There is a current alive within you, cyclically shifting your energy, from swimming up the river, to surrendering to its downward flow. We call this current Waning. It is the energy the moon embodies, as its Full light begins to diminish. This darkness begins to unfold within you too.
As menstruators, we join in this cyclic dance with the Moon. Your uterus fills, your uterus sheds. Your eggs grow, your eggs expel. Your hormones climb, your hormones drop off. Your energy expands, your energy contracts. These are the inhales and exhales, the waxes and wanings, so inherent of the menstruator’s experience.
This season, of the Waning, is best known as the Premenstrual phase. It is the longest uninterrupted phase of our cycles, lasting around two weeks. In this unfolding, there can be much changeability. Parallels run deep between the PMS phase and Autumn. Many colors unravel and, one by one, your inner leaves begin to fall.
The PMS time often unveils what is deep and needs to emerge. It is a phase that may be alive with revelations, reflections, and emotions. These awakenings can be accompanied by both peace and disruption. The vulnerability alive during this time is a product of the veil thinning between your active world and your inner unwinding. Autumn is a season of harvest and preparation, one that requires careful attention in order to be well supported come winter.
Physiological Exploration of the Premenstrual Phase
The Premenstrual phase is a beautiful expression of the waxing and waning of hormones in the human body. The beginning of this time follows that of ovulation. Often, this is when the energy is at its highest. Estrogen has peaked and will slowly increase for just a little longer, now that your egg has been liberated in the process of ovulation.
In the beginning of the premenstrual phase, progesterone begins to readily climb, beginning to build a uterine nest for the potential fertilization of your fresh egg. This ‘nesting’ phase is rich with growth of vasculature and an overall plumping within the uterus takes hold. As you can imagine, your body begins to conserve energy in preparation for a potential fetus. Your fuel demand may increase as your nutrients are being shuttled to this wondrous process.
In the case that you are not pregnant, your hormone production (progesterone & estrogen) will begin to wane in the final week of your cycle. This waning is often what is behind the more challenging aspects that sometimes arise during this phase, which is more thoroughly described below.
The Contributors to a Challenging Fall
An array of uncomfortable symptoms may arise during this premenstrual time. According to the Merck Manual, about 20-50% of menstruators struggle with a ‘premenstrual syndrome’. This has become a buzz word of sorts, and overall is accepted as ‘the way it is’. However, there are many components at play that can be remediated with compassion and nourishment.
Some of the manifestations of a sub-optimal premenstrual phase range from anxiety, irritability, anger, insomnia, mood dysregulation, depression, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, headaches, breast pain, swelling, nausea/vomiting, constipation, changes in appetite and acne. As you can see, there are many different types of representations of imbalance here, that all speak to slightly different root causes.
The most common cause of challenge during this time is an imbalanced ratio of estrogen to progesterone. As explained above, progesterone should be dominant in this part of the cycle. In some cases, estrogen levels are simply too high. In other cases, progesterone levels are simply too low. In many cases, both are true.
Internal estrogen levels are highly influenced by external sources of estrogen, called ‘xeno-estrogens’. Xeno-estrogens are rich in oral contraceptives, tap water, household products, hygiene products, plastics, and more. (For a thorough exploration of xeno-estrogen sources, please refer to our Environmental Blog). These xeno-estrogens increase the overall level of estrogen in the body and can be a problematic factor in reproductive health.
Stress plays an intimate role in estrogen and progesterone balance. Cortisol, the major stress hormone, is influenced by an array of mental, emotional, and physical contributors. Interestingly, both progesterone and cortisol are produced downstream of a steroid precursor called Pregnenolone. When there is an overload of stress present, the body will prioritize building more cortisol than progesterone, with the limited supply of pregnenolone that is present at any given moment. This understanding is a reminder to prioritize self care and roll with as much grace as you can as stressors emerge.
An aspect of this preparatory phase, that cannot be emphasized enough, is clean fuel. The nutrient density of your food, and balance within your diet, is key for many of the processes that contribute to the premenstrual phase. Deficiencies in key vitamins and nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium are common disruptors. A balance of healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates are necessary for balanced cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is often demonized, yet is integral for hormone production. There are many fad diets out there that lead to lower levels of macro and micronutrients essential for your tissues to thrive. Further, diets rich with sugar and poor quality food can cause stress in the body, rather than fuel for the cells. Highlighting your awareness that Food is your Medicine can be life changing.
Further, the nervous system greatly influences this intimate cycle. The Nervous System is the power center of the body. This is where much of the magic lives. Moments of peace and deep rest rejuvenate the nervous system, which supports and innervates each and every organ system of the body. The constant hustle and bustle energy, predominant and celebrated in American culture, drains the nervous system. When this foundation is compromised, a ripple of discord can emerge throughout the body and intensify within the premenstrual phase.
For many cyclical beings, their root of premenstrual difficulty lives with their digestive tract. Imbalanced microflora can lead to re-absorption of estrogens, poor absorption of energy-building blocks, and an overall inflammatory environment within the pelvic cavity. Further, suboptimal detoxification channels can lead to a buildup of hormones and toxins within the body, contributing to the premenstrual pool. Extra fat tissue, especially around the core, can also be a disruptive source of estrogen production and storage. Holding fat tissue in this region is often reflective of imbalanced microflora in the digestive tract.
Other contributors to imbalance felt within the premenstrual phase include, but are not limited to, poor lymphatic drainage, endocrine disruption, poor blood sugar regulation, serotonin deficiency, and genetic mutations. While this list can sound overbearing, remember that the foundational elements often hold the greatest answers.
Ways to Support Yourself During this Season
We invite you to lean into what preparatory rituals and practices feel supportive in your mind and body.
Nutrition is an avenue worth exploring. Indulging in a palate rich in cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, and fiber rich foods will support the balance of estrogen and progesterone in your body. Ensuring that your food choices complement regularity in your bowels is key. Often, an increase in your dietary fiber can be illuminating in bowel regularity. Enjoying extra water will help to cleanse your digestive tract, liver, and brain leading to a fresher mind space and hormonal pool. Notice if your body is craving sugar and take this as a sign that your body is asking for more energy. The surest way to build more fuel is through rest, light body movement, and healthy meals at regular intervals. Remember that a balance of macro and micronutrients is essential. Further, choosing well sourced foods- organic, grass-fed, local- as often as possible will help you to reduce unnecessary toxin exposure. Keep your eyes peeled for the blog “How to Eat for your Cycle”, coming soon.
In the Waning fashion, a balance of ‘yes’ and ’no’ is called for. When your light is most full, you may find yourself saying ‘yes’ to everything- activities, work, social engagements, etc. As your light dims, the medicine of your sacred ‘no’ begins to take hold. Begin to choose rest and feeding yourself, physically and mentally, over the more taxing activities. The more time you give to the Ebb, the more you receive within the Flow.
Allow the inspiration of preparation to take hold. This may mean taking a loving look at your calendar in the next couple of weeks and prioritizing that which feels most aligned, while letting go of anything that feels extra. Give special attention to your planning as your ‘bleeding time ‘approaches. Tune into what preparation steps you can take that will help your bleeding phase to be more enjoyable and present— perhaps this includes preparing hygiene products, Epsom salts, herbal medicines, ensuring your candle stock is full, and that your fridge is full of nourishing foods.
Connect with the energy of the Grizzly Bear, a representation of Autumn and the inner power present and potent during this phase. The bear is introspective, looking internally and thoughtfully making choices that conserve energy.
Remember that you are an intimate representation of this larger lunar dance that is in constant flux. As a cyclical being, change is inevitable. It is our belief that the delicacy and compassion that we extend to ourselves amongst these changes is of the greatest importance of all. Finding your allies in this dance certainly softens the edges, from ritualistic practices, to nourishing foods and botanicals. Monthly Rituals offers herbal elixirs and teas to help balance out these cyclical fluctuations, integrating the mental, emotional, and physical attributes that are inherent to this premenstrual phase.
Authored by Caileen Vermilyea N.D.
Head K, Kelly, G. Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress: Adrenal Fatigue, Neurotransmitter Imbalance, Anxiety and Restless Sleep. Alt Med Rev. 2009;Vol.14, No. 2;114-140.
Itsekson, Alek M., et al. "Steroid hormone hypersensitivity: clinical presentation and management." Fertility and sterility 95.8 (2011): 2571-2573.
Jarvis C, Lynch AM, Morin AK. Management strategies for premenstrual syndrom/premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Ann Pharmacother. 2008;42(7):967-78.
Kia, Afsaneh Saeedian, Reza Amani, and Bahman Cheraghian. "The association between the risk of premenstrual syndrome and vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium status among university students: a case control study." Health promotion perspectives 5.3 (2015): 225.
Pinkerton, J. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Merck Manual Professional Website. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/menstrual-abnormalities/premenstrual-syndrome-pms. Last reviewed November 2015. Accessed August 2, 2016.
Weliky, Irving, and Lewis L. Engel. "Metabolism of Progesterone-4-C14 and Pregnenolone-7α-H3 by Human Adrenal Tissue FORMATION OF 16α-HYDROXYPROGESTERONE-C14, CORTICOSTERONE-C14, AND CORTISOL-C14-H3." Journal of Biological Chemistry 238.4 (1963): 1302-1307.