An Easy Guide To The Stages Of Menstruation

Are you truly aware of the menstrual cycle? Understanding your menstrual cycle not only prepares you for periods but also helps you spot any underlying conditions as a result of hormonal imbalance. Here is what happens to your body when you are menstruating.

By Hima
25 Aug 2022

As someone who has to go through menstruation, you often worry about this single event that occurs each month. More importantly, you are also dealing with the entire rotating calendar of hormonal changes. Each phase of the menstrual cycle is accompanied by changes in these reproductive hormones:estrogen and progesterone, follicular stimulating hormones, luteinising hormones, and control hormones like endorphins.


During each phase menstruators will experience different symptoms in varying degrees. This could range from low energy to changes in sleep patterns to mood swings and low appetite. Understanding these changes not only gives us control over what we are going through, it also help us understand the signals that our body is sending us.


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Role of Hormones in the Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle

To clearly understand the importance of hormones during our menstrual cycle, first we need to go back to the basics and familiarise ourselves with the phases of the menstrual cycle and the role of hormones during each phase.


Menstrual Phase: First Stage of the menstrual cycle

When: Beginning of the period

Duration: Average 3-7 days


What happens during the menstrual phase: The menstrual phase starts when the egg from the previous cycle isn’t fertilised, so the thick lining of the uterus that supports the pregnancy is no longer needed. Hence, during this phase, the thick lining of the uterus wall starts to shed, causing the period to begin. Since the pregnancy hasn’t taken place, the hormones estrogen and progesterone drop. The journal of Ethology and Sociobiology shows that estrogen levels are at their lowest during the menstrual phase of the menstrual cycle.


Follicular Phase: Second Stage of Menstrual Cycle

When: Uterus starts to Prepare for Another Pregnancy

Duration: 8- 13 days


What happens during the follicular phase: The follicular phase starts on the first day of your period. There is a slight overlap between the follicular phase and the menstrual phase. The follicular phase begins when the pituitary gland releases the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This FSH hormone triggers the ovaries to produce 5-20 follicles. Follicles are small sacs that contain immature eggs. Of which, the healthiest egg will mature and the rest will be reabsorbed by the body.


Also, the maturing follicle will set off the release of estrogen that thickens the lining of the uterus. A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, 2022 shows that muscle strength is at its greatest during the follicular phase due to the high estrogen level. The follicular phase ends when you ovulate. Read more on The Perks of Syncing Your Workout Plan to Your Menstrual Cycle.


Ovulatory Phase: Third Stage of the Menstrual Cycle

When: Releasing of the Mature Egg

Duration: 14- 21 days


What happens during the ovulatory phase: The high level of estrogen triggers the pituitary gland to release another hormone called the luteinizing hormone. The luteinizing hormone starts the process of ovulation. Ovulation is when the body releases the mature egg. The egg travels downs to the uterus to get fertilised by the sperm. The ovulatory phase is the only phase in the menstrual cycle where you can get pregnant. A study published in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility, 2016, shows that excess secretion of luteinizing hormone has adverse effects on the fertility process.


Related Story: How Seed Cycling May Help Maintain Hormone Balance Naturally


Luteal Phase: Final Phase of the Menstrual Cycle

When: Pre-Period Preparation

Duration: 21-28 days


What happens during the luteal phase: After the follicle releases the eggs, its structure changes and that change triggers the release of estrogen and progesterone. This surge in hormone levels maintains the lining of the uterus thick for the implantation of the mature egg.


At this stage, if the egg is fertilised by the sperm and you are pregnant, the body releases a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (this is the hormone that the pregnancy kits test detects). However, in case you are not pregnant, the follicle structure shrinks and gets reabsorbed by the body. This leads to decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone that causes the onset of a period. Read more on How To Maintain Hormonal Balance Naturally: Seed Cycling For The Luteal Phase


Related Story: Toxic Shock Syndrome- Why Menstrual Health Matters


Three Factors That Are Disturbing Your Menstrual Cycle

Now, we know that hormones and menstrual health are interconnected and we can not resolve the problems of menstrual health without addressing the hormones. A few habits that cause hormonal imbalance leading to disruption of the menstrual cycle are listed below.


1. Nutrients and diet

What you put into your body to fuel it will have a huge impact on how your body functions. For instance, eating fruits and nuts will increase the level of estrogen in the body naturally. However, eating too much red meat is not very advisable. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, shows that the consumption of red meat reduces the intake of iron by the body. So, when the body is not able to absorb the iron, it can not replace the iron lost during the period. This will cause hormonal imbalance and subsequently cause disruption in the menstrual cycle.


2. Smoking and Alcohol Consumption

Excess alcohol intake will have an adverse effect on the hormones in the body. Often alcohol increases estrogen dominance which causes dysfunctioning of the pituitary gland. Alcohol consumption also induces malnutrition, anxiety, and stress, shows a paper published in the Metabolites Journal, 2022. It’s no secret that smoking is not good for anyone's health. Smoking has a negative effect on the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. Also, a study in the Journal of Reproductive sciences, 2022 shows that smoking decreases women's reproductive period by at least ten years.


3. Poor Sleep

Sleep is when our body gets the rest it needs, so disrupting sleep is a recipe for disaster. Irregular sleep or disturbed sleep disrupts hormones and causes irregular periods. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, shows that menstrual regularity and bleeding are directly associated with the quality and quantity of sleep our body gets.


In all, women’s menstrual cycles typically last for 21 to 35 days. If and when this doesn’t add up, it usually means that there is a hormonal imbalance in the body. It's time to visit the OB/GYN and make changes to your lifestyle. Read more on Missing Your Ovulation Cycle—What Anovulation Means And When To Seek Help


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