The monthly biological signals that a woman’s body sends can speak volumes about her health. Know what to look for during your menstrual cycle.
BY: VICTORIA YATES, RN
As a woman, your menstrual cycle is probably one of the best indicators of your overall health. Unfortunately, many don’t tune in closely or understand what’s actually going on in their bodies each month.
They become missed opportunities where your biological signals are telling you about your health, and whether your lifestyle or nutrition may be impacting your hormonal health and, consequently, a healthy cycle.
But first, let’s define what a “healthy” menstrual cycle even is.
A healthy period is one that doesn’t have extremes – it’s not extremely painful, not extremely heavy, not extremely long, not with extreme mood swings, and not with extreme cravings. You may have some discomfort, mood swings, and cravings, but overall a healthy period should be relatively uneventful. Your life does not need to be put on hold for 5-7 days or more of your cycle.
A healthy period will typically last from 4-6 days with 2-3 days of heavier bleeding, followed by lighter bleeding. There may be some initial discomfort or slight bloating, but again, nothing too extreme. You should be able to do all of your normal day-to-day activities.
If reading this is causing you to question whether you have a normal period, here are a couple of things to consider.
1. Is there a physical or physiological explanation?
It’s always important to first consult a practitioner who is able to determine what may be at the root of your abnormal period. PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), endometriosis, abnormal thyroid levels, loss of ovarian function, and pelvic inflammatory disease are all conditions that can affect the health of your period.
These conditions often lead to menstrual cycles that cause more severe symptoms such as pain, spotting, or amenorrhea (lack of a period altogether), all of which may be related to a physiological condition that requires medical attention.
2. Are you pregnant or are you breastfeeding?
A missed period could signify pregnancy if you are sexually active. If you’re breastfeeding, you will also experience missed periods due to the low levels of progesterone and estrogen in the body.
3. Is your body stressed right now?
If the first two are ruled out, then it’s time to take a closer look at stressors that may be impacting your body. Stress causes cortisol to increase in the body, and cortisol inhibits production of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), the primary reproductive hormone that triggers a cascade of other reproductive hormones.
Take the time to be introspective about your mental health, and ask yourself if you’re in a state of chronic stress from work, family, and life. If you’re used to being stressed out, it’s important to take an honest look at what’s going on because you may not know any differently.
Beyond life situations, however, your body can also experience stress from extreme dieting and exercise.
If you frequently engage in intense forms of exercise, your body may be in a heightened state of stress from being under-fueled or experiencing too much wear-and-tear – one of the reasons why women athletes can experience menstrual irregularity or amenorrhea.
Severe restriction of food and nutrients can also have an impact. That’s because your body has to know that it’s not in “starvation mode”, and must be provided with adequate nutrition for a healthy pregnancy (regardless of whether you actually want to get pregnant that month). Our bodies are not fond of starving and do not function as they are intended to during starvation mode, whether it’s unintentional or through dieting.
For those who have a history of restriction or chronic dieting, it’s important to consider working with a health professional to get back to a balanced eating pattern for your body.
Here are a few foods that can help.
If the days leading up to your period are full of mood swings and cramping, this may be due to the high levels of estrogen at this time during your cycle. Cruciferous vegetables may help support healthy detoxification of estrogen from the body. Tune into your body during this time, and you may even find that you crave vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.
Omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega 3’s, found in foods such as fish, chia seeds, walnuts, pasture raised animal products and free range eggs to name a few, help keep inflammation at a healthy level in the body. PMS has been linked with higher inflammation in the body, and some research has shown that long-term consumption of Omega 3’s may help ameliorate PMS symptoms.
Iron is important for helping you feel energized and support oxygen flow through the body. Building up iron stores in the body before and during menstruation is incredibly important as you anticipate a loss of blood the week of menstruation. Try adding more iron into your diet either through plant-based sources such as leafy greens and beans, or grass-fed organic red meat.
Magnesium is an essential mineral found to have a calming effect for sleep, and helps keep your body’s inflammation under control. Research suggests that it may have a positive effect on those who are vulnerable to anxiety during PMS.
Magnesium can be found in foods such as dark chocolate, green leafy veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds. Try eating a small square of dark chocolate every day for this purpose – it’s delicious and can make you happy!
Some research findings have shown that calcium may help reduce mood disorders linked to PMS symptoms. Enjoy a cup of whole organic or raw milk, yogurt, or kefir or other non-dairy calcium rich foods like leafy greens and broccoli.
By tuning in to your body’s cyclic rhythm, you might just uncover what it needs.
Adapted from the original article.
Victoria Yates, RN is a Registered Nurse & Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor based in Westchester, NY who focuses on helping women reach a healthier relationship with food and their bodies. She is passionate about guiding others reprogram negative thoughts around food and body image so they may experience a truly joyful life.
This is excellent read! I love how the information were presented and discussed. More power!