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Venus envy: Recognizing your hottest week

Most women notice that monthly they have a group of days in which their hair is glossier, their skin glows, and the men in their lives suddenly seem very appealing. This is Mother Nature's little secret, says Dr. Rebecca Booth in her new book, "The Venus Week." An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

Most women notice that every month they have a group of days in which their hair is glossier, their skin glows, and the men in their lives sud­denly seem very appealing. This is Mother Nature's little secret, says Dr. Rebecca Booth in her new book, “The Venus Week.” An excerpt.

Chapter one: The power of the Venus Week
Most women notice that monthly, as if by magic, they have a group of days in which they look better, feel better, and respond better to the world around them. Their hair is glossier, their skin glows, and the men in their lives (or at the local Starbucks counter) sud­denly seem very appealing. The men respond with equal enthu­siasm and interest; they seem to know that these women are desirable, often very attractive, and receptive to men’s attention. This phenomenon is not an accident or a fluke. It is very real and occurs regularly, according to a woman’s hormonal cycle, specifically during the week that precedes ovulation. This cache of days, which happens around the same time each month, is what I have come to call the Venus Week.

I was inspired to create this metaphor to turn our focus toward the beauty of the cycle and help my patients better understand what is driving the changes they feel from week to week. One of the most constant refrains I hear from my patients is, “Dr. Booth, I think my hormones are out of balance.” The next most common sentiment is, “I really feel like I have only one good week.” What do these two statements have in common? Everything. Hormones drive our bodies and our behavior, and often we feel like they are driving us crazy. Take my patient Sarah, age thirty-one, who came to see me. Sitting in my exam room, she looks and seems wonderful. Her hair is perfect. Her nails have a healthy manicure. Her jewelry is elegantly understated, and her makeup is subtle on her clear skin. She is smiling and sitting on the edge of her seat, clearly with a lot to tell me. So I am surprised when she states she thinks she is “going insane.”

“What is going on with me?” she wonders. “Today I feel great, but most of the time I feel like I’m barely able to make it through the day in one piece.” Sarah then tells me that she “used to not believe in PMS,” but here it comes: Now she feels as though she has only “one good week” each month.

I can tell that, today, Sarah is feeling very balanced (she’s in her self-described one good week), so she has the clarity to describe to me how things seem to deteriorate after the middle of her cycle. She loses interest in her husband, she notices more bloating, feels more tired, and is sluggish at work. A week of this and things get worse: Now she has blemishes, more water retention, and when her children annoy her she hears a voice coming out of her mouth that sounds like an alien has taken over her body. The voice is hers, but she doesn’t recognize it and feels as if she has no control over it. Her husband is patient but has let her know he notices this change in her. Sarah also knows she is not alone, as she has friends who complain of similar problems, but she wants to get back to feeling healthy and moti­vated more of the time. “I just don’t feel like myself,” Sarah says to me, almost helplessly.

Although at first Sarah feels some relief from her one good week, she naturally tends to focus more on the times when she feels less ideal. It’s very common for women to get overwhelmed by the other weeks of their cycle and then come to me hoping and praying that I can “fix” this part of the month. I know this is the ideal moment for sharing with Sarah the wisdom of the Venus Week. As with so many patients before her, this information will help her unravel the mysteries of why she does not always feel on a constant high and give her the power to feel more in control all month long.

What happens in the Venus Week?
Up until now, talk of the fluctuations in a woman’s monthly cycle has mainly focused on the negative (e.g., the challenges of PMS and menopause), but this is only half the story — the glass half empty approach. There is another phase in which the hormonal effects are almost exactly the opposite. Imagine that you were able to know in advance what days you would look and feel your biological best, the precise time when Mother Nature is working full-force to encourage you to connect with others.

There is a good reason for this week to exist. It coincides with the period when a woman is most fertile. Evidence of this ideal week was substantiated in 1995 when a renowned physician, Dr. A.J. Wilcox, published a pivotal study that validated that nearly all pregnancies result from intercourse during a six-day period ending with ovulation. Before this, most experts — many doctors included — believed women were fertile right before, during, and for a while after ovulation. This new study demonstrated that a woman’s most fertile time is actually the five to seven days before and including the day of ovulation. After ovulation, fertility drops dramatically.

Indeed, my patients have noticed and relayed to me over the years that this pre-ovulatory period brings about significant behavioral and physiological changes: They feel more buoyant and attractive. They get along better with their partners, children, and coworkers, and they are better able to hear another’s point of view, reaching compromises and diplomatic solutions more easily. Women also tell me that they feel more sexual and have a more intense libido. In general, women experience an overall boost in energy, focus, and drive, allowing them to stay more keenly motivated and able to accomplish their goals — professional or personal.

These behavioral changes are real and consistent, and I’ve witnessed them again and again over many years of observation. Most interesting, though, is that these changes in mood and outlook are tied to very real shifts in a woman’s body. Specifically, they are tied to a woman’s hormonal cycle, which also creates observable physiologic changes, including: clearer skin, fuller hair, and an increase in elasticity of the joints. Blood flow to the vagina and other genital areas improves, cervical mucous becomes more clear and “favorable,” and even appetite and bloating decrease.

So I explain to Sarah that her one good week is what I call the Venus Week, when because of a peak in both estrogen and testosterone, she feels more vibrant and alive. I then explain that there is a connection between the Venus Week (her one good week) and the changes she experiences the rest of the month when she feels more “out of balance.” This connection hints at Mother Nature’s rather clever way of making women feel their best when they are most fertile, to encourage women to reproduce. (Of course, it’s only natural for most of us to identify our “true selves” when nature makes us look more attractive, as well as feel more attractive.)

This pre-ovulatory period brings about significant behavioral and emotional changes that are tied to the changes in the hormonal cycle:

  • A woman feels more attractive.
  • She gets along better with her partner, children, and coworkers.
  • She experiences a more positive, optimistic outlook on her life in general.
  • She is better able to hear another’s point of view, making reaching compromises and diplomatic solutions easier.
  • She feels significantly more confident, allowing for more personal exuberance.
  • She feels more clear-headed and poised during social conversations, making her a more effective listener.
  • She feels more energetic and focused, able to stay more
    keenly motivated and able to accomplish her goals.
  • She feels more interested and desirous of her loved one; her libido is more intense.
  • She is more observant in her ability to pick up on cues from the opposite sex, and can send back her own.
  • These changes in mood and outlook coincide with very real physiological changes:
  • The hormones estrogen and testosterone increase, creating a peak in energy, sexual interest, and sharpness of mind.
  • Skin clears and acne or blemishes are decreased.
  • Hair is fuller, softer, and has more shine as a result of estrogen dominance.
  • Joint elasticity improves, allowing for more flexibility and tone.
  • Skin is more elastic and hydrated, giving a woman that “glow” that is also associated with high estrogen states (during pregnancy, for example).
  • Bloating and edema (swelling) are reduced.
  • Blood flow to the vagina and other genital areas improves, and cervical mucous is more clear, slippery, and “favorable.”
  • Appetite is reduced, lessening cravings and increasing a feeling of being svelte.

When I went through this list with Sarah, her eyes widened in recognition, as if to say, “That’s exactly what happens to me!” Understanding how her cycle impacts her in so many ways — both behaviorally and physically — helped her begin to see her body and her life through very different eyes.

Like Sarah, many other women with whom I’ve shared this secret of the Venus Week have learned ways to maximize their Venus and be better prepared for the other times when their hormones are ebbing. Soon the balance they had been seeking becomes achievable, not because I can give them a drug to rebalance their hormones, but because they find ways to lessen the dramatic drops in energy and ease mood swings.

By using the Venus Week as both a grounding period and a lens through which to envision your daily, weekly, and monthly lives, you can know how to channel that feel-good-look-good phenomenon and make it work for you — not only during those five to seven days, but throughout the month. You can harness your Venus Week if you want to try to become pregnant (or avoid a pregnancy) and learn specific ways to improve each week of your cycle by managing your body’s changes to your best advantage at any age or stage in your life. Understanding this phenomenon may also liberate the menopausal woman to see the “tricks” hormones play upon us during our fertile years. Indeed, for many women, menopause can mean finding freedom from this dance of hormones.

Also, by recognizing their Venus Week women can begin to appreciate the wisdom in the design of the postovulation period when progesterone, rather than estrogen, is dominant. Understanding this stage — what I call the Minerva phase — can help women become more in control of their bodies throughout their monthly cycle.

I think of the Venus Week as Mother Nature’s powerful little secret. Now that you know this secret, you can quickly learn to surf the ebb and flow of your hormones, rather than struggle against them.

Excerpted from “The Venus Week: Discover the Powerful Secret of Your Cycle … At Any Age” by Rebecca Booth, M.D. Copyright (c) 2008, reprinted with permission from Da Capo Lifelong Books.