A woman begins her menstrual cycle at the onset of puberty (menarche), and this cycle more or less continues, occasionally interrupted by pregnancy or illness, until menopause. You probably already know that the menstrual cycle functions as a fertility mechanism, playing a huge role in ovulation and possible pregnancy. What you may not realize is that your menstrual cycle is also closely linked with your sex hormones.
In fact, these hormones control almost every physical aspect of your menstrual cycle – from the buildup of your uterine lining to release of an egg during ovulation. Additionally, your sex hormones can have a profound effect on your mood. Feelings of sadness, crankiness, or even elation during your monthly cycle are not caused solely by physical sensations like cramps and bloating. These emotions can also be caused by a change in hormone levels.
Menstruation and Hormones: Week 1
The first week of your cycle begins with menses or bleeding. This time will see your estrogen and progesterone hormone levels at their lowest, although the amount of estrogen will gradually rise over the course of this week. This increase is in preparation for thickening of your uterine lining, also called the endometrium.
Estrogen is one of the primary female sex hormones. Emotionally, low estrogen levels can cause a quiet, introspective mood. You may also notice some fatigue, but this could be due to low iron levels. If your fatigue does not resolve or is severe, speak to your OB-GYN. They can help diagnose the issue.
It is also worth mentioning that some women may feel sad or down during the first days of their cycle. Everyone feels low at times, but you should consult a physician if these feelings are intense or overwhelming.
As your estrogen levels increase toward the end of this first week, you are likely to feel more active and may even notice a rise in your libido. This is your body’s way of telling you that you are leaving your “period” behind and nearing your peak time of fertility.
Menstruation and Hormones: Week 2
The second week of your cycle is when three key hormones peak: estrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and testosterone. Yes, women do have testosterone but in much smaller amounts than men.
FSH is produced by the pituitary gland in your brain. This hormone signals the follicles in your ovaries to mature in preparation to release ova or eggs. Meanwhile, the higher levels of estrogen and testosterone typically put you in a better mood, help to reduce irritability, and help with confidence and focus.
A word of caution, though – some women are prone to anxiety during this period of their menstrual cycle. The emotions encouraged by rising hormone levels can be somewhat overwhelming. Again, your OB-GYN or family doctor can offer assistance but only if you make them aware of the problem.
Menstruation and Hormones: Week 3
Ovulation marks the beginning of this week. An egg is released and is ready for fertilization for about 12-24 hours. After approximately a day, your estrogen levels will start to decrease as progesterone rises.
This hormonal change can start to produce a sort of pre-premenstrual syndrome. Although you may not yet notice any physical symptoms, the decrease in estrogen toward the end of this week may start to sap your energy levels and cause some moodiness. Estrogen also acts as a mild appetite-suppressant, so do not be surprised if you notice you are hungrier than usual.
Menstruation and Hormones: Week 4
During this week, your estrogen and testosterone levels plummet as progesterone continues to increase. This happens in preparation for the breakdown of your uterine lining that occurs during menses. By now, your body has realized that fertilization of your ovum is not going to happen this month, and the thickened endometrium is no longer needed for ovum implantation.
This week is when many women suffer from premenstrual syndrome. This syndrome is characterized not only by physical symptoms like bloating, cramps, and headaches but also by mood swings, low moods, and irritability. Fortunately, PMS lasts only a few days for most women.
The guide above is only a rough outline. Every woman responds differently to the hormonal changes of her menstrual cycle. Your sensitivity depends on a variety of factors including your age, physical activity level, diet, and any chronic health problems.
Talk with your gynecologist to learn more about your cycle and to address any problems that come up. Whether you are having issues with cramps or mood swings, your OB-GYN is your best source of information and assistance.
About the Connecticut OBGYN Practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is an OBGYN located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, providing care for Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Rowaytan and the surrounding areas. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s healthcare in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.
For more information, go to www.garofaloobgyn.com. John Garofalo, M.D., and Laury Berkwitt, APRN, can be reached for personal consultations by calling 203.803.1098.