The Menstrual Phase
STARTS: The day you start bleeding (Day 1).
LASTS: 3 to 7 days.
FUNCTION: If there's no pregnancy, the uterus sheds its lining and hormones are reset for the next cycle.
BENEFITS: Emotionally neutral; your judgement is less influenced by hormones.
RED FLAGS: Physical symptoms (bleeding, cramps) can be irritating and/or depressing.
WHAT HAPPENS: Your period is, literally, the alpha and omega of the menstrual cycle—a time when the progesterone phase is ending, and the estrogen phase is beginning again. "The hormones are at their zero points now," explains Lewis. "This is a time of release and rest." Take some time out now to honor your femininity. "Thousands of years ago there were red tents—women got together to support each other during this process," says Lewis. "Today you can create your own rituals. Take a warm bath. Read a good book. Put on your microwave booties and curl up in front of the fire."
STRENGTHS TO HARNESS: "For many women, the beginning of the bleed comes as a huge relief," says Brizendine. "From the brain's perspective, this is stable ground—you won't be easily distracted." It's a good time to focus on mental tasks—doing your taxes, writing your novel, or solving that level-four Sudoku puzzle. It's also a good time to work through those emotionally charged issues you postponed during your progesterone phase.
PITFALLS TO AVOID: Cramping is possible as the uterus works to expel its lining, and the mess and inconvenience can make some women feel low. But if you're feeling bereft during this time, know that things are on the upswing soon. "By the third day of the period, estrogen begins to rise again," Booth says. "Venus is reborn."
FOODS TO EAT: Booth recommends eating foods full of phytoestrogens like blueberries and raspberries, as well as beans and nuts. "Phytoestrogens will support you through the withdrawal and reset." It's also important to eat warming foods like soups and casseroles, says Lewis. If cravings are your bane, don't ignore them. "Answer them with healthy options, like dark chocolate," she says.
GAMES TO PLAY: Less is best when it comes to exercise. "Don't do anything that involves jumping around or pounding now. Do a little gardening instead," says Barrett. Or try gentle yoga, says Bobby Clennell, author of The Woman's Yoga Book (Rodmell Press, 2007).
SUPPLEMENTS TO TAKE: Oligomeric proanthocyanidin (OPC), an antioxidant, supports the cleansing nature of your period. "OPC is found in many different sources—including extracts of grape seed and citrus peel," says Lewis. She likes a mixed-source powder, such as Mountains OPC–10 (see vitasprings.com). Take one scoop in two ounces of water every day during menses; or take 125 mg in capsule form. Omega-3 supplements can combat cramps and boost mood. "They are antiinflammatory, and boost dopamine and energy," says Booth. Take two 500-mg capsules a day throughout the cycle, and three during your period. Iron supplements are helpful if your periods are heavy since menstruation depletes iron. Booth recommends 50 mg a day of a slow-release formula.
The Menstrual Phase