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How to hack your hormones with Dr Zoe

As women, our hormones can play a huge part in our overall health and wellbeing - but there are simple ways we can make them work in our favour. The increasingly popular concept of cycle syncing involves modifying what you eat, how you exercise and even what beauty products you use to match the phase of your menstrual cycle. But does it really work? Dr Zoe is joining us to explain more. 

How can women ‘hack' their hormones?

A woman's menstrual cycle can bring a whole host of negative side effects - including mood swings, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and a change in appetite. But there are ways women can 'hack' their hormonal system - such as cycle syncing - where you align your daily activities, workout routines, and dietary choices with your menstrual cycle, so you can harness the natural rhythms of your body. On tiktok, the hashtag #cyclesyncing has been tagged 125 million times.

What are the different things that hormones can make you feel?

"At certain times of your cycle and when hormones change in your body, the hormones can affect many different things within the body such as brain function, libido, appetite, pain tolerance, acne, metabolism, anxiety levels and much, much more - the list really is endless.

Why is cycle syncing beneficial?

There are different areas to consider when cycle syncing. "Firstly, it's about getting to know you! Working out what works for you, as well as why you feel the way you do. It also takes a bit of diary management and changes to your lifestyle, exercise routine and nutrition. Obtaining knowledge about what's happening at various hormonal stages can help you enhance many aspects of your life. For example, understanding when is the best time to make the most out of your workout and when you should take a rest and focus on rest."

Some people will really see the benefit from trying cycle syncing?

Anyone can benefit from understanding their hormones and getting the best out of their bodies, but this can be particularly beneficial for certain people. "People with certain conditions can benefit more than others, this includes those who have polycystic ovarian syndrome and premenstrual syndrome - as well as those who struggle with their weight, or suffer from heavy periods and low libido."

Compartmentalising your cycle into four stages can help harness those hormones. A normal cycle is around 21-40 days and within a cycle there are 4 phases to pay attention to. In order to hack those Hormones, we need to look at what our bodies are doing in those 4 phases and adapt to what's going on inside.

Phase 1 - The Period Phase (around days 1-8) this starts on the 1st day of your period - and is the bleeding phase, when women may experience cramps, headaches, diarrhoea, nausea and fatigue. "Your productivity will be at its lowest - so go easy on yourself. This is a time for reflection and creativity. When you exercise, opt for low intensity such as walking, stretching, and gentle yoga to promote blood flow. The foods you need in this phase should be comfort foods and food that are high in iron, magnesium, zinc and omega 3. Also, keep hydrated and pamper yourself."

In The Period Phase, moisturise, nourish and avoid exfoliating or waxing. Use an anti-inflammatory raw honey mask to hydrate and calm any existing breakouts. "Low estrogen and progesterone can make skin feel dry and look dull or tired. A rise in prostaglandins hormone can also cause skin to feel more sensitive and inflamed."

Phase 2- The Follicular Phase (around days 8-14): the follicular phase comes after a period, and is the time you're most likely to feel like superwoman! You will feel motivated, energised, confident and high spirited. It's a great time for social events, or perhaps a first date. "This phase is for high productivity and tackling the tough stuff. It's also time for building strength. Studies have shown that stacking strength training here produces better gains, you feel stronger and your muscles adapt much better. Add reps and sets as well as fueling your body with good quality carbs and proteins. This is a time for good sleep and sex too!"

In The Follicular Phase, it's important to maintain and supplement your skin. "As estrogen starts to rise, collagen levels boost, making skin thicker and more elastic - which creates a natural ‘glow'. Now is the time to try new products since your skin is at its best, so exfoliate with lactic acid or fruit enzymes to keep pores free from build-up."

Phase 3 - The Luteal Phase (around days 15-21): the luteal phase comes next, and is when progesterone dominates. You will feel a sense of calm, low anxiety, and slowing of pace. You may have lower motivation, but high brain function so it's the perfect time to complete your 'to do list". "In terms of exercise, in this phase you can increase endurance as your body prefers to burn fat as its fuel source. This phase slows digestion so eat complex carbs, healthy fats and proteins. You may find you have a lower libido."

This phase is all about prevention. "As estrogen and testosterone rise, high levels of luteinising hormone cause an egg to be released. This is the time you can benefit from a facial to deep clean pores before oil increases.

Phase 4 - The Pre-Menstrual Phase (around days 22-28): during this stage, your hormones drop and you lose your anti-anxiety hormone. Productivity is low, so take on smaller tasks, breaking them up. "Focus on relaxing yoga, mood boosting workouts like hiit, or take walks in nature to help with anxiety. Here you want to eat foods that are high in protein which can help manage cravings by supporting your blood sugar balance. You might get disrupted sleep and a varying libido. Scale back your diary and try some meditation here.

In the Pre-Menstrual Phase, try to calm inflammation and control oil. Progesterone peaks which causes skin to swell and pores to tighten. "An imbalance of testosterone can increase oil production, which gets trapped in tight pores, causing pimples to form. Cleanse with a gentle foaming cleanser or oil cleanser. You can use anti-inflammatory spot treatments and calm skin and breakouts with cooling clay masks."

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