PERIOD PRIDE Part II: Follicular Fun Phase
The next stage of your menstrual cycle is your follicular phase, which actually starts at day 1 of your period. At the beginning of the follicular phase, your brain releases a hormone called FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), which stimulates your ovaries to produce about 5-20 follicles.
As these follicles grow, eventually one becomes dominant, and the others will wither away and become reabsorbed by the body. The dominant follicle with the ripening egg increases production of estrogen, which causes the uterine lining to grow and thicken over the next 2 weeks. This rise in estrogen will cause a spike in another hormone, luteinizing hormone (LH), which triggers the rupture of the dominant follicle – i.e. ovulation!
A typical follicular phase lasts about 2 weeks, but there is a lot of variety in timing. If your menstrual cycle is a little bit shorter, or on the longer side, it is your follicular phase that is responsible.
How you might feel:
Generally people feel good during this time of their cycle. Estrogen helps to increase serotonin levels (those feel-good neurotransmitters), so as estrogen levels increase, mood tends to be more positive. It is also a time you may feel more productive at work, and more creative. Physically, you may notice that your skin is glowing, and you may start to notice an increase in libido. Let’s hear it for the follicular phase!
Signs of Hormonal Imbalance:
As mentioned above, the length of your follicular phase is most often what determines the length of your cycle.
A longer follicular cycle (> 21 days) can signal lower estrogen levels, as the follicle doesn’t release enough estrogen to stimulate LH, causing delayed ovulation. A longer follicular phase is also associated with Vitamin D deficiency, recent use of birth control pills, and marijuana use. Delayed time to ovulation can also be associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
A short follicular phase is common during perimenopause. FSH levels rise, but LH doesn’t increase, causing a follicle to rupture too quickly. If getting pregnant is something you’re thinking about, a short follicular phase can impact your chances because the egg has not had enough time to mature. A follicular phase shorter than 11 days is associated with decreased fertility.
Foods to eat during your follicular phase:
Incorporating specific types of fats at this time in your cycle can aid in hormone balance and help support your next phase - a healthy ovulation. During the follicular phase, add in 1-2 tbsp/day of ground flaxseeds, and raw pumpkin seeds. These seeds help to naturally increase estrogen levels, while also adding healthy fiber to ensure adequate hormone detoxification. Pumpkin seeds are also high in zinc and selenium, which is important for hormone balance, and aid in preparing your body for ovulation.
Adding additional omega 3 oil helps to decrease inflammation and has also been shown to improve ovarian aging and egg quality. Food sources of omega-3 include the SMASH fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring). Vegetarian sources include ground flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds and hemp hearts. Although very healthy, vegetarian sources of omega 3 contains less EPA and DHA - the two fatty acids we are looking for! If you are choosing to supplement instead, choose a fish oil that contains at least 1000mg EPA per dose.
Which Activities are Best?
Energy levels generally start increasing after your period, so this can be a good time to try a new workout class, or do a more intense interval workout. Your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you consume at rest) is also at an all-time low a week before ovulation, so adding in more intense exercise can help to balance this decrease in metabolism. Most importantly, listen to your body and move in a way that feels good for you!
Mental benefits of the follicular phase:
People are usually more patient, social, and generous leading up to ovulation. If you’re trying to step out of your comfort zone and try new things, this part of your cycle would be the easiest time to do so. Your mood, energy and libido all might be higher than after ovulation.
Sometimes with more energy and better mood, comes higher anxiety and nervousness! This might be a good time for some meditation or mindfulness (might be a good time to try the Headspace or Sanity and Self App)
Next up, we discuss Ovulation and the Luteal Phase leading up to your period… stay tuned!