Estrogen is also responsible for much more as a young girl's body changes into a woman's. Estrogen, as herbalist Rosemary Gladstar explains, helps shape our secondary sex characteristics, giving us womanly breasts, pubic hair, feminine voices, and broader hips. Estrogen also helps our bones retain calcium, preventing osteoporosis, lifts our spirits and, as Gladstar is so fond of saying, "keeps us moist and juicy!"
This first half of our cycle prepares us for ovulation and reproduction. If our estrogen output is balanced, our bodies and our emotions are ripe with possibilities—we are at our most sensual, our most creative, and our most fertile. If we experience estrogen imbalance, however, says Gladstar, we can face debilitating menstrual cramps, infertility, fibroidic breasts, and radical mood swings.
When we ovulate, according to Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, our bodies give off hormonal signals that we are fertile, sexual, and alive. Most young women—and probably older women too—find it difficult to tell when they are ovulating. First of all, if you don't ovulate, you can't tell when your period is due—it just shows up, and not necessarily on a schedule. Usually, one tell-tale sign around the 15th or 16th day of your cycle is a watery, whitish vaginal discharge. This "fertile flow" signals additional hormonal fluctuations, called premenstrual molimina, that include bloating, swollen or tender breasts, and moodiness, as progesterone production increases. Some women even get a crampy feeling in one ovary midmonth.
During the second half of our cycle, the luteinizing phase, our bodies prepare for the possibility of pregnancy. The hormone progesterone helps that happen. Manufactured in the corpus luteum (a kind of temporary womb), progesterone brings nourishment to the uterus through increased blood flow and forms a thick mucus plug at the opening of the cervix to keep bacteria out. If pregnancy does not occur, estrogen and progesterone production plummets and the corpus luteum dissolves and is shed as menstrual blood.
If progesterone production is balanced, many women feel reflective, intuitive, and in touch with their dreams during this time. If too much is present, progesterone can cause women to feel depressed and lethargic and not the least bit sexually attractive.
To complete the monthly housecleaning we call menstruation, our bodies call upon the liver and kidneys to rid the system of excess hormones and accumulated toxins. If either organ is overburdened by an unhealthy lifestyle, it can't do its job effectively and the unprocessed hormones get reabsorbed into the bloodstream to wreak havoc.
ayurveda">Ayurvedic physicians teach us that women have a distinct advantage over men by bleeding every month. According to Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., director of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Wellness Center in Washington, D.C., menstruation purifies the body every 25 to 35 days, gathering all the toxins that have built up over the month and moving them out of the body along with the menstrual blood. Ayurvedic physician and scholar Robert Svoboda, thinks that this monthly cleansing process may be why women generally live longer than men.