How To Live According To Your Infradian Rhythm, Starting With Your Period
You’ve probably been taught at one point or another about your circadian rhythm – the body’s sleep, hunger, and mood regulator – but did you know that the female body has a second internal clock? It’s called the infradian rhythm.
An alarmingly high percentage of women have never heard of their infradian rhythm, and even fewer are educated on how to live in accordance with their natural cycle.
What Is the Infradian Rhythm?
When broken apart linguistically, “infradian” literally means “longer than a day,” and according to scientists, the infradian rhythm is known to last for about 28 days. Several important processes are dictated by the following four major hormones, which rise and fall throughout the female cycle: estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone. The infradian rhythm regulates a woman’s brain, metabolism, immune system, microbiome, stress response, and reproductive system. Anything from mood or energy levels to body temperature and skin elasticity can be controlled by the infradian rhythm. With infradian rhythm playing such a major role in a woman’s daily bodily health, it’s astonishing how little education there is surrounding it.
For decades, medical professionals have largely ignored the notion of an infradian rhythm and instead diminished female patients’ physical symptoms to make-believe phenomena that live in their head. The medical field has pushed restrictive diets, cryotherapy, hormone supplements, and extreme exercise regimes to combat women’s complaints of weight gain, bloating, irregular bowel movements, and mood swings that they experience as a result of their cycle. The medical, fitness, and nutritional fields almost exclusively offer “daily schedules” or “everyday tips” to tackle fitness, diet, or sleep routines. However, these industries have been criticized because 24-hour routines cater solely to men, who live on a 24-hour clock, and ignore women, who operate on a 28-day clock.
Think about it – in your high school health class, you were likely taught about your circadian rhythm, but I doubt you learned about the infradian rhythm. It’s believed that up to 80% of women struggle with hormonal issues, either knowingly or unknowingly, and this is likely because of the lack of education surrounding female health. However, now more than ever, healthcare practitioners and wellness experts like Dr. Jolene Brighten tune into discussions on living in accordance with the female cycle and offer much-needed solutions. Dr. Brighten is a board-certified endocrinologist, women’s health expert, author, and speaker who is pivotal in women’s health education, particularly in conversations about living in accordance with the infradian rhythm. She has published books and regularly maintains a comprehensive blog filled with articles on women’s health issues.
The infradian rhythm regulates a woman’s brain, metabolism, immune system, microbiome, stress response, and reproductive system.
Evie itself developed its very own free cycle-based wellness platform called 28 that caters to women’s diet, fitness, sleep, and mood fluctuations. The app helps women know where they are in their menstrual cycle, offers tips on how to make their body feel the best in its current phase, lends inspirational words of wisdom, and educates users on why they’re experiencing the symptoms they may be feeling. 28 is a resource that makes each woman feel understood in her health journey, as it provides actionable information and insightful advice tailored to the woman’s cycle.
All About Timing
Experts cited by Forbes note that living in accordance with your cycle – like eating certain foods and doing certain kinds of exercises in certain phases – comes with great benefits, such as feeling stronger, more energized, more balanced, and more emotionally in control. No scientific studies have determined the effects of living in accordance with your cycle, but many have reinforced that hormone fluctuations affect energy, mood, appetite, sleep, and so much more. Functional and integrative medicine doctors claim that many of the symptoms that women feel can be attributed to the phases of their cycle, and therefore, can also be fixed when women provide their bodies with the correct nutrients and activities at the right time.
Since there’s such a lack of education on the female cycle, let’s quickly define each phase and explain what’s going on at a physiological level.
Menstrual Phase: This phase lasts about 3-8 days and occurs when the egg is not fertilized (i.e., the woman is not pregnant). When menstruating, the uterus sheds its lining due to decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone. Common symptoms in this phase include vaginal bleeding, abdominal cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, back pain, and low energy.
Follicular Phase: This phase lasts about 9 days and marks the body’s preparation for ovulation. In this phase, estrogen and progesterone levels begin to rise, and the uterine lining thickens in preparation for ovulation. Oftentimes mood and energy are higher, and cramps or pains from menstruation have ceased.
Ovulatory Phase: Ovulation lasts for about 3 days, and it’s known as the woman’s fertile time of the month. This is because hormones like estrogen and progesterone are at their highest, and as a result, at around day 14 of the cycle, the ovaries release an egg from the follicle into the fallopian tube, in an attempt to make fertilization easier. Sex drive is the highest during this phase, and many women report feeling the most energized, confident, and beautiful during these days.
Luteal Phase: This phase describes the post-ovulation time in which the body either prepares for pregnancy or prepares for menstruation. It typically lasts about 10-14 days, throughout which hormone levels vary greatly. If the egg is not fertilized, then hormone levels drop significantly, but if it is, then they rise significantly. Common symptoms for this phase include brain fog, anxiety, depression, headaches, acne, muscle pain, insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, and more.
While there isn’t time to discuss all the ways in which women can eat, exercise, socialize, rest and live in accordance with each phase of their 28-day cycle, let’s tackle one of the most challenging phases to put up with – the menstrual cycle.
“Even when your uterus is bleeding, your brain and ovaries have a different agenda. The focus on the menstrual cycle is ovulation. Or in other words, your body is working on preparing you for pregnancy.” – Dr. Jolene Brighten
Society has painted a picture of a ravenous, moody, crying, angry girl on her period who just wants to lay around and do nothing. This stereotypical image is not wholly inaccurate – in fact, it partially rings true. With the hormone imbalance that results from menstruation, a woman’s mood swings are more intense, energy is low, and sugar cravings are at an all-time high. However, doctors have found a direct association between the intake of high-sugar foods and painful periods (dysmenorrhea), so medical professionals encourage patients to eat healthy fats, high-quality proteins, fruits, and vegetables during this phase instead of comfort food.
According to Dr. Brighten, proteins like fish and legumes can help regulate intense cravings, and broccoli is great at relieving a heavy, painful flow because of its estrogen-reducing compounds. Symptoms like cramps, heavy flow, and breast tenderness which appear at the end of luteal or beginning of menstruation are a byproduct of excessive estrogen in the body. Turn to broccoli, heating pads, and anti-inflammatory medicine like Ibuprofen to relieve these symptoms.
Evie’s platform, 28, mirrors Dr. Brighten’s advice – under the nutrition tab, it establishes the goal of “rebuilding with B vitamins” during menstruation because it can help combat fatigue, headache, and muscle pains. It also reminds users to incorporate iron-rich proteins, hydrating fruits and vegetables, and grains to stabilize blood sugar and mood. 28 even offers specific foods that pair well with each phase – its recommendation for the menstrual phase are coconut oil, oysters, lobster, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, grapes, watermelon, oranges, and legumes.
Girls are taught in health class that menstruation is a natural bodily function that they have limited control over. But this isn’t true – you actually have more control over it than you think you do! Since energy is at its lowest in the menstruation phase, be kind to yourself. Nourish your body and mind thoughtfully, practice gratitude, and relax. The 28 app reminds users in this phase that emotional fatigue and sadness are common. It suggests engaging in restorative exercise like yoga, low-intensity cardio, stretching, or restorative mat Pilates. Since emotions may be imbalanced, you may not feel like socializing or surrounding yourself with high energy situations. Keep this in mind, and don’t feel guilty if you’d rather curl up in bed with a book or movie instead of going out with your friends.
Whether this is the beginning of the infradian rhythm conversation for you, or you’re a seasoned expert in your cycle, I hope we can all continue the conversation surrounding the value of listening to our bodies. What we eat, how we move, and who we surround ourselves with have a direct impact on our mental and physical health. It’s important to learn about your body and its needs in order to help yourself feel at your best. Visit Dr. Brighten’s blog, or download the 28 app to learn more.
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