In an age of internet, our favorite search engine gets consulted on countless questions of life, including the medical ones. Such access does help a lot of people care for themselves and for their families more easily and effectively. It also empowers patients who want to interact with their health care providers on a more collaborative and pro-active basis. On the other hand, information on the internet is all too often entirely divorced from evidence. A recent review of online recommendations about how women should adapt their exercise routine around their monthly cycles serves as a good example of how the internet is sometimes misleading. In the end, I offer a better approach to determining what is best for your exercise routine throughout the month.
When looking to online research for answers to immediate medical questions, we should always start with knowing the author. Is the author selling a product or a service that might bias their opinions? Is the author coming from a particular worldview or perspective which we would otherwise disagree with? Are they grinding an ax or tooting a horn? In this case, we are reading research from McMaster Manchester Metropolitan University and the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. Therefore, we are reading from some academic settings in Australia (known as more liberal) which might lean against natural therapies in general. Just have to keep that in mind.
We can, however, take away some insight from their objective findings. For example, they would argue that no woman has a textbook menstrual cycle every month. The timing and levels of progesterone and estrogen vary from month to month between one woman and the next. With this in mind, they investigated how women’s exercise abilities might fluctuate between different portions of the menstrual cycle. As stated in Science Daily’s summary, “They found few or no differences when they looked at exercise results across the cycle phases and examined women’s use of fat versus carbohydrates, the potential for muscle growth, or blood-vessel function.”
By looking across multiple studies with a meta-analysis and narrative review, the senior author expressed his opinion that many women are basing their exercise routine on opinions rather than evidence-based studies. This brings me back to my day-to-day approach for all my patients health. We can look at patterns across the human species based on known shared metabolic and functional pathways, but ultimately each person is unique.
We start with the general pathways, but then must adapt our medical approach to the unique needs of the one patient in front of us. Then we must teach our patients something called normative awareness. This simply means that we strive to teach our patients how to listen and respond to their own body. There is no one perfect diet for everyone and this research indicates that there is no one perfect exercise program for all women during the varying phases of their menstrual cycle.
Knowing your body and how it responds to food, exercise, and other factors will serve you better than following the latest menstrual exercise fad on the internet doctor hotline. That is just one way we help patients live healthier, more abundant lives.
Alysha C. D’Souza, Mai Wageh, Jennifer S. Williams, Lauren M. Colenso-Semple, Devin G. McCarthy, Alannah K. A. McKay, Kirsty J. Elliott-Sale, Louise M. Burke, Gianni Parise, Maureen J. MacDonald, Mark A. Tarnopolsky, Stuart M. Phillips. Menstrual cycle hormones and oral contraceptives: a multimethod systems physiology-based review of their impact on key aspects of female physiology. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2023; 135 (6): 1284 DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00346.2023
Lauren M. Colenso-Semple, Alysha C. D’Souza, Kirsty J. Elliott-Sale, Stuart M. Phillips. Current evidence shows no influence of women’s menstrual cycle phase on acute strength performance or adaptations to resistance exercise training. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 2023; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fspor.2023.1054542
Thanks to Science Daily:
McMaster University. “Reliable research and evidence-based recommendations scarce for women who exercise according to menstrual cycle.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 December 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/12/231205114746.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.