After she became addicted to a 'hormone horoscope', Beverly Turner decided to follow its advice for one month. Here is what happened...
I recently came across a website called Hormonehoroscope.com, created by Gabrielle Lichterman, an American journalist. She identified that nobody was pulling together medical studies on the female hormonal cycle: the ebb and flow of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. So she decided to.
In doing so, Lichterman has shone a light inside women's bodies, minds and moods. Ever wondered why something feels like a great idea one day, but disastrous the next? Our hormones might just be the reason.
At 40, with three children, I thought I knew my body. But I quickly became addicted to Hormone Horoscope's daily emails. So in order to decide whether it was all nonsense, I decided to live by my hormones for a month, according to the website's advice.
This is what happened...
Week 1: Day 1 to Day 7 (your period)
A typical hormone cycle is divided into four weeks with day one being the first day of your period. Advertisers stereotypically depict us as 'moody' during this week, sitting on the sofa with a hot water bottle. But many women - and I'm one - will tell you that their period is often a relief (unless you have painful cramps), signalling a lift in mood.
It doesn't have to be this way
Now I know why. Oestrogen rises steeply over days one to seven of our cycle and with it the brain's level of serotonin. This makes us feel good and helps us sleep deeper.
We may, however, get tired during the day due to falling progesterone and a lack of iron. Knowing this I take multivitamins and get an early night.
A good thing about rising oestrogen is that it makes our senses sharper and prompts our brains to churn out feel-good chemicals. I've always wondered why chocolate tastes so amazing during my period. Now that I know it won't taste this good all month, I enjoy every mouthful.
Week 2: Day 8 to Day 14 (ovulation)
Ever noticed that you feel a bit flirty once you've put your tampons away? Here's why: oestrogen climbs toward its peak in week two. And when we release an egg for fertilisation it gives us a rocket-boost of energy. Basically, Mother Nature is desperate to get us up the duff.
We become less inhibited and more impulsive. Drunk on our own invincibility and sexuality, we are at greater risk of having an affair. Without knowing it, we walk more slowly ahead of men and swing our hips.
Normally, I would be unaware of this primal posturing. Now I use it to my advantage and turn on the charm. The guy in the coffee shop gives me a free muffin, the car mechanic offers to pump my tyres (not a euphemism) and my husband thinks I'm fabulous. Sex is never better than during week two.
It's also the best week to have a job interview. We smile and are more confident. I manage to schedule one for this week - and certainly feel on top of my game.
Beforehand, I feel unusually jittery. HormoneHoroscope.com explains that high oestrogen can trigger anxiety. I make myself breathe deeply and accept these butterflies as a hormonal side effect. I also make an effort to slow my blabbering.
I'm asked to stay in the process. But I have reservations, so I ask for time to consider. I know that if I feel the same way in week three, it's probably the right opportunity for me. If not? It may have been the hormones talking.
With my energy levels sky-high, I also tackle sorting out my office at home. I have attempted this on three previous occasions and been defeated. But today, I fill bin bags and take books to the charity shop.
Making the most of this energy is brilliant. But it can be hard to unwind. Knowing this, I take a bath and don't stress about going to sleep later. Thanks to high levels of oestrogen, my night's rest is still solid.
Mid-cycle - when we ovulate - many women notice a cramping that defies explanation. Mine once made me throw up and I went to the GP (I figured the wine had caught up with me).
But he had no answers. Lichterman explains that it's "mittelschmerz" - which aptly rhymes with "middle hurts".
"At least one in five women experience pain in the abdominal/pelvic area right before or during ovulation," she says.
If I was trying to get pregnant, this knowledge would be gold. I'm not. So instead, I take Lichterman's advice and pop Ibuprofen. The result: no pain and a satisfying understanding of my physiology.
Week 3: Day 15 to Day 21
The week before PMT kicks in is hormonal limbo.
But there's actually a lot going on - just in case we've got pregnant during week two. I've often been caught out by an unexpected dip in mood mid-cycle and have looked around to blame the husband, or kids. Now I know it will only last two days and I ride out the blues without snapping at my loved ones.
"One to two days after you ovulate, you may feel lethargic, have intermittent irritability… and have a significantly lower sex drive," says Lichterman.
At the same time, progesterone (a sedating hormone) is rising. This has all sorts of implications, making us risk averse (in case we've got an embryo to protect) and forgetful. Intrigued I look back over my diary and am bowled over. Messages I forgot to pass on and errands I forgot to run pop up regularly in my 'week threes'.
This time, it will be different, I write lists of all the things I need to do. It feels a bit like wading through treacle, but nothing slips through the net.
I also discover that progesterone gives us the "hunger crankies" by increasing our sensitivity to blood sugar dips. So I make an effort to snack. It works. I feel genuinely calmer.
Bizarrely, the rise in progesterone signals water retention and constipation, which can last until our periods start. Researchers believe our bodies want to hold onto whatever we ingest longer, as a way to sap more nutrients from it - in case we got pregnant during ovulation and are eating for two.
Now, I'm not exactly from the Gillian McKeith school of poo but I decide to test out the theory. Sure enough - trips to the lavatory aren't quite as normal. Adding natural fibre-boosters to my diet works and my jeans soon stop pinching my bloated waist.
I reconsider that job offer, too. Lichterman says this is the week in which we are good at "carefully weighing the pros and cons." Sure enough - my hormones help me make the right decision and I take the project to the next stage.
I celebrate by having a night in with the hubby. That may not sound thrilling but during week three, we feel more committed to our partners, according to a 2005 study. The rise in progesterone tricks our body into thinking we might be pregnant. So we subconsciously form a closer bond with our mate in case we need their support. I make the most of a romantic evening, knowing that by next week PMT may well test those bonds.
Week 4: Day 22 to Day 28
Although not every woman suffers from the befuddling symptoms of PMT that can accompany week four, it's probably still the time we're most aware of hormonal changes - especially spots.
Most of us wait until pesky zits appear and douse them in chemicals. This month, however, I've learnt that it's the spike in testosterone mid-cycle that sparks a higher output of oil.
Armed with this knowledge, I exfoliated diligently last week. For the first time in years, I get my period without spots.
Another fact of PMT can be anxiety about how you look, according to various studies (such as this one).
I have a black-tie event to attend and feel anything but glamorous. But I have a word with myself, knowing how hormones can mess with our self-perception. I also know that progesterone is causing water retention, giving me a little help in the cleavage department. So instead of wailing that I feel fat, I pick out a dress with a plunging neckline.
Being pre-menstrual also affects our relationship with alcohol. I know that I'm more likely to guzzle and enjoy its effects this week more than any other and it's less likely to impair my decision-making skills. Researchers theorise that we turn to booze to lessen the pain of PMT.
More research needs to be done - for which I'm happy to offer myself up as a case study.
But plunging oestrogen will make me more sensitive. Ever wondered why hangovers are horrific when you're due to get your period? Knowing this, I behave.
Women often report having their worst quality sleep during their premenstrual week. The problem? That drop in oestrogen, which brings down levels of sleep-regulating serotonin in the brain, while making us sensitive to external factors, such as a snoring partner.
Instead of struggling through another disrupted night, I kiss the hubby and escape to the spare room. This may not suit everyone.
You see, week four can come with a silver lining: your libido springs back to life. As your body prepares for menstruation, researchers think it stimulates nerve endings down below. Nothing to do with hormones at all.
After a month I'm convinced - our hormones impact everything we do.
There are few things worse than blokes writing women off as 'hormonal.' But what's better - to deny how mammalian we really are, or work with it?
My health, energy, career and relationships have all improved. As a control freak, I want to be the one in charge of my moods - not my sneaky endocrine system. Now I am.