Biohacking Your Menstrual Cycle
Women can use biohacking to understand the science behind each phase of their menstrual cycle, giving them tools to adapt their lifestyles — from what they eat to how they exercise to the phases of their cycle.
By Rachel Norman
What is biohacking?
Biohacking, a method to “upgrade” your body by altering your lifestyle and diet, is a term often used in relation to high-powered entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who use biology to extract every bit of productivity out of their days. Not only is this term often associated with men, it also seems limited to certain niche fads — like bulletproof coffee — to allegedly create miraculous changes within your body. For example, one extreme biohacking claim is that injecting the chemical Chlorin e6 into your eyes can result in night vision (do not do this), while another more realistic, scientifically-backed claim is that reducing blue light exposure before bed improves sleep quality.
Biohacking and menstrual cycles
Whether or not all the biohacking claims are true remains to be seen; however, one trend in biohacking grounded in scientific evidence and applicable specifically to women is “cycle syncing.” Each phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle creates significant changes in the brain and body. By understanding these changes, a woman can use them to adapt her lifestyle to the phase of her menstrual cycle — aka cycle syncing. This can either reduce menstrual cycle symptoms or allow women to use these symptoms to their advantage.
The first phase of the menstrual cycle, menstruation, starts on the first day of bleeding. During this phase, the most obvious physical change is the bleeding, which can happen for four to eight days. A woman is shedding the tissue lining of her uterus at this time. Her estrogen and progesterone levels are very low, which is one reason some women may feel emotional or depressed during this phase. One of estrogen’s roles is producing serotonin and releasing endorphins, so when it is at its lowest, women are more likely to feel depressed. Biohacking during menstruation may include:
- Understanding the reasons behind emotional changes and using a combination of meditation, yoga, or other stress-relieving activities to combat these changes
- Increasing iron intake
- This is essential when a woman is losing blood during menstruation.
- Taking iron supplements only during menstruation does help improve hemoglobin concentration in the blood; however, taking iron supplements throughout the whole menstrual cycle causes a higher rate of improvement
- Self reflection and setting future goals can aid productivity even when a woman may not feel her best and have lower energy levels
The follicular phase technically starts on the first day of menstruation. However, for the sake of separating the menstrual cycle into clear phases in the body, the follicular phase starts when menstruation ends. Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) causes the growth of several follicles, which are small “beads” on the surface of the ovaries. When the bleeding stops, one of these follicles will continue growing while the others “die,” around day ten. The follicle that continues growing contains an egg that, if fertilized, will grow into a baby. This follicle releases high amounts of estrogen, as do the ovaries, so a woman will generally feel motivated during this time and have higher energy. Right before ovulation, at the end of the follicular phase, a woman’s estrogen level is at its highest. Biohacking during the follicular phase may include:
- Doing higher intensity workouts such as HIIT, cycling, or running
- Scheduling meetings and highly-social events at this time because women tend to feel more productive during the follicular phase
- Trying new activities because estrogen and energy levels are higher
Ovulation begins around day 14, when the luteinizing hormone (LH) levels peak. This hormone causes the follicle to release its egg, which will migrate to the uterus and once in the uterus, will die in approximately 24 hours unless it is fertilized. For this reason, the ovulation phase is the best time to try to get pregnant. To determine when ovulation happens and from there, determine the timing of each phase in your cycle, you can use ovulation tests. These test for LH levels because ovulation occurs 36 hours after the LH surge. As estrogen declines following the peak in the follicular phase, examples of beneficial biohacking may include:
- Finishing projects and meeting deadlines before their body experiences its lowest estrogen levels in the luteal phase
- Eating foods high in zinc, since it is necessary for both ovulation and fertilization of the egg
- Foods like pumpkin seeds and nuts are high in zinc.
- The body’s natural production of zinc is at its lowest during ovulation, which is why outside supplementation is important.
Scheduling date night during the first few days of ovulation, because libido increases at this time
The luteal phase, the final of the four phases, begins when the follicle bursts, so it overlaps with ovulation. The remains of this follicle stay on the ovary’s surface and release progesterone and estrogen, which both cause the uterus lining to thicken in preparation for a fertilized egg. If and when that egg does not get fertilized, it causes the body to shed the uterine lining, which begins menstruation and brings us full cycle.The hormones sharply decrease from their peak levels during follicular phase, so this drop in hormones can cause feelings of anxiety, depression, or anger often associated with premenstrual syndrome. Biohacking during the luteal phase may include:
- Working in concentrated bursts or doing shorter tasks rather than working at 100% effort all day, since it may be more difficult to concentrate for long periods of time
- Eating foods high with omega-3 fatty acids at the end of the luteal phase, which can alleviate both the mental and physical symptoms of PMS
- Various seafoods such as herring, salmon, and oysters are high in omega-3. For those who don’t eat or don’t like seafood, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans have a high dose of omega-3 fatty acid
- The amount of energy required by women is also higher during the end of the luteal phase, right before menstruation starts, so don’t feel guilty about eating an extra slice of cake!
How cycle syncing can help with trying to conceive
Cycle syncing not only helps you optimize each phase of your cycle, but can also help with pregnancy efforts. By being aware of when each phase of your menstrual cycle occurs, you can optimize for pregnancy when you’re ovulating. Finding out when you’re ovulating is easy using Natalist Ovulation Tests.
How to use cycle syncing for getting in touch with you body after coming off of hormonal birth control
Cycle syncing is not applicable if you use hormonal birth control since it suppresses hormonal changes and prevents ovulation. However, when a woman comes off of birth control, her first few cycles may be irregular, so using cycle syncing as a menstrual cycle tracker and noting how you feel during each, can help your body and mind readjust to your period.
Biohacking your body can be used to help reduce the symptoms of hormonal fluctuations during your menstrual cycle, such as insomnia, hormonal acne, severe PMS, or bloating, but should never replace a visit to your doctor if the issues are abnormal. Learn more about specific seeds you can eat during your cycle here, read about nutrition and its effects on fertility here, and review what exactly the hormone progesterone does here.