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28 Days Is the Magic Number to Try a New Lifestyle or Health Habit

We live in a culture that values speed. We want quick answers to emails, coffee at the push of a button, and the subway to arrive right as we step on the platform. But meaningful change, especially when correcting hormonal imbalances, requires a little more patience, though not as much as you might suspect.

Research shows that 28 days, or one menstrual cycle, is the time it takes to start making a noticeable difference in your health. To make long-term changes that stick, the timeline is closer to three cycles, or approximately three months. 

With the help of two of Veracity’s advisors – Dr. Gabrielle Francis, naturopathic doctor and founder of the Herban Alchemist, and Gretchen DePalma, MS, CNS, CDN and founder of Gretchen DePalma Nutrition – we break down why 28 days is the magic number when it comes to seeing if something new like a dietary tweak, a supplement, or a variation in your workout routine is working for you. 

What’s the Deal With 28 Days?

Most people, even those whose hormones are generally well balanced, will feel slightly different at different parts of their cycle. This is because the menstrual cycle follows a hormonal rhythm: estrogen rises in the first 14 (or so) days pre-ovulation, then you ovulate and progesterone rises for the second half of the cycle. After that, “you have your period, and it starts over again,” Dr. Francis says. “When people have hormonal imbalances, they can often experience extreme symptoms in certain parts of the cycle.”

You’re probably familiar with classic PMS symptoms: bloating, moodiness, food cravings, and fatigue. What you may not realize is that these symptoms can also be signs that your hormones aren’t humming along optimally. If you have a hormone imbalance or if you’re just trying to feel better and healthier, you and your doctor may be interested in making certain lifestyle tweaks, like changing up your diet or trying a new supplement.

“You might feel more energy or more clarity within days, but to really see a consistent change, you'll have to look at at least 28 days,” Dr. Francis says. For example, you may naturally feel a surge of energy around the time of ovulation due to an increase in estrogen. This could wrongly be attributed to your recent efforts to cut out sugar or switch up your workout routine if you don’t give it enough time to see how you feel later in the month. On the flipside, you may think these changes aren’t working if you feel a bit more sluggish, when really you’re just in the luteal phase and your progesterone has dropped.

28 Days Is a Start, But 3 Months Is the Sweet Spot

Think of changes as long-term solutions rather than quick fixes. “Giving an intervention at least one cycle to look for changes is key. However, given how complex the biochemistry of the body is, it’s going to take more than just one cycle to see real improvement,” DePalma says.

Dr. Francis says to think of making changes as filling up the gas tank. “If you fill up the gas tank only a quarter full you'll still run better, but you won't run at a hundred percent,” she says, adding that the endocrine system is a very intricate balance between not just your ovaries, but your adrenal glands, blood sugar, stress levels, and more. “All of these things that are part of our endocrine system, they feed into each other. You're rewiring circuits when you change what you're eating and what supplements you're taking,” she says.

Some supplements like probiotics or multivitamins can be taken indefinitely, while others that address specific hormone imbalances may be designed to only be taken for a certain period of time. Before you take the more targeted supplements, you should have your hormones tested so that you know which formula is right for you. Three to six months later, you should test again to reassess how the changes are working and if you need to continue them.

How to Begin Making Health Changes

If you suspect (or know for sure) that you have a hormone imbalance, it can be tempting to want to do as much as possible right now to start feeling better. But it’s actually more beneficial in the long run to take a less is more approach so you have a good idea of how your body is reacting to each change. Instead of throwing every solution at the problem, you should:

  1. Address the root cause: “Due to external factors like diet, lifestyle, and environmental influences, states of imbalance can develop. The goal is to remove any obstacles to healing and properly nourish and support the body to bring it back into balance,” DePalma says. “When it comes to making changes to support balance in the body, I always like to start by thinking of what inputs are not serving the body.” She suggests first working on the root cause of the issue, giving the example of elevated cortisol levels, often caused by stress. “You need to address the real causes like poor diet, lack of quality sleep, reliance on caffeine, workouts that are too strenuous or a toxic work environment. Once you’ve done the work to identify those obstacles, you can consider a supplement to support you as you make diet and lifestyle changes.”

  2. Start small: While you can certainly pair supplements with dietary changes (and if your doctor gives you the okay, medications) both experts are in agreement that for most people, it’s best to introduce one supplement at a time. “This way if they do have any adverse reactions, it’s clear what caused it. Typically waiting 2 to 3 days before making other adjustments is sufficient when it comes to monitoring for an adverse reaction,” DePalma says.

  3. Buy supplements from a reputable source: And lastly, when using supplements, “know you dealer,” as Dr. Francis says. “There are a lot of counterfeit supplements. There are a lot of differences in quality. Quality matters and knowing a reputable source when you're getting vitamins is very, very important.”

How Do You Know If the Changes Are Working?

With something as delicate as hormone balance, it can be hard to know for sure that you’re moving in the right direction. Before you begin to make any lifestyle changes, DePalma suggests getting clarity about which specific symptoms you want to improve. 

“Keeping a symptom journal can be really helpful here. Take notes on symptoms you’re experiencing and what part of your cycle you're in. Then in future months you can reference this to see if your symptoms during that part of the cycle are improving.”

Positive results vary by person but Dr. Francis says signs of healthy hormone balance include better energy, clarity, a balanced mood, regular cycles that don't have a ton of  pain or PMS, clearer skin, and fewer cravings and weight fluctuations.

And remember, we’ve been conditioned to want instant results, but lasting hormone change often takes time. “Just as it took longer than you probably realized to reach a state of imbalance, it also takes time to restore balance,” DePalma says. “It can be helpful to focus on all the amazing things your body does for you every day and express gratitude. I find this fosters a more positive mindset that ultimately supports the healing journey.”

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