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A Functional Medicine Approach to Cycle Syncing: Comprehensive Hormone Testing, Nutrition, and Supplement Suggestions

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A Functional Medicine Approach to Cycle Syncing: Comprehensive Hormone Testing, Nutrition, and Supplement Suggestions

Ever felt like you're a different person at different parts of your menstrual cycle? You're not alone, and - you're not wrong, physiologically speaking! There's a growing awareness around the importance of considering women's hormones when it comes to health, fitness, and self-care recommendations, with more and more women seeking to learn how to support their ever-changing hormones best.  

A recent study of users of the Flo menstrual cycle tracking app found that 45.2% of women reported a loss of work days due to their menstrual cycle, with a whopping 75% looking for help and insights into how to improve their quality of life. Cycle syncing is a method that teaches women how to consider their hormones when planning their nutrition, exercise, and even self-care, leading to more ease in day-to-day life.


What is Cycle Syncing?

The term "cycle syncing" was originally coined by functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti in her book, WomanCode. Cycle syncing refers to considering your menstrual cycle with regard to nutrition, fitness, self-care, lifestyle habits, and even socialization, adjusting your routines depending on what part of the menstrual cycle you're currently experiencing.  

Cycle syncing considers the natural rhythm of women's hormone profiles that fluctuates over the course of the menstrual cycle, helping women live more in alignment with their physiology. Research around differences in mood, activity levels, stress, nervous system quality, and even nutritional intake and cravings can help women better understand their bodies and hormones. Cycle syncing can be used to create more ease in day-to-day life.  

The Four Phases of Cycle Syncing

The first step in learning how to incorporate cycle syncing is to understand how the menstrual cycle works and build self-awareness around the natural hormone fluctuations that occur as part of a woman's infradian rhythm. While both men and women have a 24-hour circadian rhythm that can impact various hormone cascades, the menstrual cycle is an example of an infradian rhythm (a cycle lasting longer than 24 hours) that can impact energy levels, sleep, mood, and resiliency.  

While many may think of their "cycle" as whether they are currently having or not having a period, it's more complex than that, so the following section will provide a phase-by-phase description of what's really happening with a woman's body.

Menstruation Phase: Self-Care And Rest

The menstruation phase marks Day 1 of the menstrual cycle and can last anywhere from two to seven days. Estrogen is at its lowest point at the start of this phase, which contributes to the fatigue, low energy levels, and mood changes that many women experience.  

1. Importance of self-care during menstruation

As estrogen levels drop, the neurotransmitter serotonin can also decrease, especially in women experiencing symptoms of PMS. Serotonin helps contribute to feelings of overall well-being; combined with the fatigue and changes in cognitive function that can accompany drops in estrogen levels, these physiological changes make it imperative that women create time for self-care during menstruation.

2. Tips for nurturing oneself during this phase

Getting outside in the sun, exercising, good nutrition, and mood-boosting activities like meditation or enjoyable activities are all good forms of self-care that help offset the hormone and brain chemistry changes occurring at the start of menstruation.  

3. Suggestions for activities during this phase

You may feel tired and need more rest during menstruation, and low-impact activities such as walking, hiking, yoga, or Pilates can help offset common symptoms that accompany the onset of menstruation, such as mood changes or water retention.  

Exercise also helps to improve blood flow, which may reduce cramping that can occur during this phase. Studies show there may be a small reduction in exercise performance during this phase; however, a personalized approach to exercise during this phase is recommended - there's ultimately no reason to avoid exercise.

Follicular Phase: Energy And Creativity

The follicular phase has some overlap with menstruation and technically starts on Day 1 of the menstrual cycle. It lasts right up until ovulation, which is generally through day 13 or 14 of a 28-day cycle. In this phase, estrogen rises and brings energy levels and mood stabilization along with it. Estrogen levels have been linked to improved executive function and cognition, as well as a better ability to learn new motor skills and enhanced creativity - making the follicular phase a great time for planning and creative pursuits.

1. Tips for nurturing oneself during this phase

Rising estrogen levels have been shown to confer lower vulnerability to stress, so women may not feel as though they need quite as much "self-care" during this phase. It's a great time to tap into the brainpower and creative flow that estrogen helps to support, whether that be in business or a fun, creative hobby. From a nutritional perspective, including foods that help metabolize estrogen can help keep this hormone from getting too high and creating unwanted symptoms - try adding in cooked cruciferous vegetables, healthy fats such as avocado or flaxseed, and plenty of leafy greens. 

2. Suggestions for activities during this phase

Take advantage of higher energy levels and resiliency and increase exercise intensity during this phase, whether that's with strength training, cardiovascular exercises such as running or swimming, or a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session. 

Estrogen also increases the synthesis of the neuropeptide oxytocin, which makes us more open to socialization and connection with others, so the follicular phase is a great time to plan outings with friends and families or to network and meet new people.

Ovulation Phase: Social and Extroverted

Ovulation is the time when the ovaries release an egg to be fertilized and typically takes place around day 14 or 15 in a 28-day cycle. Estrogen and testosterone levels peak, leading to a surge of energy, good moods, and an increased sense of vitality during this phase. Following the peak in estrogen, a surge of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone in the pituitary gland of the brain help signal the ovaries to release the egg.

1. Tips for nurturing oneself during this phase

Ovulation has also been linked to enhanced creative thinking, so it can be a great time to think big and plan or to take part in a creative activity like painting or dance. Many women feel great during ovulation and may not feel the need for extensive rest or self-care. Continuing to include the estrogen-metabolizing foods mentioned above can help process the surging hormone levels occurring during this phase. 

2. Suggestions for activities during this phase

Peak energy levels lend to the motivation to pursue more intense workouts, whether that's with strength training, a sprint workout, or a kickboxing class.

The peak in various hormones during ovulation primes women to be more social and outgoing and feel more self-confident, making ovulation a good time to meet up with other people or try something new. The brain volume of women actually increases slightly during ovulation - including the hippocampal region of the brain, which is important for social abilities.  

Luteal Phase: Reflection and Self-Care

The luteal phase begins after ovulation (generally around day 15/16 for a 28-day cycle) and continues up until a woman starts her period.  

In this phase, progesterone is produced (so long as ovulation occurs), estrogen peaks again, and testosterone also rises before all three hormones decrease right before your period begins. The luteal phase is typically where some women experience symptoms of PMS and PMDD, often due to relative imbalances between the aforementioned hormones.

Studies show that in the late luteal phase, women produce more cortisol in response to a stressor and can feel more reactive under a high-stress load, making self-care particularly important during this phase. Neurotransmitters like serotonin also tend to decrease in the late luteal phase, which may explain the mood changes many women experience in the days leading up to their period.  

1. Tips for nurturing oneself during this phase

During the luteal phase, it's important to listen to your body and create more space for self-care during stressful times - particularly in the late luteal phase leading up to the start of your period. Eating regularly and including plenty of protein, healthy fats, and high-fiber foods like cruciferous vegetables or root vegetables can help stave off cravings and keep blood sugar balanced. Drinking enough water also helps reduce brain fog and combats water retention that can occur in this phase.  

2. Suggestions for activities during this phase

While some women may experience fatigue later in the luteal phase, for most of this phase, women can benefit from strength training, low-level movements like walking or yoga, or moderate-intensity cardio.

Women may want to focus more on self-care during the luteal phase: scheduling some quiet time, modifying their schedule, or focusing on stress-reducing activities like meditation, breath work, or quality rest.

Benefits of Cycle Syncing

Cycle syncing can help build self-awareness around the monthly fluctuations of women's hormones. Understanding your menstrual cycle can be particularly helpful for those trying to narrow down the ovulation window or those looking to optimize fertility. Additionally, cycle syncing may help reduce symptoms for women dealing with PMS, high-stress levels, anxiety, or PCOS.  

How to Start Cycle Syncing

A simple starting place if you're looking to try out cycle syncing, is to take the time to track your cycle. Tracking your cycle will help you familiarize yourself with each phase of your cycle and help you to build self-awareness around how you feel throughout your cycle.

For those with an irregular cycle that often fluctuates in length, working with a functional medicine practitioner to consider comprehensive hormone testing can help determine any underlying issues that could be contributing to an irregular cycle and can help personalize your cycle-syncing experience.  

Functional Medicine Labs to Test That Are Helpful for Patients Who Are Cycle Syncing

Functional medicine lab testing can be helpful for women looking to improve their overall hormonal health through cycle syncing, especially for those dealing with PMS, PMDD, PCOS, or irregular cycles. Understanding hormone levels and where targeted support is needed can help personalize a cycle-syncing approach to support any symptoms and move toward optimal hormone levels. A few tests that are particularly helpful are highlighted below:

Female Hormone Testing

Understanding baseline hormone levels can be helpful for cycle syncing, especially for someone dealing with hormone-based symptoms like PMS, irregular cycle lengths, or PCOS. A comprehensive female hormone test such as the DUTCH Cycle Mapping test can help you better understand your hormone patterns throughout the menstrual cycle, including whether or not you're ovulating. If any imbalances show up during testing, a functional medicine practitioner can help you personalize your cycle syncing plan to address nutrition, lifestyle, or supplemental strategies to bring your system back into balance.

Adrenal/Cortisol Testing

Because cortisol fluctuations are in part linked to the menstrual cycle, changes in cortisol production and adrenal function may impact sex hormones. Testing 24-hour cortisol production can help women understand how their current lifestyle is impacting their stress response system and how this may be impacting ovulation, hormone-based symptoms like PMS, and other aspects of the menstrual cycle. If stress reduction strategies need to be at the forefront of someone's self-care routines, working with a functional medicine practitioner to evaluate cortisol levels and rhythm can be helpful in creating a personalized plan to optimize the stress response.  

Neurotransmitter Testing

Female hormones like estrogen and progesterone can influence brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and others. Evaluating neurotransmitter levels can be particularly helpful for women suffering from PMDD, as neurotransmitter changes and higher sensitivities to hormone fluctuations can potentially create a need for more personalized approaches to cycle syncing with regard to mood changes.



If you're ready to try cycle syncing, be prepared to give yourself a few months to learn more about your menstrual cycle and feel the effects of syncing lifestyle to female hormonal changes. A functional medicine approach to cycle syncing can be helpful to personalize your cycle syncing plan, particularly if you suspect you may have hormone imbalances contributing to symptoms like PMS, fatigue, or anxiety. Ultimately, cycle syncing is a tool for women to learn how to reconnect with their bodies and create a lifestyle that honors their physiology and leverages hormonal changes for easier flow and balance from day to day.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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