Part 1 Female Reproductive System -Menstrual Cycle

Both Sides of the Menstrual Cycle

Most women do not get excited about the monthly visit from “Aunt Flo.” In fact, most wish they did not have it and many actually take medication to stop it! What this tells me is how very little women know about their monthly cycle.

The monthly menstrual cycle is a magnificently orchestrated event designed for the purpose of new life.  Within a woman’ s 24-36 day cycle there are many fluctuations within the hormonal patterns that occur.  Fluctuations in hormones can present symptoms such as tender breast, lower abdominal cramping, light spotting, hunger, lack of concentration, depression, bloating and anxiety.

Understanding hormonal fluctuations can help in identifying and making sense of how you can feel so good one day and so awful the next! There is an explanation for how you feel and understanding your body gives you the opportunity to learn how to support yourself and minimize the effects your monthly cycle can have on you!

There are 4 specific organs involved in the menstrual cycle:

  • Ovaries
  • Uterus (endometrium)
  • Egg/follicle
  • Corpus luteum.

Every phase of the menstrual cycle serves a very specific purpose in the building and integrity of the endometrial wall, creating the perfect space for the fertilization of an egg and implantation.

The hormones involved in the menstrual cycle include:

  • Gonadotrophin Releasing hormone (GnRH) released from the hypothalamus to stimulate the pituitary.
  • Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing hormone (LH) –released by the pituitary under influence by the hypothalamus.
  • Estrogen and progesterone – Produced by the ovary in response to FSH and LH. FSH is estrogen stimulating. LH is progesterone stimulating.  

Homeostasis is the ability to maintain a constant internal environment in response to environmental changes. The hormones of the reproductive system communicate through a negative feed back loop reducing the output or activity of any organ or system back to its normal range of function.

The 28-day Breakdown

Every woman is born with approximately 1 million ova at birth. By puberty, when a girl starts menstruating, the number of eggs remaining drops down to 300,000- 400,000.  During each cycle a number of eggs begin to ripen but the body will only designate one or sometimes a few as the ovulatory front-runner.

menses1

Days 0-14: The follicular phase

  • Menses; disintegration of the of the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium)
  • A new egg /follicle (the egg is the small red dot in the center of the follicle) begins to develop in one of the ovaries under the influence of “follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)”.
  • Around day 10 FSH begins to decline in response to another key reproductive hormone, estrogen.
  • Estrogen becomes very built up during the follicular phase and gets quite high at ovulation in response to follicular development. The more mature the follicle becomes the more estrogen it produces. Progesterone levels remain low during this phase of the cycle because there is no corpus luteum until after ovulation
  • The endometrium will grow from just a few millimeters thick following your period to around 10 millimeters thick during the ovulatory phase.
  • Estrogen also facilitates the secretion of cervical mucus from the cervix. Cervical mucus in central to fertility and assists in helping protect, nourish and transport sperm.
  • Estrogen triggers the production of LH.

* Estrogen is the dominant hormone in this phase.

Days 14-16: Ovulation

  • On day 14-16 there is a sudden surge in LH, stimulating ovulation; the rupture of the follicle and the release of the egg into the fallopian tubes.
  • Under the influence of LH “luteinizing hormone” the remnants of the follicle develop into the corpus luteum.
  • LH functions to wear a hole in the surface of the ovarian follicle.

* Ovulation occurs 24-36 hours following an LH surge and is the most fertile time in a woman’s cycle.

What factors can disrupt ovulation:

  • Illness
  • Travel
  • Insomnia
  • Stress
  • Hormonal Imbalances
  • Excessive exercise
  • Poor nutrition
  • Protein deficiency secondary to GI stress
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Low body temperature and pulse

Symptoms of Ovulation:

  • Midcycle pains or mittelschmerz (cramps on one side of the abdomen) are experienced by SOME…not everyone
  • Increase in libido
  • Change in cervical mucus from sticky to slippery, stretchy and thin. The color can change as well from white or yellow to clear and translucent or “egg white” look and feel.
  • Increase in Basal Body Temperature
  • Ovulation spotting- caused by the rupture of the ovarian follicle
  • Breast tenderness

Days 14-28: Luteal Phase

  • After ovulation the egg is brushed by waves of hairlike cilia through the fallopian tubes and towards the womb.
  • Once the egg is released it can live for 24 hours. If pregnancy is desired, this is the most fertile time of the month.
  • Estrogen declines and LH drops off the map following the development of the corpus luteum or the “luteal body”.  Its function it to secrete progesterone to warm the body for pregnancy. Progesterone is now the dominant hormone.
  • Progesterone helps the endometrium thicken and become more vascular and also inhibits contraction of the uterus and the development of a new follicle.
  • Cervical fluid will decrease or become more sticky and firm

If no implantation occurs following ovulation, the corpus luteum will begin to degenerate half way through the luteal phase and progesterone levels will begin to decline. The sharp decline in estrogen and progesterone, leading to menstruation, functions as a hormonal trigger to begin the production of GnRH and FSH, the beginning of a new cycle.

Fertilization

If an egg is fertilized and conception takes place a hormone called human chorionic gonadatrophin (HCG) then takes over the role of LH for the purpose of maintaining the corpus luteum. Progesterone is essential for the maintenance of the corpus luteum and in the preservation of the endometrial wall which would otherwise degenerate (menses).

There are many nutritional and lifestyle factors which can exacerbate hormonal imbalance leading to Amenorrhea, Dysmenorrhea, Ovarian cyst, PCOS, Endometriosis, infertility and all associated symptoms.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will be exploring some of these causes and to learn what you can do to begin balancing your hormones.

 

For more information on female hormones, purchase a copy of The Female Body Blueprint!

If you have questions about how to regulate your own hormones using food, CLICK HERE to schedule some time to talk with Josh or Jeanne.

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  1. […] Female Reproductive System Part 2 (Click here to read Part 1) […]

    April 21, 2014 • 2:39 pm •