Female Cycle - Understanding Hormones

Posted by Lala Naidu on

Being in a woman’s body, it is very helpful to know the role of hormones on your menstrual cycle. Leading up to menses, many women suffer with PMS and we have normalized not feeling well, but with some understanding and adjustments to our lifestyle it is possible to alleviate those symptoms and begin to celebrate your monthly menses.

In women that cycle regularly, we consider the first day of your menstrual flow as Day 1, in this first half until ovulation, you will predominantly be under the influence of estrogen. Estrogen is produced by the ovaries and helps rebuild the uterine lining (endometrium), stabilize mood, protect bones and heart, keep reproductive tissues moist, and bolster the immune system.

Uterus and endometrial lining

When ovulation happens, usually between days 12-17, the corpus luteum makes progesterone. The corpus luteum is a completely normal cyst that forms on the ovary every single month in women of childbearing years(1). If you don't ovulate, no progesterone is produced. Progesterone helps thicken the uterine lining to better carry a baby if you get pregnant, or slough it off during menstruation if you don't. It also boosts mood, helps you respond to stress, strengthens the immune system, and increases your basal body temperature a bit. Even though you still have estrogen circulating through the second half of the cycle, progesterone keeps it in check.

Estrogen and progesterone throughout the menstrual cycle

Although many hormones play a role in a woman's cycle, to simplify it here, we can think of most PMS and female hormonal issues resulting from a lack of (or insufficient) progesterone, estrogen dominance, or estrogen deficiency.

Insufficient Progesterone

If your cycle is “normal”, you ovulate mid-cycle and the corpus luteum releases progesterone.

When living with excessive stress, progesterone can get converted into the stress hormone cortisol. Evolutionary, stress overrides any wants and desires to reproduce. However, as your body begins converting progesterone to cortisol, you can "run out" of progesterone before the second half of the cycle is up. You are normally low on estrogen as you approach the end of your cycle, so if progesterone also drops out, you've lost some vital mood, hormone and immune support.

Cortisol steal

Vitex also called chastetree berry, can help strengthen and lengthen progesterone's influence, while maca, damiana, and adaptogens with an affinity for the reproductive system, such as ashwagandha, maca and shatavari, provide additional support. You can take them all cycle long or during the last half.

Here's a chastetree protocol to try if your progesterone has been measured to be low via salvia, blood or urine testing.

Most studies suggest 30-40 drops of an extract 3 times per day for 2-3 months.

Since the effects of Chasteberry should be constant throughout the day, I suggest following Dr. Douillard's protocol (2): Put 30 drops in 32 ounces of water and finish those 32 ounces by the end of the day.. Do this for one week. If you feel fine with no side effects, add 60 drops to your 32 ounces of water and try that out the following week. If that goes well, then add 90 drops to the 32 ounces of water and drink 32 ounces of that mixture every day for 2-3 months to fully reset your hormonal balance and progesterone levels.


Estrogen Dominance 

Estrogen dominance may involve an excess of estrogen influence or a normal amount of estrogen not balanced by progesterone, which women experience during peri-menopause. However, insulin resistance or being overweight can also lead to estrogen dominance, and a build-up of xenoestrogens (estrogen mimickers found in plastics, cosmetics and pesticides). Excess estrogen can mess with mood, cause migraines, and increase inflammation, cramps, endometriosis, PCOS, cysts, thyroid issues, and your risk for endocrine-dependent cancers. 

Supporting progesterone helps and the intake of phytoestrogens in the diet may also help. Phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptor sites and takes up the space for your body's own estrogen and also xenoestrogens, and instead only exert a weak estrogenic effect. Phytoestrogenic foods include flax seeds, sprouted and fermented tofu, soaked and sprouted or cooked beans, red clover, shatavari and fenugreek. These foods are also rich in fiber which help eliminate excess estrogen via stools.

Phytoestrogen foods

The liver recycles hormones, adding liver supportive herbs will help this organ process and eliminate excess estrogen, herbs like artichoke leaf, bitter leafy greens, turmeric, neem and dandelion root.

A healthy plant-centered diet is foundational, along with regular exercise and minimizing exposure to xenoestrogens.


Estrogen Deficiency

Although less common, some women, myself included suffer with estrogen deficiency. In estrogen deficiency there will generally be anemia, anxiety, light and spotty periods, and a thin body frame.

It's important to test for and address anemia if its present. Estrogen deficient women often feel better with kapha-genic foods like richer foods, red meat, liver, root vegetables, and cooked foods. What helped me and continues to support my estrogen balance is dong quai, a classic building, nourishing tonic and estrogenic synergist. It doesn't contain estrogen, but encourages an increased activity of your own natural estrogen. Shatavari is another favorite herb, and nourishing adaptogens like ashwagandha, American ginseng and maca, can also provide support.

How do you combine these tips? If needed, for days 1-14, choose a formula focused more on estrogen support (black cohosh, shatavari, dong quai). Then from days 15-28, use different herbs to support progesterone (vitex, damiana, maca). To each blend you can add herbs that help with your specific challenges. 



  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21849-corpus-luteum#:~:text=Your%20corpus%20luteum%20is%20a,leaves%20your%20ovary%20(ovulation).

  2. https://lifespa.com/health-topics/womens-health/chaste-tree-berry-aka-vitex-for-pms-the-female-hormonal-harmonizer/

  3. Groves, Maria Noel (2018). PMS Relief with Herbs. Herb Quarter. Summer 2018 (pg. 24-28). www.herbquarterly.com
Anti-inflammatory Herbal medicine Menopause Women's Health

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