Hormonal Fluctuation During the Feminine Cycle
A Drastic Change
Throughout my 20s, my period was the least problematic part of my life. It always came on the 28th day of my cycle, I never experienced breast tenderness or cramps, and I couldn’t have asked for clearer skin. In fact, despite its regularity, the onset of my period in most months caught me off guard, because I had no prior symptoms that alerted me to its arrival.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing now that I’m 33. During a conversation with my sister, I confessed that hormones virtually rule my life on a daily basis. I notice changes with my mood that occur within a 24-hour time frame; one week I’ll feel nice and thin, and another I’ll feel so bloated and heavy that I’m convinced the only thing left is a water-and-carrot diet. And my skin fluctuates from smooth and clear to as red and pimply as an adolescent boy’s.
Age and Hormones
Thankfully, I’m not alone on this roller coaster ride we call life. With each decade that passes, most women notice changes in how they feel both mentally and physically because of hormone fluctuations. In a woman’s 20s, for example, menstruation is more predictable than it is during teen years, and energy and libido both rev on high. Mood is pretty even, and cognitive skills are incredible.
In the 30s, fertility starts to drop along with energy and sex drive. During a woman’s 40s, PMS gets increasingly worse and periods may become unpredictable as menopause approaches. A woman is also less likely to ovulate at this time, although birth control shouldn’t be ditched just yet. The average age of menopause is 51.5, meaning most women in their 50s no longer experience periods.
Regardless of age, however, female hormones go through dramatic peaks and valleys that impact everything from mood and libido to mental clarity and fatigue. To illustrate, during a woman’s 20s and 30s, estrogen and testosterone start at rock bottom on the first day of her period. Just a few hours later, however, estrogen climbs and gives a general sense of happiness, thereby replacing nasty symptoms of weepiness and irritability.
During this time, low hormone levels can make a woman feel tired and also increase the likelihood of headaches. But by mid-week, as estrogen and testosterone rise, energy and endurance also rise.
As week two rolls around, estrogen and testosterone continue to rise, giving ways to feelings of optimism, cheer, and motivation. A woman is more flirtatious and adventurous now than at any other time in her cycle. Energy levels are also up, so most women work quickly and efficiently without feeling fatigued.
In terms of libido, hormone surges make orgasms easier to reach and more intense. Memory and speaking skills are at their highest, and, surprisingly, studies show a woman’s face appears more feminine and symmetrical at this time. Females are thus more likely to attract mates or turn up the heat with the ones they already have. Rising estrogen, however, can bring on anxiety attacks. If this happens, women should try deep breathing or visualization to relax.
Week three begins with ovulation, which cues estrogen and testosterone to plunge. By day three or four, these hormones rise again, even as progesterone climbs all week. The initial dip in estrogen can make women feel sad and ill-tempered, but by the second half of the week a sense of calm returns. The steady rise in progesterone may make some women feel a little blue.
Energy and Mood Bottom Out
Energy levels, unfortunately, drop as estrogen and testosterone fall and progesterone, a hormone known for its sedating effects, rises. Similarly, a woman’s sex drive hits a month-long low, and orgasms are more difficult to reach. Progesterone can also hinder verbal ability, thereby causing women to err while speaking and even forget what they wanted to say. Constipation and bloating are two more side effects of progesterone, both of which can be reduced by boosting water and fiber intake.
Estrogen, testosterone and progesterone take a dive during premenstrual week (week four), and moods can fluctuate from mellow to irritable in an instant. These hormones decrease the brain’s level of serotonin and increase chemicals that oversee the body’s stress response. As a result, energy drops and symptoms like migraines, muscle aches and insomnia kick in. Despite the discomfort associated with an upcoming period, interest in sex may climb as the week goes on.
Once a woman’s period starts, the process begins all over again. Each week, or day, can bring a new set of challenges. And, as in my case, learning to live with the constant ups and downs can be the biggest challenge of all.