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Is Cycle Syncing the Best Way to Balance Hormones?

A Step-By-Step Guide to Ease Hormone-Related Symptoms

Bloating, cramps, headaches, and mood changes can make life less enjoyable and keep you from doing the things you love. If you struggle with these and other hormone imbalance symptoms, you may be considering cycle syncing. This wellness trend promises to offset the hormonal roller coaster ride women are on each month, but how successful is it and does it have any science to back it up?

In this article, we’ll define what cycle syncing is and how it’s done. And, (spoiler alert!) since there’s not much research to support its use, we’ll also dive into the science-backed alternatives we use in the clinic for improving the symptoms of female hormone imbalance.

What is Cycle Syncing?

The cycle-syncing wellness trend (developed by Alisa Vitti, a holistic health counselor) encourages women to adjust their diet and lifestyle practices based on the phases of their menstrual cycle. 

The idea is that by aligning behaviors with menstrual cycle phases, it may be possible to find relief from hormone-related symptoms (especially for those with polycystic ovary syndrome) while also boosting energy and mood, and enhancing fertility [1]. Cycle syncing is also touted to improve recovery, mindfulness, and body awareness, as well as enhance progress on health and wellness goals [2, 3]. 

To better understand why cycle syncing was developed, let’s review how female hormones change during the menstrual cycle and the symptoms women can experience when hormones are out of balance. 

Menstrual Cycle 101

In the clinic, we consult with women of all ages, and it’s rare that we encounter one who hasn’t experienced at least one nagging symptom related to her menstrual cycle. So, let me review the purpose of the menstrual cycle and its various phases.

The monthly menstrual cycle prepares a woman’s body for pregnancy [4]. It generally starts around the age of 12 and continues until a woman reaches menopause (approximately 51 years old) [4]. The average cycle length is 28 days (but can range from 21–35 days).

During each monthly cycle, hormones (estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone) cause recurring changes in the uterus and ovaries [4]. 
Here’s a brief explanation of the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle [5, 6]:

Cycle Syncing

As you can see, this is a very complex process with lots of room for error. When hormone levels are off, a woman’s health and quality of life can be significantly impacted. 

Most often, during the luteal phase, women can experience premenstrual syndrome symptoms (PMS) that include [7] :

  • Appetite changes
  • Weight gain
  • Pain and cramping
  • Headaches
  • Breast swelling and tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Mood swings
  • Crying
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and anger
  • Depression

But even more severe PMS symptoms referred to as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) [8], dysmenorrhea (painful periods) [9], and abnormal bleeding [10] can all occur.

Supporting hormone balance is a great way to minimize the impact of the menstrual cycle. Cycle syncing promises to fill this gap, so how is it done, and is there any research to support it? 

Cycle Syncing in Practice

When it comes to cycle syncing, there’s a lack of scientific research specifically supporting its effectiveness. 

There is some evidence that fluctuating hormones during the menstrual cycle can influence things like food preferences, appetite, and how many calories are burned [11, 12, 13]. Additionally, menstrual cycle phases may impact exercise performance. For example:

  • The menstrual phase may decrease exercise performance when compared to other phases of the cycle related to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS—the discomfort felt 24–48 hours after intense exercise) and strength loss [14, 15]. 
  • High-intensity strength training during the late follicular phase (when estrogen levels are on the rise and peak) might lead to greater gains in muscle mass compared to training in the late luteal phase [16, 17]. 
  • Training in the mid-luteal phase (when progesterone and estrogen levels are higher)  might lower the chances of DOMS [15]. 

Cycle syncing suggests that using this information to guide your diet and lifestyle choices can optimize how you feel and your fitness results. Here’s a table describing the various steps of cycle syncing [1, 2]

Step Description
Choose the tracking method The creator of cycle syncing developed the FLO app [18] as one option but there are others like Clue [19] and Ovia Fertility [20]. If apps aren’t appealing, pen and paper are an option.
Record daily observations

Take note of various aspects of well-being, here are some examples:

  • General mood (happy, irritable, sad?)
  • Energy level (track energy fluctuations throughout the day and how they correlate with different activities)
  • Focus and mental clarity (can you concentrate and complete cognitive tasks?)
  • Sleep (quality, duration, do you feel rested?)Physical changes and symptoms (digestion, skin, weight, pain)
  • Nutrition (consider keeping a food diary and logging appetite changes and cravings) 
Analyze the trends After a few cycles, review the notes to identify patterns or trends. Look for changes that correlate with different phases of the menstrual cycle.
Align your activities Begin to tailor activities to match the phases of your cycle and the way you’re feeling. 
Adjust as needed Cycle effects can change over time, so it’s important to continue tracking and adjusting activities as necessary.

All of this is fairly straightforward—you’re monitoring how you feel throughout your cycle and looking for trends. But how do you align your daily activities based on the data you collect? Here’s a general framework for how you might put cycle syncing into practice:

Cycle Syncing

As you can see, this looks somewhat daunting and may not fit easily into your lifestyle. If cycle syncing has been working for you, that’s great—there’s no need to stop. If you’re trying to decide whether you want to give it a go or not, there may be some potential drawbacks to consider.

Cycle Syncing: Potential Drawbacks

Research is limited, so it’s difficult to say how much hormonal fluctuations impact things like nutrition and exercise during the menstrual cycle. We also don’t know if changing what you eat or how you exercise based on your cycle phase significantly impacts your symptoms. Additionally, not everyone experiences the same hormonal patterns each cycle, and cycles may vary each month, because of external factors like stress, exercise, and lifestyle [21]. 

There are many benefits (like being more in tune with your mood and taking control of fertility outcomes) to tracking your cycle and listening to your body. But trying to match your activities with your menstrual cycle phases may have some drawbacks:

  • Hormonal fluctuations are common and no two menstrual cycles are exactly the same, especially for women with hormone imbalances. Cycle syncing may be discouraging for some women who feel they’re doing all the “right” things yet still experience negative symptoms. 
  • Adapting diet and routine for four different menstrual cycle phases each month seems cumbersome and may be difficult for some women to implement. 

Aside from being difficult to put into practice and possibly discouraging, cycle syncing may hinder exercise and fitness goals. Cycle syncing may discourage women from certain types of exercise, for example, many plans recommend high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts once a week with low-intensity exercises like yoga or Pilates for up to 14 days of the menstrual cycle. And adequate resistance and strength training, which are crucial for gut, bone, and muscle health, may be discouraged. 

Research has confirmed the physical and mental health benefits of exercise even during low-energy menstrual cycle phases [22, 23] —if she’s cycle syncing, a woman may feel the need to alter her exercise routines and fitness goals during certain times of the month.

I’m not for or against cycle syncing—my goal as a practitioner is to help you improve your quality of life with easy-to-implement, evidence-based strategies. Cycle syncing doesn’t yet have research to support its claims, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in monitoring your menstrual cycle and practicing healthy lifestyle habits to support hormone balance. 

Now, let me share how we go about empowering women to take control of their menstrual cycle symptoms in the clinic. 

Supporting Hormone Balance: A Step-By-Step Guide

In my clinical experience, women with significant menstrual cycle symptoms tend to have gut imbalances [24, 25, 26, 27], and unmanaged stress [5, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33]. When we tackle both of these with foundational strategies, women often find freedom from their symptoms.

As I discuss in Healthy Gut, Healthy You, there’s an interplay and bidirectional feedback between the gut and female hormones and vice versa. In the clinic, we’ve noticed that symptoms of PMS like pain and swelling can get much better when gut health is improved. So, this is why we tend to start with gut health foundations first, give the body some time to adjust, and then reassess. 

Our patient Kacheena is a beautiful example of this approach. She struggled for over 20 years with both PMS and IBS symptoms. Kacheena shared that during her menstrual cycle, she had severe PMS and excruciating pain to the point of discussing a hysterectomy with her OB/GYN.

She did some research on her own and decided to try a liquid elemental diet (Elemental Heal). She replaced only her breakfast meal with the liquid formula for 14 days and started to notice a significant improvement in her symptoms during the following menstrual cycle. She continued this hybrid approach and noted that after a few months, the symptoms she had experienced for years were completely gone and she was no longer considering surgery. 

I suspect Kacheena was experiencing gut dysbiosis and the elemental formula may have improved her gut microbial balance leading to symptom improvement. Kacheena’s story is powerful because she didn’t have to make major lifestyle changes, track everything she ate, alter her exercise habits, or have expensive testing or surgery to find a solution.

You can hear more about Kacheena’s story here:

I’m not suggesting the elemental diet approach is a cure-all for menstrual cycle symptoms, it’s just one tool we use in the clinic. Here’s a simple step-by-step approach to consider when trying to improve menstrual cycle symptoms.

Step One: Diet

Diet is one of the most impactful strategies for improving your overall health and hormonal balance

There doesn’t appear to be enough research to support eating specific foods based on the phase of the menstrual cycle [34, 35]. But it’s important to consume adequate nutrients like vitamins (D, K, B1, B2, and B6), minerals (calcium, magnesium, and zinc), and healthy fats to help manage period pain and other symptoms [36, 37, 38, 39, 40].

Consuming a whole-foods, anti-inflammatory diet that includes fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, meat, poultry, and whole grains, and limits ultra-processed foods, excess sugar, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol has been found to significantly improve PMS symptoms [29, 41, 42, 43]. 

I’m not firmly planted in any one dietary camp—I encourage my clients to find what works best for their body. If you’re new to making diet-related changes, the Mediterranean diet may be a great place to start. It may also be worth it to seek out a registered dietitian or certified nutrition specialist who can tailor your meal plan to your goals.

Step Two: Exercise

As a clinician for many years in the integrative and functional medicine space, I’ve noticed that exercise recommendations have generally taken a back seat to testing and supplements. But moving and challenging your body is crucial for your overall health and healthy aging [44]. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to exercise for balancing female hormones. But walking is the foundation of fitness, so I encourage my clients to walk as much and as often as they can (preferably outside in nature).

Once the foundation of walking is set, consider devoting 30–60 minutes, 5–6 days a week to various cardiovascular and strength training exercises. If you’re new to exercising, it may be helpful to work with an exercise professional who can develop a plan for you.

Step Three: Self-Care

I mentioned earlier that unmanaged stress is a significant contributor to the symptoms of female hormone imbalance. If you’re wondering why, stress can destabilize sex hormones contributing to menstrual cramps and pain, especially when combined with a poor diet and lack of sleep during the second half of the menstrual cycle [28, 29]. 

Constant stress may also rob your body of the raw materials it needs to create sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone [5, 32, 33], and disrupt digestive function [31]. 

Balancing stress is a key factor for improving hormonal imbalances. Two high-quality studies suggest that reducing stress with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and coping skills training can improve PMS symptoms like menstrual cramps [45, 46]. I encourage my clients to practice a stress management technique that works for them (like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga) daily. 

Optimizing sleep is another very important factor for mitigating stress. Women tend to have more disturbed sleep compared to men, possibly related to menstrual-related hormonal fluctuations [4]. For example, women may experience a reduced response to melatonin (a sleep hormone) during the luteal phase [4]. 

Here are some tips I share in Healthy Gut, Healthy You for improving sleep quality:

  • Aim for 7–8 hours of sleep each night
  • Reduce blue light at night
  • Keep your sleeping environment cool
  • Keep your bedroom quiet
  • Avoid stressful pre-bed activities (arguments, fight scenes on TV, news)
  • Strive to be in bed by 10 or 11 pm
  • Avoid eating large meals before bedtime

Step Four: Elemental Dieting and Herbal Preparations

If getting diet, exercise, and self-care aligned doesn’t considerably improve your symptoms, an elemental diet and herbal supplements may get you across the finish line.

An elemental diet is a liquid meal replacement shake that’s hypoallergenic and pre-digested. As such, it helps to reduce inflammation, starve overgrowths, and gives your digestive system a chance to rest, heal, and then repair [47, 48, 49, 50]. Better gut health means better hormone health. 

In addition to the elemental diet, there are herbal preparations (like black cohosh, dong quai, and chaste tree) that can help balance female hormones, whether high or low [51, 52, 53]. Here’s how we dose them in the clinic:

  • Cycling women: Estro-Harmony two capsules 1–2 times per day and Progest-Harmony one or two capsules 1–2 times per day.
  • Post-menopausal women: Estro-Harmony two capsules 1–2 times per day

Foundations Over Cycle Syncing for Hormone Balance

Cycle syncing is a wellness trend aimed at helping women align their diet, activities, and work duties with the phases of their menstrual cycle. It promises to help women improve their physical health and well-being, as well as enhance work productivity. There isn’t any research to support its use at this time, and cycle syncing may be difficult to put into practice and hinder fitness goals. Given the variability of menstrual cycles and individual differences, it’s more important to listen to your body and adjust what you’re eating and how you’re exercising based on how you feel each day rather than trying to follow a rigid plan. 

Female hormone imbalances are often the result of poor gut health and unmanaged stress. If you find that you’re having significant symptoms that correlate with your menstrual cycle, following a wholesome diet, exercising routinely, and practicing daily self-care may be enough to quiet your symptoms. If you get these foundations in place but still have nagging symptoms, a trial of the elemental diet or herbal preparations may be in order. 

If you need more assistance on your health journey, contact us at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Health for an appointment.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

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