Hormones are like a roller coaster. Their monthly ups and downs can leave you feeling exhilarated then irritable, energized then exhausted. If you're not in tune with them, it's easy to feel you're careening out of control. But get familiar with the peaks and valleys, and your monthly cycle will be an entirely different experience. You can start to relax, even have a little fun—really enjoy the ride instead of dreading it.
"Our menstrual cycles are a beautiful interplay of complementary opposites," explains Susan Lark, M.D., author of Dr. Susan Lark's Hormone Revolution (Portola, 2007). "Estrogen is a growth-stimulation hormone, which thickens the lining of the uterus; progesterone helps tissues mature and limits their growth. Estrogen is elevating and energizing; progesterone is sedating. One is not better than the other—you need both."
With a little knowledge, you can harness the power of your hormones and make them work for you. "Most women don't learn much about the menstrual cycle until they're facing fertility issues," says Rebecca Booth, M.D, author of The Venus Week: Discover the Powerful Secret of Your Cycle at Any Age (Da Capo, 2008). "But everyone can benefit from understanding what happens during the three main phases: estrogen dominance (the Venus phase), progesterone dominance (the Minerva phase), and menstruation."
To help you benefit, we've created a user's guide to the menstrual cycle, with strategies for feeling your best every day of the month.