What is your menstrual cycle telling you?

written by Dr Ardyce Yik

When you hear the word menstruation, what do you think of? For many of you, you may think of PMS, cramps, heavy bleeding, headaches and fatigue.

These symptoms are an expected part of the female experience, but it doesn’t mean these symptoms are healthy – or a necessary way of life.

What is a typical period?

The average length of a menstrual cycle is 28 days, but this can range from 26 to 35 days. A healthy period should be pain-free, without clots or debilitating symptoms.

Your menstrual cycle is a barometer for how healthy you are. It is governed by an intricate interplay of hormones; your bleed is a window into the state of your physical and emotional health.

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome is the name for the symptoms experienced before your period. It’s commonly accepted as the norm and estimated that as many as 3 out of 4 menstruators have experienced some form of PMS.

Typical symptoms include mood swings, headaches, food cravings, sleep problems, tender breasts, digestive discomfort (constipation, diarrhoea and bloating), fatigue and irritability.

Fluctuating hormones are a common culprit and from a Chinese traditional medicine view, PMS is a sign of “qi stagnation”, a condition where energy flow within the body is not flowing properly. Qi stagnation is often caused by emotional stress.

PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) is a severe form of PMS – and amplifies the emotional symptoms like depression, anger and anxiety.

What your menstrual blood says about your health

Bright red menstrual blood is considered normal when accompanied by a medium viscosity flow lasting 4 to 7 days. It is also considered normal if the colour darkens slightly towards the end of your period. While bright red blood is considered normal, spotting between periods or during pregnancy could be a sign of another issue.

Do you have dark menstrual blood at the beginning of your cycle, or throughout? This is common in women who experience PMS, and might indicate that your hormones are out of balance.

Brown blood throughout your bleed could indicate low progesterone. It may be old blood from your last cycle that has oxidized and remained in your uterus.

Do you see clots larger than a Hong Kong dollar coin? Dark clotting could indicate too much oestrogen – and may be accompanied by heavier bleeding and cramps. In Chinese medicine, clots indicate “blood stagnation” or “blood stasis”, and is often caused by qi stagnation (see above).

Stop and start periods – blood flow that isn’t consistent can also indicate hormonal fluctuations.

Hormone testing can identify imbalances in your hormones, and a naturopathic physician can create a treatment plan to balance your hormonal health, alleviate symptoms of PMS and encourage a healthy bleed.

Irregular periods

Signs of irregular periods include:

  • Your menstrual cycle is shorter than 25 days
  • Your menstrual cycle is longer than 35 days
  • Continuous bleeding throughout the entire month
  • The number of days in between each of your periods is different and keeps changing

Irregular periods are more common one or two years after menarche (your first period) and when you approach menopause. A skipped period might indicate pregnancy.

Other causes include gaining or losing a lot of weight and exercising too much. Stress and anxiety can affect hormone levels causing irregularities. Birth control can affect your hormones for the same reason.

Fibroids and endometriosis

Fibroids and endometriosis are two common conditions I see in clinic. These conditions are not just painful – often times, they’re excruciating. Sometimes the pain is relieved by passing blood clots.

Often, periods are either light (blood is not flowing) or long and heavy as the body tries to flush out stagnant bloods and clots.

Your cycle might be irregular, sometimes absent, and you might experience spotting in between periods.

You might also notice that your tongue is purple with bulging veins on the underside. Your pulse might be a little wiry.

Naturopathic physicians like myself take the time to investigate the underlying causes of these conditions. Common causes or factors that impact a woman’s menstrual cycle and reproductive system may include hormonal imbalances, thyroid dysfunction, genetic tendencies toward inflammation or MTHFR mutations and nutrient deficiencies.

In fact, recent research reveals that MTHFR gene mutations are linked to oestrogen dominance, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, irregular menstruation and recurrent miscarriages, so testing is key.

In summary

I offer extensive investigative testing to help you identify the root causes of your menstrual health problems.

Your emotions: from stress, to your relationship with food can affect your period health. As can your physical health – from your hormones to thyroid and nutritional imbalances.

Our diet can be key for supporting better menstrual health – and I recommend that you tailor your diet to each phase of your period to support your emotional and physical wellbeing. Together we can create a dietary plan that meets your preferences and your body’s needs for optimal menstrual health.

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