FOGARTY-DRAPER shares her ultimate guide to what happens during your menstrual cycle…

Your hormone levels change depending on the phase of your menstrual cycle and these impact a number of areas of a woman’s health and wellbeing.

At certain times it is common to feel extra energetic, others more tired. You may also find that at different times in your cycle your skin and appetite are affected too. 

The more you get to know your body, you more you can respond to the changes in your menstrual cycle and own every day of the month.

Phase 1: Menstruation

(Approx. day 1 to 7)

Menstruation is the first stage of a women’s menstrual cycle. 

The phase starts when an egg from the previous cycle isn’t fertilised. As pregnancy hasn’t taken place, levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop, and the uterine lining will shed.

Symptoms you may be experiencing

In addition to regular monthly bleeding, you may experience some other symptoms at this stage including:

  • Cramps
  • Tender breasts
  • Bloating
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Lower back pain

Ways to embrace these symptoms 

Focus on self-care, getting plenty of rest, good hydration, and getting enough vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system at this stage of menstruation.

Phase 2: Follicular

(This phase covers the first two weeks of your cycle from day 1 to ovulation which typically happens around day 14)

During this phase your reproductive hormones start to rise in preparation for ovulation.

The follicular phase makes up the first half of your cycle, and it starts when the hypothalamus — a small but crucial part of the brain — sends a signal to the pituitary gland telling it to release something called FHS (follicle-stimulating hormone).

The follicles grow bigger until eventually most of them start to wither away and are reabsorbed by the body, while the remaining dominant follicle increases the body’s oestrogen production.

Symptoms you may be experiencing

Most commonly, during the follicular phase women may experience increased levels of energy and more focus. 

In short, many people describe this phase as feeling like themselves again.

Ways to embrace these symptoms

The positive effects of this phase are definitely to be embraced as much as possible.

You may find it easier to follow your healthy diet and supplement regime during this time, so focus on eating a healthy, whole-food diet with lots of health fats, protein, and leafy green vegetables to boost micronutrients. 

When it comes to exercise, this time of the month is when your luteinising hormone and testosterone peak, so you may be more up for doing high-intensity interval training and you might also want to increase your weights.

Phase 3: Ovulation

(Typically around day 14 with a 24 hour fertile window, but the entire process can take approximately three days, estimated to be between days 13-16)

Ovulation is when your ovary releases a mature egg, which travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus to be fertilised by sperm. The ovulation phase is the time during your menstrual cycle when you are most likely to get pregnant.

Symptoms you may be experiencing 

You can tell that you are ovulating by symptoms including a slight rise in basal body temperature and a thicker or more stringy discharge.

At this stage of your cycle you may be feeling more outgoing, confident and with a higher libido, but also may be experiencing some bloating and muscle tenderness.

Ways to embrace these symptoms

At this stage of your cycle, it is a great time to exercise, utilising the extra bit of confidence and energy you’ll have. 

Support your body with anti-inflammatory supplements and probiotics, as well as minimising pro-inflammatory foods like alcohol and added sugars.

Phase 4: Luteal phase

(Approx. day 17 to 28)

After the follicle releases its egg, hormones are released, mainly progesterone and some oestrogen. The rise in hormones keeps your uterine lining thick and ready for a fertilised egg to implant.

If you don’t get pregnant at this stage of your cycle, your body will go back to the initial cycle stages, leading to decreased levels of oestrogen and progesterone, which causes the onset of your period.

For many, premenstrual symptoms like headaches, bloating and moodiness are a common occurrence and form part of a condition called premenstrual syndrome (PMS), occurring at the luteal phase before menstruation. 

PMS is a combination of various physical and emotional symptoms that women will often experience a week or two before their period, however, can also prolong throughout menstruation and alongside monthly bleeding.

Symptoms you may be experiencing

  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Backache
  • Headache
  • Acne
  • Irritability and anger
  • Mood swings
  • Tiredness
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling anxious

Ways to overcome these symptoms

While PMS symptoms can be painful and difficult to deal with, recognising the influence of your hormones and introducing some lifestyle habits can help reduce their impact.

The first step is to track symptoms when they occur. 

Writing down the timings of any of your symptoms or using an app to help track these will make you more aware of when they start, while also helping you identify useful techniques to manage them moving forward.

Dr Colleen Fogarty Draper is a dietitian with 30 years experience in personalised nutrition, scientific research and clinical practice. She specialises in menstrual, hormonal and women’s health.