The Progesterone Phase
STARTS: At ovulation, which happens around Day 14 of your cycle (that's 14 days after the first day of your period for many women, though cycles vary).
LASTS: Roughly two weeks.
FUNCTION: The body shifts gears to protect any possible pregnancy.
BENEFITS: Progesterone is calming and sedating; you'll feel more contemplative.
RED FLAGS: Sluggishness and emotional volatility are possible.
WHAT HAPPENS: The progesterone phase begins at ovulation, around Day 14 of your cycle (or two weeks after your period starts). The body releases each egg from its own protective sack, called the follicle. As the egg waits for fertilization, the sack turns into the corpus luteum, a temporary endocrine gland that exists to pump progesterone into the system, which it does for two weeks. The progesterone phase is wise, protective Minerva. "Ovulation occurs, and your body assumes there's a pregnancy, so it starts marshaling forces to protect the embryo," explains Booth. "You become more insulin resistant in order to increase the availability of blood sugar to the assumed fetus. Metabolically, you need to be careful." If there's no baby, your body sheds the uterine lining to prepare for next time. "The goddesses depart around Day 25, and hormone levels drop," Booth says.
STRENGTHS TO HARNESS: Honor the reflective nature and inward energy you're experiencing. "This is an excellent opportunity to see the beauty of yourself as a vessel," Booth says, "whether you become pregnant or not."
PITFALLS TO AVOID: The drop in hormone levels at the end of the progesterone phase leads to a withdrawal, notes Brizendine, causing the mood changes associated with PMS. "As the calming hormone progesterone declines in the brain, you can become more irritable," she explains. "About 80 percent of women will cry more easily and have angry outbursts." Brizendine counsels her couples to avoid conflict now. Important discussions, relationship confrontations, and life-altering decisions can wait. "I tell them to write their issues on three-by-five cards and discuss them after the period starts," she says.
FOODS TO EAT: "Since progesterone increases insulin resistance, eat whole-grain carbs and plenty of protein," says Booth. "Beans and hummus are especially good." If bloating is a problem, cut salt and eat potassium-rich foods like bananas, potatoes, beets, winter squash, and vitamin-fortified cereal," says Stram. And don't eat excess calories right now, says Lona Sandon, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
GAMES TO PLAY: Get plenty of cardiovascular exercise to offset the increase in appetite of this phase. "If you're concerned about weight gain, increase your exercise by 15 minutes a day," says Brizendine. Stick to low-intensity, long-duration cardio, suggests Barrett. Yoga is especially good for stress you may feel during the second half of the menstrual cycle, when sensitivity is high.
SUPPLEMENTS TO TAKE: Phytoestrogen supplements can offset the negative metabolic effects of progesterone, and moderate the withdrawal from estrogen, says Booth. She recommends 50 to 70 mg of a mixed isoflavone supplement (such as Estroven) once daily throughout your period and progesterone phases. If PMS is a problem, Stram suggests chasteberry (or vitex), which can ease breast tenderness, edema, and constipation. It also has mood-enhancing effects. Take 20 to 40 mg a day during the mid–cycle. For another mood enhancer, try vitamin B6. Take 50 to 100 mg three days before menstruation; stop three days after bleeding starts.
The Progesterone Phase