Follicular Phase: An Introductory Guide and Diets to Follow
October 13, 2022
October 13, 2022
Women’s bodies undergo various hormonal changes like the follicular phase which demands different food habits. Women experience a regular menstrual cycle that starts mostly from the early teenage years and can last till the late 40s and early 50s. In some cases, it can last until sixty. It represents women’s reproductive health. Menstruation transcends women from their puberty to adolescence.
Menarche marks the beginning of the menstrual cycle for the first time during puberty, and research has revealed that it occurs between the age of 10 to 16 years. The normal ovulatory cycle lasts for 21-35 days, and the menstrual flow continues for 2-7 days. In the initial years, irregular menstrual cycles are quite usual.
Research has revealed that 75% of girls experience delayed, painful, and irregular menstrual cycles with heavy blood flow. However, studies have shown that various environmental and lifestyle factors are responsible for this irregularity and discomfort.
During the menstrual cycle, the body needs extra calories and micro and macronutrients to maintain the physical activity and energy level. Carbohydrate intakes in the follicular phase and protein intake in the luteal phase are significant in the research findings. Therefore, a proper diet plan is necessary to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle in our bodies.
According to researchers, the follicular phase is the initial stage of the menstrual cycle, which includes developing the ovarian follicles and preparing the body for the ovulation phase. Also known as the proliferative stage, the inner lining of the uterus gets thicker to meet the condition for a possible pregnancy.
Menstruation has three phases, follicular phase, ovulation, and luteal phase. The duration of the follicular phase depends on the course of the menstrual cycle in the individual’s body. On average, 14 days. The follicular phase starts on the first day of our menstrual cycle and ends before the ovulation period. Meanwhile, it prepares the body for the ovulation period, when the body releases an egg for fertilisation. The follicular phase includes three hormones’ influential actions: follicular stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen, progesterone, and inhibin A.
After one cycle of menstruation ends, oestrogen, progesterone, and inhibin A levels decrease as the corpus luteum breaks down. The corpus luteum is a yellow hormone-secretion follicle of the human body that releases the ovum in the stage of ovulation. The size of the corpus luteum varies on individual levels, and its secrets are estrogen and progesterone hormones which play an essential role in the whole process. The FSH level differs from one person to another. It produces more active follicles in the ovaries. The more follicles in the follicle production, the faster the follicular phase will end. Then, it leads to the ovulation phase with immature follicles.
The mid-follicular stage includes the selection of the dominant follicle that will secrete the highest amount of FSH hormone and promote growth and ovulation. It will suppress the rest of the follicles. The follicular phase ends when our body undergoes a surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH), and the ovulation stage begins after that.
Within the fourteen days follicular cycle, the estradiol hormone gets increased concentration. It eventually influences the inner layer of the uterus. You can further divide the proliferative stage into three stages. The first stage includes regeneration of the inner layer of the uterus, which is called the endometrium. The endometrium will consist of the appearance of glands. These glands consist of columnar epithelium cells. In the final stage, the glands will come close, making the inner wall of the uterus thicker than before. It will create a hostile environment for fertilisation of the ovum and possible pregnancy.
Research has shown that calorie intake is more significant in the luteal phase than in the follicular phase. It happens due to the stimulatory effects of two major hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Research on 259 women aged 18-44 years to monitor the macronutrients, micronutrients, protein, and calorie intakes during different menstrual cycle phases. The following results came out after the research works:
The results displayed an average amount of nutrient requirements during the follicular phase. In addition, the need for various nutrients is comparatively more in the follicular phase than in the other stages of the menstrual cycle.
The same research found a craving score among all the women participants according to their tastes and likings. Every time a woman goes through a menstrual cycle, she craves one or more than one thing or tastes that can influence her mood. The constant change in their appetite and likings are the main reason behind this kind of craving. Women crave various things during their menstrual cycle like chocolate, sweets in general, salty food, spicy foods, and others. Therefore, the researchers have discovered the cravings score to categorise the kinds of cravings women usually have:
After the results of the craving score, researchers deduced that there is a comparatively higher craving score in the late luteal phase than in the other stages of the menstrual cycle. The follicular phase showed average cravings for all types of foods.
Research has shown that women’s dietary intake during their menstrual cycle is comparatively low than the prescribed amount of carbohydrate, fat, protein, and micro and macronutrients. The menstrual cravers often experience guilt for the cravings and restricting their diet. Women subconsciously limit their dietary patterns, and it has other psychological consequences. These food restrictions affect health and weight’s emotional and cognitive issues.
The cravings that researchers call “intuitive eating” bring on more health issues. Due to their intuitive eating, they are consuming foods rich in carbohydrates and fat in the place of healthy and nutritious food. The nutrition here gets compromised due to the psychological desires for particular food items.
Therefore, dietitians and researchers have advised the following nutritious options to include during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle:
Fibre is essential for digestive purposes and hence really good for menstrual health. It increases digestion. Foods like whole grains, brown rice, oats, root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, leguminous vegetables like beans and lentils, and fruits like oranges and pears are rich in fibre and help indigestion.
The magnesium level during the follicular phase decreases. Therefore, eating magnesium-rich foods can help increase its level in our body. It also helps in metabolising estrogen. Foods like almonds, cashew, spinach, kernels, and peanuts are good options.
There are some essential fatty acids that women’s bodies need. It helps in reducing the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). The high proportion of FSH can complicate the process, and people also use omega-3 fatty acids to treat the polycystic ovarian syndrome. There are ample food options available that can be a good source for acquiring the Omega-3 fatty acid. Like, walnuts, Brazilian nuts, salmon fish, flax seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, avocado etc.
Plant-based nutrients are all-time good foods to go for. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibres. In addition, many plant-based food items contain phytoestrogens. It helps in reducing the levels of estrogen in our bodies. Excessive estrogen levels can cause a heavy blood flow, affecting our bodies. Therefore, phytoestrogens can be the only relief to reduce estrogen levels in the body. There are numerous food options containing phytoestrogens like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, garlic, tofu, dried fruits, etc.
Iron-rich foods are suitable for this phase mainly because research suggests including an increased amount of iron, zinc, and vitamin D can increase energy and elevate the production of red blood cells. Examples include spinach, beans, figs, dates, raisins, prunes, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, chicken liver, tofu, tempeh, etc.
Research supports lactobacilli plays a crucial role in the menstruation cycle. During menstruation phases and throughout life, it helps women stay fit and healthy. Healthy bacteria in the gut assist in balancing estrogen hormone metabolism. Examples include sauerkraut, yoghurt, tempeh, kefir, kimchi, etc.
Vitamin D-rich foods or supplementation reduces backache, mood swings, abdominal cramps, or dysmenorrhea. In addition, studies prove that an increased serum vitamin D level may positively relate to menstrual disorders. Some vitamin D-rich foods include wild salmon, cod liver oil, liver, tuna fish, sardines, etc.
Research suggests zinc reduces period pain. In addition, its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties improve blood flow, thereby reducing inflammatory agents in the bloodstream and preventing cramps.
Other food options can be considered suitable for the follicular and menstrual phases. Such as sprouted and fermented foods, squash, green peas, sweet potatoes, chicken breasts, etc. These are rich in protein and fibre.
There are uncountable food options to opt for, but there are some exercises too, which can help in improving menstrual cramps and keep the body healthy to go through the menstrual cycle. There are different exercises for the different phases of the menstrual cycle. Like,
Resting and pampering your own body is the best way to go through the menstrual phase. A relaxing nature walk over grass barefoot or some meditative yoga can be magnificent. It would be best if you took good care of yourself mentally in this phase.
A light run, hiking, and yoga can be great options. Yoga is considered one of the best exercises for the peace of your mind and body during this phase. In addition, deep breathing, meditation, and mindful yoga practice may aid in easing cramping and aching.
A high-intensity workout during this period is needed. Our body will experience elevated oestrogen levels during this phase, and we need to balance this through these workouts.
Our body will notice a hike in progesterone levels during this phase. Therefore, heavy workouts and intensive yogas are best to keep our bodies healthy and balanced.
We have several hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, and our bodies need different balanced nutrition for that. So our bodies go through four different stages, and each stage has additional requirements.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fat are nutrients that play a significant role during the menstrual cycle. The dietitians recommend high phytoestrogen, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acid, and green vegetables to eat during the follicular phase. We do not need to take medications to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle. We can twist our food habits a little bit and include exercise in our daily routine. It keeps our bodies fit and active even during the follicular phase.
A. The follicular phase prepares the body for a possible pregnancy. It helps in thickening the inner skin of our uterus. Hence, the uterus becomes more adaptive in case of pregnancy.
A. The follicular phase lasts for 11 to 27 days but, on average, 16 days. It starts on the first day of the menstrual cycle and ends when the body begins ovulating.
A. There is no fixed period to get pregnant or avoid it. Without contraception or protection, pregnancy may occur anytime during the menstrual cycle. When our body starts ovulating, the chances of pregnancy can get higher than on other days.
A. In the follicular stage, the dominant follicle starts to grow, and the Graafian follicle goes for the ovulatory phase.
A. In the follicular phase, the initial stage of the menstrual cycle includes the development of the ovarian follicles and prepares the body for the ovulation phase.
A. There are plenty of ways to increase the follicle size without harming your body. For example, we can eat foods rich in antioxidants and high-fat dairy products. In addition, we can consume a larger breakfast and avoid foods that contain trans fat, lower carbohydrate dietary plans, etc. These are popular and healthy ways to increase follicle size.
A. When the estrogen levels reach its upper circuit, the ovum becomes ready for release. Then, the brain produces luteinising hormone (LH), which sparks ovulation. Therefore, it takes around 24 hours to ovulate and release the ovum.
A. You can trace oestrogen levels through the urine and blood sample. However, you can only do it at clinical laboratories. You cannot do it at home. However, you can do the saliva test at home.
A. There are different outcomes for different bodies. On average, 28 days are considered widely normal. However, this ranges from 21to 40 days which is also normal.
A. There are a few tests that can measure our egg counts. However, two significant ways to measure the egg counts are antral follicle count and AMH (anti-Mullerian hormone) test. In the antral follicle test, ultrasound helps count the eggs.