The 3 Ms and the Female Hormonal Life Cycle, Part 1 – Menarche by Goodhealth

The 3 Ms and the Female Hormonal Life Cycle, Part 1 – Menarche

Tháng Năm 1, 2024

In honour of the release of our Women’s Health Range, the Good Health naturopath team has put together a series of health articles taking a deep dive into the wonderful, complex world of the 3 Ms – menarche, menstruation, and menopause. We will also explore the female hormonal lifecycle and microbiome, potential issues that can arise, and some ancestral tips on how to support what is uniquely, female.

Starting at the Start, with… Menarche

Menarche means the first menstruation – the beginning of the menstrual cycle during puberty. We all remember puberty – that time when stronger and stronger signals from the pituitary gland in our brain, causing rising levels of reproductive hormones, made us impossible to deal with (we weren’t THAT bad, were we?!). Menarche usually occurs approximately 2-2.5 years after the onset of puberty and the first appearance of female sex characteristics – breasts and pubic hair. These physical changes are modulated by changes in the levels of hormones that are produced by the pituitary gland—luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone FSH.

> The pulsatile release of gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH) stimulates pituitary gonadotrophs to release LH and FSH. LH triggers androgen production in the ovaries and ovulation, while FSH triggers aromatase in follicular cells to synthesise estradiol. Breast tissue enlarges and influences a pubertal growth spurt.

> This process eventually triggers the release of an egg from the ovaries, known as ovulation, and then menarche, signaling the body’s readiness to reproduce.

In the first year after menarche, ovulation will only occur a couple of times, but by the time the youngster is in her late teens, she will be ovulating around 80% of her cycles, eventually increasing to 100% if overall health is good. This is the beginning of a female’s peak fertility, lasting until around age 30.

The Timing of Menarche

The average age of menarche in the developed world is around 12-13 years of age and has been decreasing from an average of 17 years of age since the mid-1800s. The thinking is that menarche between the ages of 10 and 16 is normal; however, many experts consider 11 or younger to be “early menarche”. Female humans still living an evolutionarily consistent, or primitive, life tend to experience menarche around the age of 16-17. There is scientific evidence that menarche in the mid-teens is a more species-specific time.

Early menarche is associated with low mood, excessive worry mind, shorter stature, and substance abuse in older adolescents. Asian research shows a link between early onset puberty and an increased risk of metabolic issues, weight gain, and mitochondrial dysfunction (problems with cell energy production and cell health) in adults.

Our genetics and ethnicity play a role in when we begin menstruation, but research shows us that nutrition and stress have the biggest impact. There is also epidemiological and historical evidence that proper nutrition, along with microbiome balance and healthy lifestyle factors, can make the transition through puberty much smoother, physically and emotionally. The human body needs specific nutrients and animal fats to effectively produce sex hormones – these compounds are increasingly deficient in the modern diet. The human female body needs a healthy amount of subcutaneous (under the skin) body fat to ovulate and menstruate – a process controlled by the hormone leptin – not an unhealthy distribution of adipose (fat) tissue – with adiposity in and around organs (visceral fat) and/or the fat marbling of muscles. If a female human lets her body fat percentage get too low, as in the case of many athletes, ovulation and periods can cease.


Potential Issues with Puberty

In the developed world, the increasing levels of obesity in children, formula feeding, synthetic oestrogens in our plastics and pesticides, and phytoestrogens in many processed foods may be leading to earlier and earlier pubertal changes, including breast development and early menarche. Fat deposition in the liver is now occurring in children as young as 10. Ultra-processed foods, which contain refined sugars, fructose, and seed oils, constitute the bulk of the modern diet. Research has shown a strong association between childhood sugary drink intake in overweight girls and early menarche. Sodas and concentrated fruit juices contain high levels of fructose, which can lead to visceral fat gain and metabolic dysfunction. Birth or childhood stress can also affect age of onset.

Low fat, ultra-processed food diets in early childhood are strongly associated with visceral obesity in later childhood and adulthood. Traditionally, human cultures have provided very young and growing children with plenty of animal foods and fats. This is to set them up to have a body that has the appropriate amount of healthy subcutaneous and brown fat into adolescence and adulthood, with minimal visceral fat.  Fat soluble vitamins and bioavailable minerals, mainly from animal foods and fats, also support the skeletal structure of the face and pelvis to develop properly. Proper skeletal development supports breathing, sleep, and comfortable pregnancy and childbirth, among many other benefits.

The body also needs daily cues from the sun to trigger and balance hormonal production and output. Research shows us that reproductive hormone health is heavily influenced by our circadian rhythm – the daily, natural light and dark cycles and its associated hormones, melatonin and cortisol, along with leptin. Screentime, particularly at night, is especially disruptive to circadian biology.

When to seek advice from your healthcare professional:

  • She is 15 and does not have her period
  • She began developing breasts more than 3 years ago and does not have her period
  • She is more than 2 years from her first period and her periods still do not come every 3–6 weeks, especially if she misses three or more periods in a row
  • She has uncomfortable periods
  • She has very heavy bleeding (bleeding that goes through a pad or tampon faster than every 2 hours)
  • She has premenstrual mood swings, digestive upsets, or skin eruptions that interfere with her everyday activities

If a young female you know is experiencing any issues with her periods, you can read more about which natural remedies you can try for support, here.

It is a challenging, and sometimes upsetting, experience for a youngster to go through. It is important that girls going through puberty and menarche feel heard, supported, and loved to mitigate any feelings of shame and embarrassment that can arise. They have many years of development beyond puberty while they are still children, and they need lots of understanding to be able to see out their childhood without excess stress. They also need ideal human nutrition, which includes animal fat and protein. The more knowledge they have about what is going on in their body the better they will navigate that precious time.

Click the following for more in the Women’s Health Series:

The 3 Ms and the Female Hormonal Life Cycle, Part 2 – Menstruation

The 3 Ms and the Female Hormonal Life Cycle, Part 3 – Menopause 

Ancestral Wisdom for Female Hormonal Health Part 1

Ancestral Wisdom for Female Hormonal Health Part 2

The Female Microbiome

TAPS No: PP2522