Pop quiz: what phase of your menstrual cycle are you in right now? If you're not on your period, you probably have no idea. I'm smack in the middle of my follicular phase. Let me tell you how I know, and why you should care.
When I said "menstrual cycle," the first thing you probably thought about was menstruation. If you've ever had a period, you know that it can come with unpleasant side effects, like cramping, bloating, and a propensity to arrive at inopportune moments. But periods aren't the only part of the cycle that you should be paying attention to. The really interesting stuff happens when you aren't bleeding.
The next time someone calls you "hormonal" during your period, you can tell them that they don't know what they're talking about. The crappy feeling some of us get during menstruation is caused by low hormone levels, not an excess. In fact, it's the variety of cyclical hormonal changes throughout the month that impact the way we look, feel and even act (and this is just as true for men as it is for women).
Since I'm in my follicular phase, I've been eating whatever I want. In the luteal phase, I notice that I'm both hungrier and more sensitive to bloating, so I try to be a little more careful about what I eat. Caffeine also moves through my system more quickly during the follicular phase, so it would be a horrible time for a cleanse; I feel the effects of withdrawal sooner than I would during the luteal phase. I'm also--how should I put this?--horny as hell.
These findings are only the tip of the iceberg. Scientists are learning that estrogen and progesterone have impacts far beyond fertility, playing an important role in protecting your bones, your heart, and your brain. Because of the profound connection between the menstrual cycle and a woman's overall health, in 2015 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists declared it a woman's "fifth vital sign"--as important to her health as her blood pressure or her breath.
Understanding my fifth vital sign is fascinating, but there's also a very practical benefit: when I'm ready to have kids (don't get excited mom, I said when), I'll know exactly when to try. There are only six days of the cycle when it's possible for a woman to conceive, and tracking your cycle can identify all of them. Timing intercourse around a woman's fertile window doubles a couple's chances of getting pregnant.
If the cycle holds such valuable information, why do most of us ignore it? The biggest reason is the Pill--when you're on hormonal birth control, you have no cycle to track. Not to knock the Pill; for nearly 70 years now it has freed women from the constant fear of unplanned pregnancy. But that freedom has and still does cost many of us the chance to experience and understand our natural cycles.
Technology is lifting the veil on the mysteries of "the period" and I'm excited to be at the forefront of a movement to empower women with simple, convenient tools for harnessing the power of cycle tracking to enhance health and well-being. My company, Ava, uses wearable technology to more accurately and easily track a woman's cycle by measuring nine physiological parameters - not just temperature - fed into an algorithm that measures the rise in hormones estradiol and progesterone. Our first product is focused on helping couples detect a woman's fertile window to increase the odds of getting pregnant. But we know this is only the tip of the iceberg for what our sensor bracelet can do to empower women through knowledge of their cycles, including pregnancy monitoring and even contraception someday.
To be honest, I think it's shocking that something like this hasn't been done already. But the male-dominated tech industry isn't exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to the issues that affect women most. We can order dinner, request a ride, or count our steps with our phones, but it's still hard, messy and inconvenient to unveil the most basic information about women's bodies.
The good news is, this is beginning to change. Ava is one of a growing number of companies inventing better, smarter, easier ways to track a woman's cycle. I hope this trend continues, because every woman deserves to experience and understand her natural cycle. What you do with it--get pregnant, live healthier, or simply satisfy your curiosity--is entirely up to you.
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