The views expressed herein belong exclusively to Alisa Vitti and do not necessarily reflect Greatist’s outlook.
When it comes to the human body, hormones affect everything. From sleep cycles, moods, and sex drive, to appetite and even mental processing, they’re involved in virtually all of our physical and mental activities. Yet hormones are hardly a primary component of the national conversation about health. Alisa Vitti — Women’s Health Specialist, founder of FLOLiving.com, and creator of the WomanCode System — seeks to change that. Greatist connected over the phone with Vitti in late March to talk about hormones, health, and getting into the flow.
Paying Attention to Periods
“For so long,” says Vitti, “women have brushed aside and failed to take seriously the symptoms that we attribute to our hormones, such as PMS, cramps, and acne.” And yet strong evidence points to the fact that hormones are important, for both men and women, at every stage of our lives.
Some of the most convincing evidence comes from the 2009 BioCycle Study. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study yielded two primary findings: One, that women who experienced untreated hormonal issues — such as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and infertility — prior to menopause were more likely to develop diseases of inflammation (such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer) later in life. And two, that women can improve their hormonal balance with diet and lifestyle changes BioCycle study: desing of the longitudinal study of the oxidative stress and hormone variation during the menstrual cycle. Wactawski-Wende, J., Schisterman, E.F., Hovey, K.M., et al. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidermiology, March 2009. Vol. 23, Issue 2: 171-87 .
Armed with this knowledge, Vitti is on a mission to “turn women on to how powerful their bodies are.” Instead of joking about crankiness and chocolate cravings at a certain time of the month, Vitti wants women to get in touch with their menstrual cycles — to figure out what’s out of balance and how to make changes to improve overall health.
Getting Into the Flow
To that end, Vitti created WomanCode — an online platform designed to help women permanently balance their hormones via education, eating plans, personal counseling, and symptom tracking — as well as a recently-published book by the same name. Her hope is that women will be able to use this program to enhance standard medical care. “Every meal, every day, you need a system that’s going to help you succeed [in your health goals],” says Vitti. Already, thousands of women on six continents have signed up to use the online platform.
The easiest way to learn about what’s going on with your body, according to Vitti and some other experts, is simply to look before you flush. The color, consistency, flow, and timing of a woman’s menstruation can all yield insight into her current state of health. Other markers of hormonal imbalances — many of which are considered par for the course for menstruating women — include breast tenderness, moodiness, acne, dandruff, constipation, eczema or rosacea, and changing energy levels.
Blocking Optimal Health
These issues are remarkably common. An estimated 85 percent of menstruating women experience at least one symptom of PMS each month, while approximately 10 percent of women in the U.S. struggle with infertility issues and as many as 1 in 10 women suffer from PCOS. All told, says Vitti, over 20 million women in the U.S. alone struggle with menstrual and other hormonal health issues. As Vitti sees it, these hormonal imbalances are caused by what she refers to as “flow blockers": pesticides and chemicals in our foods, cosmetics, and home and work environments, which have been linked to hormonal disruption.
Hormones are also affected by what we eat. “The primary function of the endocrine system [which relies on hormones for proper function] is to safeguard the transport of sugar throughout the body,” says Vitti — thus, she asserts that it’s vital to maintain blood sugar stability. In some ways, this idea is nothing new: Experts have long advocated that people avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes, primarily by avoiding refined carbs. What's unique about Vitti’s approach is the special emphasis she places on the connection between blood sugar and hormonal balance.
Of course, stress also plays a role in hormonal activity. And while we can’t always control external stressors such as a bad commute or family trauma, Vitti is confident that we can control internal stressors (such as blood sugar, exposure to pesticides, and lack of micronutrients) simply by refining our food choices. These choices can, in turn, promote a healthier hormonal cycle — which Vittis sees as essential to overall wellness.
Creating Cyclical Lifestyles
In addition to dietary changes, Vitti advocates establishing a lifestyle that meshes with the hormonal cycle. “The four-week menstrual cycle is a creation cycle,” says Vitti. Indeed, some research supports the idea that hormonal cycles are tied to creativity Effects of menstrual cycle on creativity. Krug, R., Stamm, U., Pietrowsky, R., et al. Department of Clinical Neuroendocrinology, Medical University of Lubeck, Germany. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1994;19(1):21-31 . Vitti views the follicular phase as a highly creative, idea-generating phase; during ovulation, women may excel at communication skills; during the luteal (or, loosely, the premenstrual) phase, focus may improve, providing energy for administrative tasks (e.g., organizing a shoe closet or finishing a project); and the bleeding phase is a time for “evaluation and course correction.”
Rather than fighting against or powering through these phases, Vitti believes that people should (quite literally) surrender to the flow. She points out that no person (of any gender) can act exactly the same way every single day, but rather experiences cyclical shifts in energy and focus. By observing these patterns, people can create optimized schedules that sync up with our energy and needs. “Let’s figure out how our body is communicating data to us in real time every day so that we can kick ass in every area of our lives,” says Vitti. “That, for me, is what it is for a woman to get in the FLO.”
Photos: Alisa Vitti and FLOliving.com, respectively
Do you think menstrual cycles can teach us about our health? Share in the comments below or get in touch with the author on Twitter @lauranewc.