Hormones get a bad rap. In fact, we blame them for just about everything that goes wrong, especially when it comes to our cycle … aka our skin, our cravings, and our moods. But hormones are vital messengers that are trying to tell us important goings-on within our bodies. And we don’t want to shoot the messenger!
We get it, it’s annoying. Sometimes it feels like we have three clear days of the month. As soon as we fully recover from our last period breakout, another one is already brewing. It’s not fair! We eat thoughtfully, are incredibly mindful about our skincare, try not to touch our face, double cleanse … it’s definitely more complicated than that.
These types of hormonal breakouts associated with a woman’s cycle are due to specific kinds of hormones, and their levels rise and fall over the course of our 28-day cycle. This cycle is known as our infradian rhythm, and all of this is to be expected. Our bodies rely on these hormones to build a uterine lining in preparation for pregnancy, which we then need to ovulate for, and subsequently prepare for pregnancy or shedding of the lining.
While this is all good and normal and to be expected, perfectly balanced hormones will actually not cause unfortunate symptoms like gnarly cramps, cystic pimples, mood swings, and more. The problem that lies therein is that hormones operate in an incredibly delicate dance, and not all factors around that are totally in our control.
For example, adrenaline and cortisol are also hormones, and while less related to our reproductive hormonal shifts, an imbalance of these stress hormones will affect the other hormones in our bodies. That means if we are chronically stressed, or if we forget to eat and have a blood sugar drop, we can then affect our insulin, cortisol, or adrenaline, and create a cascade of hormonal imbalance that just may manifest as a pimple on our chin.
So aside from mitigating our stress and remembering to eat when our body signals that we are hungry, it’s important to be aware of what hormones are fluctuating and when. It’s so easy to just chalk it up to “hormones” as a blanket statement, but we can’t get ahead of them without understanding them in a little more depth.
Right after we start our period, we begin the follicular phase. This is the time that our uterine wall is healing up post-shed and getting ready for ovulation. During this time, our estrogen levels rise.
Next is, of course, ovulation. Estrogen continues to rise here, as well as testosterone.
Right after women ovulate, we shift into the luteal phase, which lasts up until we begin to bleed. All three—estrogen, testosterone, and now progesterone—rise in the first half of this phase, and when PMS sets in, these three hormones’ levels begin to drop.
During menstruation, all of these hormones fall to their lowest levels before building up again.
For some, ovulation can mean clear skies (and skin) and boosted libido. For others, we may experience ovulation cramping, as well as a few breakouts from the rise in testosterone. Alisa Vitti, functional nutritionist, women’s hormone expert, best-selling author, and founder of Flo Living, explains that “the difference is in the body’s ability to efficiently process and eliminate the excess estrogen and testosterone in the system as levels rise.”
What that means is that we do have some control over how our body processes these hormone fluctuations, and a lot of that is with diet. She explains, “If your body isn’t processing hormones properly during your luteal phase and eliminating them efficiently, excess estrogen and excess testosterone accumulate and fuel acne. This happens in two ways: the excess estrogen causes estrogen dominance and skin inflammation, and the extra testosterone triggers the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. For women with optimally functioning endocrine systems, these hormonal peaks don’t cause a lot of problems. But for women who can’t process hormones correctly, acne is often the unwanted result.”
Don’t worry, that’s a lot of us—you’re not a freak or damaged goods. Vitti’s protocol is called The Cycle Syncing Method, and it operates via her guidelines detailed here:
• “If you break out during ovulation, the cause is high estrogen, and you will need to support your body’s ability to break it down more quickly during this phase with cruciferous vegetables.
• If you break out before your period, the cause is low progesterone, and you can use food and lifestyle to support boosting progesterone.”
This can mean refraining from overexertion or over-exercising, avoiding pumpkin seeds and cruciferous veggies, and keeping stress levels down with breathwork, meditation, and calming activities followed by a good night’s sleep.
• “If you break out all the time, the cause is inflammation, so incorporate inflammation-fighting foods into your diet like cruciferous vegetables and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and egg yolks.
• If you break out during stressful situations, the cause is high cortisol and dysregulated insulin. Focus on balancing blood sugar and limiting high-sugar foods.
• If you break out after 35, the cause is the erratic hormonal shifts related to perimenopause. Make it a priority to engage in The Cycle Syncing Method to bring balance back to your monthly hormone shifts.
• If you break out during postpartum/miscarriage, the cause is plunging levels of estrogen and progesterone and the return of menstruation. If your period has returned, your priority here should be engaging in phase-based self-care by practicing The Cycle Syncing Method.”
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