My list of "Things I wish I had of learned in school" is always growing. Yet, one that comes up again and again for not just myself, but for most of my female clients, is how the female body works.
I'm not just talking about the generic Sex Ed "information" that each school stringently doled out... I'm talking about allllllll the juicy stuff like sex, our hormones, pleasure, menstrual cycles, endocrine systems, contraception and basically the magic that is the female body.
So let's start with 4 things you (probably) didn't know about your hormones.
1. The Menstrual Cycle
There are 4 phases to the Menstrual Cycle. In our menstrual cycle, the brain, ovaries and uterus work together and communicate by hormones to keep the cycle going. The hormones that come into play in our cycles massively impact the female body and our day to day life.
1. Follicular Phase
This starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation (around 2 weeks long) and is basically where the ovaries prepare to release eggs. Your oestrogen is highest in this phase and peaks just before ovulation. Estrogen decreases appetite and protects against muscle soreness. You'll also get a spike in testosterone around this time, so you'll be able to hit big lifts in the gym in this week. You also normally feel great in the follicular phase and it is easier to diet or exercise in this phase.
This is where your ovaries release a mature egg, usually around mid-cycle. This is the time females are most fertile and normally their libido jumps up here. (Wink wink)
3. Luteal Phase
This is the second half of your cycle, again, normally around 2 weeks. You start releasing progesterone here in preparation of pregnancy, if pregnancy does not occur, progesterone drops, causing the lining of the uterus to drop away, which is your period. As you get to the end of the luteal phase you may feel a bit more sluggish, your performance in the gym may be lower and you may feel better not dieting and perhaps slowing down just before your period. Changing to more metabolic or cardio exercise, instead of strength or slowing down with yoga or pilates is a great idea here. When preparing for pregnancy you start retaining fluid which is why we get bloated around this time. Also in the week just before your period (around day 21-28) will have you burning 100-300 extra calories per day (hence why we get cravings just before our period.)
Where your uterus sheds it's lining (from when your bleeding starts until it finishes) and prepares to start the cycle again.
2. The Pill "Period" is not a period.
If you're anything like 81% of women between 16-49 in Australia, you're on some form of the pill, or have been at some point. You may have been recommended to start it for contraception, for acne, for period pain, for back pain, or for conditions like Endometriosis or Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS.) However, in 99% of the cases, there was so much information you probably didn't receive.
We got told that this mimics our menstrual cycle and would "help" with any symptoms we had before starting the pill. It seems to - but what we aren't told is that it's because it stops ovulation (so we don't get pregnant) and therefore stops producing progesterone, as well as changing other hormone levels in our body. If you stop the pill, chances are those same issues you had before you started, will return.
What a pill-bleed actually is, is a withdrawal bleed from the contraceptive drugs in the pill. That's it.
3. It's more challenging for females to lose fat.
This is not sexist but just plain science. Because males are generally larger than females and also have more testosterone (around 10-30x more,) they burn more calories. On average, it takes females 30% more time to burn the same amount of calories as males.
Also, females are biologically responsible for the survival of the human race. If they can't get pregnant, the human race is pretty much kaput! Females therefore are programmed to keep more body fat to ensure their survival and their bodies will fight harder to keep fat.
If females get too low in body fat, their body may start conserving energy in any way they can and one of the first things to go is the menstrual cycle. This is one reason it is not encouraged for females to aim for a super lean body, all year long.
4. The Endocrine System has a massive impact on everything.
Another one I didn't know much about until recently is the female Endocrine System. Wowzas!
The endocrine glands release hormones into the bloodstream that then travel to cells all over the body. They basically help almost all the cells in your body talk to each other. These hormones control growth, metabolism, how our organs work, reproduction, our libido and so much more. Symptoms such as headaches, acne, insomnia, weight gain, constipation, cold hands, eczema, respiratory infections can all be connected back to a sub-optimally functioning endocrine system.
Your Endocrine System consists of your hypothalamus (connects the endocrine system to your nervous system,) pineal gland (helps make melatonin to help you sleep) and pituitary gland (who pretty much runs the show and makes a lot of important hormones) in your brain, your thyroid gland (which controls your metabolism,) your thymus (makes white blood cells that help fight infection,) your pancreas (ensures you have the right amount of sugar in your bloodstream,) adrenal glands (makes adrenaline, and corticosteroids which affect your sexual function and metabolism) and your ovaries (these make estrogren and progesterone.)
This whole system basically works like a set of dominos. When one part of your Endocrine System is affected, the next collapses and so on. Things like food, toxins in our environment and stress can all affect our Endocrine System.
These, along with so much more, is such valuable information for females and can have a massive difference in all aspects of our lives. Wanna learn more? Here are some great books to read in regards to female hormones...
Period Repair Manual - by Lara Briden
The Woman Code - By Alisa Vitti
Period Power - by Maisie Hill
Beyond the Pill - By Dr. Jolene Brighten
The Hormone Cure - by Sara Gottfried
Did you know all of these facts? I would love to hear when you started seeking more information about your hormones!