Essential Takeaways for Cycle Syncing:
- There are four phases of the menstrual cycle and each phase requires specific nutrients and care to help you feel your best.
- In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the menstrual phases act like seasonal changes.
- There is a lot we can learn from TCM to better support our wellbeing throughout our entire menstrual cycle.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we view the menstrual phases as seasons of the year, honoring that as the phases of the cycle shift, we have differing needs, energy levels, and mindsets. During each phase of our menstrual cycle, we shift hormonally, emotionally, and energetically.
Cycle Syncing is a practice that refers to changing our daily habits to accommodate each phase of our menstrual cycle, to feel our best physically, mentally, and emotionally. Simply by understanding our natural rhythms we can get a much better understanding as to why we feel the way we do on any given week. Applying the fundamentals of TCM and our hormonal cycles, we can incorporate specific nutrition, exercise, mindset, and herbal medicine to best support each phase of the menstrual cycle to help you feel your best!
Circadian & Infradian Rhythm
Circadian rhythm and infradian rhythm refer to the biological rhythms a person experiences depending on their hormones. Male hormones fluctuate throughout a 24-hour cycle, known as the circadian rhythm, whereas female hormones fluctuate on a 28-32 day cycle, known as the infradian rhythm. They are a part of the four biological rhythms that impact physiological function based on the internal body clock, and by understanding and catering to those rhythms we can feel our best throughout those hormonal cycles.
Cycle Syncing According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Chinese Medicine we view the full month of the menstrual cycle like a calendar year, Each of the four phases (Menstrual, Follicular, Ovulatory and Luteal) has a TCM characteristic (Yin, Yang, Blood, or Qi), a season (Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn), and an element (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth). Just as we view the mind and body holistically with one system impacting another, that is how we view the menstrual seasons. How we act in one season impacts how we feel in another.
Treating the different phases of the menstrual cycle as seasons and applying TCM seasonal recommendations of nutrients, exercise, movement, and mindset helps meet the physiological demands of each hormonal shift
The Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
There are four phases to the menstrual cycle: Follicular, ovulation, luteal, and menstrual. Our bodies perform different functions during each phase and require different nutrients, movement and care. The phases correspond with seasonal changes in TCM and each cycle you can think of your body flowing through spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
The follicular phase is the time after the menstrual bleed is over, and lasts about one week.This phase is related to spring, and it is a time of growth, vitality, trying new things, and a great time for brainstorming and starting new projects. It’s that sudden spark of inspiration. Estrogen begins to increase over the course of the follicular phase, causing feelings of happiness and increased energy to rise. This is related to spring because both the physical uterine lining and mood and energy are growing, renewing and replenishing.
How to support your body during the Follicular Phase:
Nutrition: Right after our period, which is the follicular phase, we need to replenish the Blood and Qi that were lost. It is beneficial to get active to boost Yang energy and eat nourishing foods to replenish Yin. Metabolism is lower at this point, lowering the appetite. Some TCM food therapy recommendations include:
- Sesame seeds, tahini, and sesame oil help to build up spirit (Shen) tonify the blood, and aid digestion.
- Mushrooms strengthen blood and yin.
- Bone broth and collagen-rich meats help to relax the body and build up lost blood from menstruation.
- High quality protein like poultry, eggs, and seafood.
- Sprouted grains tonify yin and calm the spirit.
- Spicy greens or pickled vegetables like kimchi.
Movement: Since energy is typically higher during this phase, feel free to incorporate your favorite cardio and strength training workouts into your routine such as cycling, jogging, boxing, HIIT, or hiking.
Emotional Wellbeing: Representing the energy of Spring, the follicular phase encourages creation, intention setting, trying new things, starting projects, drafting ideas & brainstorming. Leaning into this energy of movement and creativity keeps the qi moving and stops it from stagnating during the luteal phase later in the cycle. Symptoms of Qi stagnation present as pms: irritability, anger, weepiness, frustration, tender breasts, cramping, and cystic acne, so make sure you keep that energy moving in the follicular phase to prevent this.
Herbs: After your period, the best herbs to incorporate into your routine are going to be ones that help your body recover from and prepare for menstruation. Elix's Daily Harmony formula contains these and other herbs and adaptogens to support your everyday wellness throughout your entire cycle.
- Jujube (Da Zao): a tasty way to promote calm and emotional well-being, while supporting digestive health.
- Astragalus Root (Huang Qi): a powerful adaptogen that can flexibly support our body’s ability to adapt to environmental and life stressors.
- Ginseng (Xi Yang Shen): tonifies qi and calms spirit, which is additionally supportive for the cortisol dip during the follicular phase.
- Chaga (Bai Hua Rong): an adaptogenic mushroom that nourishes the liver, kidney and heart—three crucial organ systems that affect our menstrual health—fights fatigue, and clears mental fog.
- Rehmannia: a proven antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant that supports our bodies to prevent future PMS symptoms.
The ovulatory phase begins with a surge in luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone levels. Luteinizing hormone stimulates egg release (ovulation). The estrogen level begins at its peak and then begins to decrease and progesterone increases. This is related to the summer season, because it is when most people have peak energy, need less sleep and are fertile, just as in summer everything is alive and blooming.
How to support your body during ovulation:
Nutrition: During ovulation, estrogen is at its peak, so it is important to get enough nutrients and fiber into our diet with foods like:
- Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale, and cauliflower contain a compound (DIM) that helps get rid of excess estrogen.
- Foods rich in omega 3s like avocados, walnuts and salmon can help with fertility during this time as well.
- While TCM tends to discourage raw food, if there is ever a time for it, the ovulatory phase is it. Digestion is strongest during this phase.
- Herbs and spices like cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, cayenne and chilies encourage healthy movement during this time.
Movement: Energy levels are still high during this time, so feel free to continue those higher intensity workouts!
Emotional Wellbeing: Ovulation is related to the fire element and the season of summer– it's all about connection, joy, relating and putting yourself out there! This is the time to share those creative ideas that sparked in the follicular phase, and find your best collaborators. Although most people have their best energy at this time, if you’re out of balance, you can feel burnt out and socializing or sharing might be difficult. The best way to stoke this fire of ovulation is to ensure you are getting ample rest during the menstrual phase.
Herbs: Continue taking your Daily Harmony formula during this time to keep supporting healthy sleep, digestion, stress response, and overall well being, while building up your energy and Qi to prepare for menstruation.
In the luteal phase, the corpus luteum secretes primary progesterone. After a short drop in estrogen, both estrogen and progesterone increase and peak around the middle of the luteal phase, and then rapidly decline. It is considered the autumn of our cycle because much like the season, during the luteal phase everything begins to slow down and we start to require more rest and nourishing foods, and become more internal.
How to support your body during the luteal phase:
Nutrition: During the luteal phase, our body is getting ready to welcome another menstruation. This is when many PMS symptoms start to trouble us: mood swings, anxiety, irritability, breast tenderness, and so on. These symptoms are related to the Liver in TCM. Making sure that our Liver Qi is flowing smoothly during the luteal phase is the key at this time. Some TCM food therapy recommendations include:
- During this time it is best to limit alcohol and fried foods as much as possible.
- Herbal teas like rose, jasmine, and dandelion.
- Leafy greens like kale, celery, and spinach (try this mood boosting green smoothie!).
- Sweet potatoes and other root vegetables like pumpkins provide fiber to help aid digestion and allow the liver and intestines to flush out excess estrogen (try a sweet potato latte or pumpkin porridge).
- Goji berries help to support liver Qi and nourish the blood to prevent PMS symptoms like cramps, mood swings, and anxiety.
Movement: The luteal phase is when your energy levels start to dip. As fatigue sets in it can be tough to stick to a routine and make healthy, balanced choices. You might feel more tempted to grab that extra cup of coffee, but that can make cramps and breast tenderness worse. Cardio becomes much harder during this phase, so swapping to more gentle workouts is ideal such as pilates, walking, yoga, and stretching can help you get in movement without feeling like you overexerted yourself.
Emotional Wellbeing: Just like the fall season, the luteal phase has a broad range from start to finish. It begins with putting ideas and connections into action, reaping the harvest, and basking in abundance. As the phase continues, energy wanes and it is time to begin winding down and preparing for winter.
This is where symptoms of liver Qi stagnation/PMS can present and usually look like irritability, anger, weepiness, frustration, tender breasts, cramping, and cystic acne, So make sure you keep that energy moving in the follicular phase to prevent this. The luteal phase can also bring out the inner critic. The later half of the luteal phase is related to the part of autumn associated with letting go and grief. This is a time to be finishing up projects. Many find there to be a stark difference between the beginning and end of the luteal phase. It is a time of action, yet mental acuity and ambition begins to decline during the later half of this stage as the body prepares for menstruation.
Herbs: This is the optimum time to take your personalized Cycle Balance formula! We really want to focus on moving Qi and blood at this time, which is the focus of Cycle Balance. While all of our Cycle Balance formulas focus on moving blood and Qi during the luteal phase to prepare for a smooth flowing menstrual phase, your formula is tailored to your additional unique needs such as clearing heat, building Qi, or extra moving properties. Some of the main herbs in our Cycle Balance formulas include:
- Angelica Sinensis (Dang Gui): also known as the 'female ginseng', this herb is a powerful anti-inflammatory that's proven to reduce cramps, regenerate blood cells, regulate menstruation, and stimulate circulation.
- Safflower (Hong Hua): these flower petals reduce inflammation, promote blood circulation, and are especially great for regulating and irregular menstrual cycle.
- Mint (Bo He): so much more than its refreshing flavor, mint is an effective natural pain reliever that's been shown to reduce stress and even help with cramps, bloating, headaches, and digestion.
- Gardenia Pod (Zhi Zi): when it comes to menstrual symptoms, Gardenia Pod is proven to reduce cramping, minimize headaches, combat acne, and moderate mood swings.
During the menstrual phase, progesterone and estrogen drop, and prostaglandins rise to cause uterine contractions to extract the uterine lining. The menstrual phase is the winter of our cycle. This season is related to water, and all about rest, and reflection. Get your socks on, stay warm, delight in saying no to plans, and luxuriate in you.
How to support your body during the menstrual phase:
Nutrition: Just like you would during the winter season, it’s best to eat nutrient dense, comforting food. Think warm nourishing broths and stews, adequate protein and fats, and iron rich foods. We want to help menstruation by gently invigorating the blood and removing stagnation. Some TCM food therapy recommendations include:
- Eat warm and cooked foods only. Try not to have anything raw or iced.
- Beef or chicken bone broth is rich in amino acids and magnesium to help promote better sleep, digestion, and relaxation.
- Iron rich foods such as grass-fed red meats or leafy greens are essential to help replace lost iron and minerals.
- Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C like oranges, kiwis, and bell peppers are essential to help our bodies absorb iron, improve circulation, and aid digestion
- Warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cloves will help to keep things flowing and alleviate cramps and discomfort (try this hormone healthy chai latte!).
Movement: This is when energy levels are at their lowest so it is important to make time for rest—if your body needs that extra hour of sleep to feel better during the day, then go for it! Doing some movement is still ideal to keep the blood moving though, so opt for gentle workouts like yoga, walking and stretching. Rest is key here, if you do not feel up to movement, listen to your body.
Emotional Wellbeing: This is a great time to reflect on the previous month, and allow your body to regenerate. When out of balance, deep seated fears can rise to the surface, but at its core this water season is about innate wisdom, self trust, and is a deeply intuitive time.
Herbs: If you haven’t already finished your Cycle Balance formula, now is the time to do so. The herbs in your personalized formula can continue supporting you throughout your period. We also recommend mixing in our Ginger Aide tincture or having ginger tea during this phase to help warm the body. More than a delightful spice, ginger is clinically proven to ease menstrual cramps as well as reduce nausea & bloating, and has anti-inflammatory & antimicrobial properties.
Tap Into Your Unique Cycle
Our energy levels, mood, productivity, mental health, appetite, creativity, and fertility are all tied to our monthly cycle. By tuning into the various symptoms and fluctuations you experience throughout the month, you can better understand your cycle and use it as a guide to help you tap into your unique strengths all month long.
Let us support you on your cycle syncing journey with a personalized blend of herbs and adaptogens suited to your body’s unique needs. Click here to take our Health Assessment and get started!