Hormones & Cycles

Tracking your hormones: how to do it and why?

Among women, each cycle can be different in length and symptoms. Measuring and tracking your hormones is very important not only if you’re trying to get pregnant, but it can also give you health insights. How to identify an irregularity in your cycle if you don’t know what is normal for you?. By tracking your hormones you can better understand your cycle, the length, heaviness of your period, and the symptoms that you might experience, for example, headache, appetite changes, or fatigue (1). On the other hand, in the long term, hormonal imbalances have been associated with chronic health issues such as heart disease (2).

What can sex hormones tell you about your health?

As you might know, sex hormones regulate reproduction, but also have important roles in bone health, brain function, sleep, metabolism, cardiovascular health, skin and hair health, body weight regulation, among others (3). For example, low levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) could reflect problems in the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that controls the pituitary gland (4), while low levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) can indicate malnutrition (5). Therefore, tracking the menstrual cycle can reveal patterns of overall health, giving information for then consulting with your medical health care provider in case of identifying any irregularity.

There are different methods to track your hormones, for example, the fertility awareness method (FAM) or measuring the hormone concentration in urine.

Fertility awareness method (FAM):

This method is based on the collection and registration of different physical parameters through the menstrual cycle that are correlated with hormone levels. The sex hormones are indicators of the time frame on which ovulation occurs (6). One of the parameters that the woman measures is her basal body temperature. This should be done every morning upon awakening at approximately the same hour. An increase in the basal body temperature is related to higher levels of progesterone and estrogen, and the most fertile days correspond to the two or three days before this increase in the basal temperature (6). Another important parameter that is evaluated is the texture, consistency, and color of the cervical mucus. Due to an increase in estrogen, four to seven days before ovulation the cervical mucus is clear, stringy, and can be stretched between two fingers (6).

Measuring the hormone concentration in urine:

In the 1980s the urinary ovulation predictor test to do from home was introduced, and since then is one of the most used methods for women that want to conceive (7). Traditional Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK) measure the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge, which occurs near the time when ovulation takes place. An increase in the LH signals the ovary to release the egg (8). Other hormone measurement devices such as Peal Fertility make a more accurate ovulation determination since it also measure the levels of FSH. This hormone signals the ovaries to start follicle growth at the beginning of each cycle. The follicles contain an egg, and the growing follicle then produces estrogen to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. There is a characteristic drop of FHS levels shortly before ovulation, this allows Pearl to make an even more accurate determination of the fertile window than tests which only test LH.

References:

  1. Focus Booster Blog. Menstrual cycle mapping: How women can improve their productivity and health, period. https://www.focusboosterapp.com/blog/menstrual-cycle-mapping-how-women-can-improve-their-productivity-and-health-period/
  2. ZRT Laboratory. Menstrual Cycle Mapping. https://www.zrtlab.com/test-specialties/menstrual-cycle-mapping/
  3. Thorne. Meet the Sex Hormones and Their Role in Your Health. https://www.thorne.com/take-5-daily/article/meet-the-sex-hormones-and-their-role-in-your-health
  4. MedlinePlus. Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) Levels Test. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/follicle-stimulating-hormone-fsh-levels-test/
  5. MedlinePlus. Luteinizing Hormone (LH) Levels Test. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/luteinizing-hormone-lh-levels-test/
  6. Peters A, Mahdy H. Symptothermal Contraception. [Updated 2020 Nov 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK564316/
  7. Leiva, R. A., Bouchard, T. P., Abdullah, S. H., & Ecochard, R. (2017). Urinary Luteinizing Hormone Tests: Which Concentration Threshold Best Predicts Ovulation?. Frontiers in public health, 5, 320. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2017.00320
  8. University of California San Francisco. Benioff Children’s Hospital. Ovulation home test. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/medical-tests/ovulation-home-test
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