If you’ve been reading my Hormone Horoscopes or Hormonology Tips for any length of time, you’ve probably already caught on that the first half of your cycle–Week 1 and Week 2, which starts with the first day of menstruation and lasts through ovulation–is generally the more awesome half. (Unless you happen to be a “hormonally opposite” woman, which you should read about if you notice you’re not feeling more awesome day by day in your Week 1 & Week 2.)
The reason most of us favor the first half of our cycle comes down to rising estrogen throughout this phase and a last-minute lift in testosterone at the very end, which tends to boost your mood and energy, sharpen your memory and verbal skills, make you think faster on your feet, rev your confidence, spike your libido and generally make your life more pleasant overall.
So, it stands to reason that you might be curious if there are ways to make the first half of your cycle last longer so you can enjoy more of that hormone-fueled goodness.
This is especially true if you have monthly cycles that are a lot shorter than 28 days. That’s because, unfortunately, it’s the first half of your cycle that varies in length while the second half (your Week 3 and Week 4) is a relatively stable 14 days. So, if your cycle is only 21 days, for example, well, that means the first half of your cycle lasts just 7 days. A real cheat, right?
And, if you’re like me and are in your 40s, research shows the first half of your cycle tends to shrink by about three to four days. That’s a pretty lame reward for making it through 25+ years of monthly cycle, don’tcha think?
So, are there ways to make the first half of your cycle last longer? Or forever? (Seriously, I get this question a lot. Like almost on a daily basis.)
Bad news first: There’s no way (that’s safe, feasible or legal) to make the first half of your cycle last forever. That’s like asking if there’s a way you could eat a thousand doughnuts and not gain a pound. It’s just a pipe dream. (Though, come to think of it, if we did send a robot to Mars, maybe scientists could one day find to prolong our Week 1 & Week 2 indefinitely. It’s certainly worth asking them to try.)
Now the good news: After slogging through a mountain of research, I did find one small study from 1994 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism that reveals a way to make the first half of your cycle last two more days.
I’m not going to lie–it’s not effortless. And after all that doughnut talk above, you may not like it:
Adopt a low-fat diet where fat makes up about 20% of your total calories.
Here’s how the researchers discovered this works: They fed 30 women a high-fat diet (fat made up 40% of their total calories) for four months, then switched them to the low-fat diet (20%) for the next four months to determine if fat had any effect on cycle length.
They also monitored their hormone levels to pinpoint where that change would be made in the women’s menstrual cycles.
In the end, they found that when the women were on the low-fat diet, the first half of their cycle lasted about two more days than it did when they were gobbling up a higher amount of fatty foods. (It’s also worth noting that this cycle-lengthening effect kicked in quite quickly.)
While the researchers didn’t have a clear explanation for the link, they pointed to the fact that food intake, dietary fat and body weight can all have a direct influence on the length and regularity of your menstrual cycle.
Sure, two days isn’t a terribly long addition to the first half of your cycle, but it’s still about 48 more hours of rising estrogen awesomeness you might not have otherwise. Hey, I’ll take it!
As for cutting down fat to 20% of your total dietary intake, this can be achieved with a few simple tweaks, such as switching to skim or fat-free versions of dairy products, opting for meat-free or lean meals and swapping fried foods for baked.
Important to note: While cutting down your fat intake is a simple way to lengthen your menstrual cycle (and is also a great heart-healthy habit), don’t go cutting out fat from your diet altogether hoping to tack on more rising estrogen days in the first half of your cycle. Your body and brain actually need a certain amount of fat (preferably from healthy sources, like avocados, nuts and seeds) to function at their best.
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[Photo: Philip Chapman-Bell]