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Menstrual Cycle 101: Understanding Your Body's Monthly Rhythm

For those of us who menstruate, we're quite familiar with that monthly visitor or “that time of the month”, aka our period. However, our body’s hormones are adjusting at all times of the month, adjusting and changing the way we feel for an average cycle of 28 days (though every woman is different!). Understanding the menstrual cycle is key to understanding your own body and reproductive health, and knowing the below can help you make informed choices throughout your cycle.

Below is a quick overview of the menstrual cycle and what happens during each phase.

The Menstrual Cycle Phases

The menstrual cycle is divided into four main phases: the menstrual phase (the period), the follicular phase, the ovulation phase, and the luteal phase.

Menstrual Phase (Period): When a woman menstruates, the uterine lining sheds through the vagina if pregnancy does not occur. The average length of a period is 3-7 days, with the first day of bleeding signifying the first day of a new cycle.

Follicular Phase: This phase starts on the first day of bleeding and lasts for 13-14 days. During this phase, the pituitary gland releases follicle stimulating hormone (or FSH), which stimulates the production of follicles on the surface of an ovary. The uterine lining begins building up again in preparation for a potential pregnancy.

Ovulation Phase: Around day 14, a mature egg is released from the ovary into the fallopian tube towards the uterus. Ovulation can last for 16-32 hours, and is the fertile window when pregnancy is possible.

Luteal Phase: After ovulation, cells in the ovary (the corpus luteum) release progesterone and estrogen, causing the lining of the uterus to continue to thicken in order to support a pregnancy. If a fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining, the corpus luteum will continue to produce progesterone to further the thickening of the lining.

If a pregnancy does not occur, progesterone levels drop, the uterine lining sheds, and the period begins again.

Learning about your body and knowing how to meet your needs is an empowering way to show kindness and love to yourself. Tracking your cycle not only helps you make informed, self-aware decisions, but can also help you notice any oddities in your cycle that may indicate a health issue.

Fueling your body with the right nutrients for each phase can help provide what it needs for healthy hormonal balance and menstrual cycles. During your period, focus on iron-rich foods like lean meat, beans, and spinach to replenish iron stores. The follicular phase benefits from B vitamins in foods like eggs, leafy greens and nuts. Healthy fats like avocados, olive oil and fatty fish support hormone production in the later phases. Tuning into your cycle's needs through nutrition is a simple way to nurture your reproductive health.

Our registered dietitians are available to guide you on tailoring your nutrition to support your unique needs throughout the menstrual cycle phases. For personalized support and to schedule a discovery call, click here!

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