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!

Get to Know Your Cycle: The Hypothalamus and Pituitary Gland


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I've been reflecting on why the word "hormones" seems to pop into my mouth any time I talk about my passions or what I want to do with my life. My hormone journey really started with my skin. My acne was embarrassing and painful. Even today, I still struggle with it, and it affects more than just what my face looks like. It affects my mental state. It's an endless cycle of stress, acne, and shame and anger. For me, hormones in balance indicate a thriving life. And THAT is what I want for you. 

For a while, birth control was a bandage for my imbalanced hormones. When I realized that not only were the birth control hormones interrupting my body's natural processes, but they could not actually fix the problem, I knew I needed to get off the pill and figure out what was really going on. Debilitating cramps, acne, and digestive issues were alarm bells I didn't know to pay attention to, because I wasn't educated enough to know there was a problem. When I finally started paying attention and listening to what my body was telling me, I stopped feeling out of control and started to feel that there was something I could do to help. Understanding your cycle is knowledge and knowledge is power, at least when it comes to bringing your body back into balance. 

This is going to be the first in a series I like to call "Get to Know Your Cycle". I've gotten to know my cycle better over the past year and am continuing to experiment with how I can prevent further hormonal imbalances. I want to share that information with you through a monthly series getting to know the female reproductive system. It may seem daunting to figure these scientific things out, but it is amazing how simple (and, at the same time, complex) our bodies are to understand. Everything has a purpose within the body and everything connects together. It really is a magical thing once you start to understand how everything works! We're starting from the top this time to find out where our cycles begin: the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.

No one talks about hormones better than Alissa Vitti, the hormone whisperer and author of WomanCode. She writes, "Hormones that flow from glands in your brain dictate what organs throughout your entire body--all the way down to your ovaries--do. The hormones that those glands release, in turn, govern every major process your body performs, from setting your internal thermostat, to metabolizing food, to keeping your heart beating, to regulating your mood, to determining your fertility, and so much more." And this flow of hormones starts in your hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus is an almond-shaped region in your brain that receives information from the bloodstream about concentrations of hormones in the body and speaks to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland lies below the hypothalamus and speaks to other glands and organs in the endocrine system: the thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, adrenals, and ovaries. For example, beginning in puberty, the hypothalamus releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to signal the pituitary to send out follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) to signal to the ovaries when it's time to start maturing an egg, the start of your cycle. Through the hormones it produces, the pituitary gland controls many vital processes and functions of the body, including growth, metabolism, blood pressure, reproduction, and sexual maturation.  

The little hypothalamus is also tied to the limbic system of the brain which controls the emotions and feelings, has a direct pathway to the adrenals, bypassing the pituitary gland in times of stress, and is also directly connected to the digestive system. It's such an important part of our brain!

So to simplify: A little region in the brain named the hypothalamus reads your blood to learn how much hormones flows throughout your body. That region talks to a gland below it, called the pituitary, by releasing hormones. In turn the pituitary is signaled to send out hormones of its own to other glands and organs. Those glands and organs then produce their own hormones which compensate for any lack in the system or are needed to release at a specific time in your cycle. 

There are some things we can do to keep our hypothalamus functioning well. According to Dr. Josh Axe, author of one of my favorite books Eat Dirt, healthy fats, good sleep, reduced stress, and exercising regularly are all important to a healthy hypothalamus. Also adding in chromium-rich foods, such as broccoli, apples, bananas, oranges, potatoes, green beans, basil, and garlic and utilizing frankincense and myrrh essential oils are all great ways to keep the hypothalamus happy. Some herbs like vitex berry and maca can also be helpful, though I would recommend working with a practitioner to incorporate them into your routine. 

Next time, we'll talk more about the different phases of your cycle and focus on the follicular phase. 

If you want to dive deeper until then, I found the website You and Your Hormones really helpful at getting at the basic understanding of each layer of your endocrine system. It is a great resource from the Society of Endocrinology. This video from Crash Course is also a good visual lesson to go along with this series.

3 Ways I (Try to) Cope with Anxiety


I wrote the post below while sitting on a plane heading back to New Orleans for Christmas. I'm going to be honest, it's pretty personal, and possibly TMI. It also feels good to post it knowing that the people who need to read it will, and anyone else will just know my digestive system a little better. Also, to my cousin Charlotte who sat next to me on the plane, if you read this, sorry and I love you!


At present, I'm sitting on a plane with Debussy in my ears while still hearing the screeching cry of a baby a few rows away. And I am feeling that baby's pain. Maybe not that much. But I'm uncomfortable. My stomach is popping little gas bubbles all the time and I can't figure out why. Yes, those zucchini potato latkes at the airport may have been a bad idea. But why? They were oven baked. Nothing weird. And the few fries I had? Not out of the ordinary. Somehow though immediately upon consumption I felt terrible. Sharp stomach pains then annoying bloating and gas. And then I ate some banana bread. And some dried mango.

I've been having weird stomach problems for a few days now and it's something that comes and goes. Overall, my digestion is better. Better than it was last year. Better than it was 6 months ago. But I'm going home. And that brings anxiety. Sometimes I am the strongest disciplined person, able to say no to the things I don't want and know will make my body feel awful. But lately I've been giving into cookies and sugar and things I know I don't want to consume. The anxiety I've been feeling over going home, over the election, and the stress my family has been under because of it has taken a toll on my strong will. I want comfort. I want mac and cheese. I definitely don't want kale. I want a po-boy and bread and cookies. I want bacon. These are things that have never made me feel good. So the question becomes how do I move through this? How do I cope with anxiety and the stress I feel I'm under? Well, I'm still figuring that out. 

One thing that seems to work well for me is writing. Even a few minutes helps release a lot of tension that I feel. Writing this now I'm consciously having to unclench my jaw just from the build up of anxiety that's manifesting itself in my body. 

Another thing is breathing. Consciously, deeply breathing. I'm a breath holder. It's unconscious but sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe. 

Talking (and usually crying whilst talking) has also become a big part of moving through this season. I'm a very emotional person anyways but this season has brought an uptick of sharing my feelings with others and looking for support and someone to talk it out with. My sister has been a big part of this as well as a few other dear friends without whom I would be a mess. I'm also looking forward to potentially seeking some professional guidance in the new year. 

This outlet of talking is also coming forth in community. I've set up a meeting this month for women who have (currently or otherwise) health issues and need space to be supported by other women. As I've reflected on this year, I've realized how far I've come, while also feeling like I haven't moved at all. I've been getting a lot of advice but I see the need to just vent and cry and be comforted in the unknowing of what my health looks like and will look like in the future. If you're in the NYC area and interested in participating, please email me at the address in the About section. There is no better time than the present to hold each other up and give comfort and support.

For You...


I've realized that I still have a lot of grief over the election, which has also translated into grief over the Dakota Access Pipeline and general humanity (elephants being born without tusks because of poaching, etc...). If you're feeling the same, whatever side of the aisle you fall on, I invite you to discuss it here in the comments, or text, email, message, Instagram, Facebook me, and let's talk about it. I know I'm not alone in my feelings and you aren't either. 

 

**P.S. Please refrain from any insults or unkind words. We all process things differently, and I hope we can allow each other the space to feel whatever feelings we're feeling in a kind, inclusive way. 

Face Mapping + Quick Fixes


Recently as I was looking up "acne face maps" trying to figure out where the tiny bumps all over my forehead have come from, I stumbled upon an article from Teen Vogue over the very issue I was looking into. ( Side note: For those of you curious, this is actually a real thing, especially in Chinese medicine.) When I got to the section on jaw/chin acne, the author recommends birth control and some unpronounceable chemical (and, okay, they mentioned leafy greens) as a solution to the hormonal imbalance that is causing the acne. If you know me and you read my first post, you know this made me angry..but, like, righteous anger, because even though I have gone through so much with my skin and body in the past few months, I still want the quick fix.


Said tiny forehead bumps have been driving me mad for the past few weeks. I don't feel like my diet has changed or my products, but there they are like a taunting reminder that I don't know everything about my body and I'm not in control. Over the past few weeks I have tried mask after mask trying to detox my skin in hopes of getting rid of them. So as I wiped off my clay mask, I checked my forehead to see if the bumps were gone. Do you hear how silly that is? After a 10 minute mask I expected all of the bumps to magically disappear from my face. Why do I think that? Where does that notion of magic skincare products come from? And then I read that Teen Vogue article, one of my favorite magazines as a teen, mind you, and it struck me. I have been fed the quick fix for at least the past 15 years. I've been told that things can change overnight. That the chemicals I put on are "miracle" creams and gels and I'll look amazing in the morning. And then the morning comes and that giant zit is still there or the harsh chemical I put on has dried my skin out so much I'm peeling. So you buy another product. And then another. Until your cabinet is overflowing with "miracles in a jar". It's madness. And I know it. I've known it for a while and I've changed my skincare products because of it, but there I am using a two-ingredient, all natural, non-toxic mask thinking the exact same way. I've been programmed to believe a product is my savior.

But I know better than that. I know (and I'm telling myself more than anyone) that what is coming out on my skin is a result of how my body is operating. I know that it takes time to heal. That food is the medicine. That it can take a while of storing up good things for any change to come. Yet, even though I know all these things, it's going to take time for ME to heal, not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well. I have a tendency to be very hard on myself. If something's not going right, I will find the solution. I'm a problem solver. And I love that about myself, but I also need to realize that patience is the best route for healing. There is no overnight fix, and I need to be okay with that. I want (and need) to work with my body, listening to it at all times for what it is asking of me, instead of forcing it to do the things I want it to do.

Are you experiencing the same kind of "quick fix" anxiety? What is getting you through the frustrating times?

 

From the Beginning...


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I want to begin with how I got to now and why I'm starting this blog.

Since I was a kid I've always had bad skin and a bad digestive system. I just never connected the two. In high school, my dermatologist put me on skin treatments that exacerbated the situation so I let go of the (expensive) creams and stuck with good ol' Clearasil. But nothing changed. For years. Instead, my hormones were imbalanced, my digestion was inflamed, and my skin was a mess. 

As a 24 year old, I began having terrible cystic acne, the worst IBS symptoms for a time, and developed menstrual cramps that made me feel like I could pass out. So I turned to the gynecologist and dermatologist for help. My gynecologist found nothing wrong, but my dermatologist said that the jaw/chin acne were clear signs of an hormonal imbalance. So she put me on a birth control pill to balance my hormones. My acne cleared and my insane cramps went away. Miracle! It was like magic. And I was telling everyone how I had been healed and recommended they do the same if they experienced any similar symptoms. 

Cut to 3-4 years later, skin still free from cystic acne, but painful cramps every so often and low energy, I learn from Nicole Jardim that my miracle pill is just covering the problem like a Band-Aid on a giant gash. My body is tricked into thinking it's pregnant (are anyone else's alarm bells going off???) and what I thought was my period is just bleed-through. The pill I had put my hope in was nothing but a lie. Here starts the drastic change that would ensue. 

A blood test later would reveal I also had hypothyroidism (possibly Hashimoto's autoimmune disorder, but more on that later), a vitamin D deficiency, and high cholesterol and triglycerides. I started working with a naturopathic doctor for three reasons: get off birth control and balance my hormones naturally, calm my digestive system, and improve my thyroid health. 

Now at about five months later, I've been off birth control for 3 months using food and supplements to balance my hormones. This is a work in progress, however. My period has become regular and cramps have subsided and I'm thankful for that. My thyroid health has improved and my energy has increased. My digestive tract is much happier than before and still somewhat inflamed.

So here we are. My mental and emotional state during this transition has taken more time to process than my physical health. I want to explore that, too, since they are so interconnected. I want to use this space to discuss these topics and my progress more in depth. If you have questions about what I'm doing, I want to explore them with you. I believe in community. I believe in a shared life. So share with me. Tell me how you feel healthy and well.  

P.S. Two books that helped me begin my journey were Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore and Woman Code by Alissa Vitti. I will talk about these books more in depth later, but if you need a place to start, these are great reads that really get to the heart of the matter.