Get to Know Your Cycle: The Follicular Phase


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Well, hello, again. It's been a bit since I worked on this series, but some new inspiration has hit and I'm ready to get back to writing about your cycle! 

In the first post of this "Get to Know Your Cycle" series, we discussed the hypothalamus and pituitary gland and their importance in your cycle. If you missed it, find the post here. This time, we're discussing the Follicular Phase. 

What is the Follicular Phase?

Let's start with the breakdown of what the four phases of our cycle are. You will often see only three phases on hormone tests that you may have done, but the four phases give greater clarity to our cycles and what our bodies need during each phase. Alissa Vitti, the hormone whisperer and founder of FloLiving, has delved deep into our cycles and makes some of the best recommendations on how we can support each phase. Her book WomanCode is my biggest reference for this series. 

The Four Phases

Follicular: Starts right after your period ends and lasts between 7-10 days

Ovulatory: Follicular phase leads up to ovulation, or the release of the egg from the follicle. It can last between 3-5 days.

Luteal: When the egg has released and peak ovulation (your most fertile point) decreases, your luteal phase begins. This phase lasts 10-14 days.

Menstrual: Begins the first day you bleed. This phases can last 3-7 days, but can be longer or shorter depending on hormonal imbalances.

Follicular Phase

While technically the second phase, as menstruation is considered the first, this is the phase that starts everything over again. Hormone levels have dropped during menstruation as the lining is shed from the uterus, but they slowly begin to increase in concentration. The hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to send Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) to the ovaries. This helps mature an egg for release, swelling several egg follicles in response. The uterine lining starts to thicken thanks to an increase in estrogen to prepare your uterus for an egg. This phase peaks at ovulation when an egg is released from the follicle. 

Vitti has a lot more to say on this phase from what the body's energy is like to how to harness your creativity during this time, but I'll let her book (and app!) tell you about those. I want to focus on food and herbs. 

Food and Herbs for the Follicular Phase

The follicular phase is the time when the body is being prepped for ovulation while also flushing out the old hormones from the system at the start. I can't stress enough how important proper elimination (aka pooping!) is during this cycle (and all others). Our bodies flush out our sex hormones from the liver, while they can be reabsorbed by the large intestine. If the system is not eliminating on a regular basis (e.g. you're constipated, or have less frequent bowel movements) those sex hormones that the body is trying to get rid of can go back into the system, causing hormonal imbalances. Light, fresh food is important during the follicular phase to help keep your body energized and lots of fiber help promote regular bowel movements. 

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli can help your body metabolize the estrogen through their phytochemical Indole-3-Carbinol which breaks down into Diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM can also reduce the amount of estrogen in the body. So as estrogen is increasing in the body during the follicular phase, it's good to have a way to keep it in check in the body, especially if you have estrogen dominance, but we also don't want to thoroughly decrease it through too many cruciferous veggies. Save that for luteal phase when estrogen is at its highest. 

Herbs such as red clover and marshmallow leaf and root can promote moisture in the body and increase cervical mucus as the body nears ovulation. To continue helping with estrogen balance and flushing the detoxification system, roots like burdock, dandelion, and yellow dock, as well as milk thistle, can be of assistance during this phase. As with all things herbal, slow is best, so I recommend a tea blend that can be tailored to your needs at this time. 

Have you adjusted your eating habits to your cycle? How has the change affected your cycle and symptoms?

Stay tuned for the next post in this series when we discuss Ovulation!