More and more each day I am met with patients who are experiencing menstrual cycle irregularities. From premenstrual symptoms such as pain, irritability, fluid retention and moodiness to heavy periods with clotting, that last for much longer than past cycles, to mid cycle sadness and spotting. The list of cycle complaints I hear each day is endless. Women are suffering needlessly.
Now I want to let you in on a huge secret – all of these complaints are very common BUT they are not normal. All of these symptoms are signals from your body sending you a message.
Vital signs – have you heard of them? Simple measurements to monitor how well your body is functioning. You’ve probably had these measured when you’ve gone to the GP, had a visit to the emergency department or even had a consult here at Mullen Natural Health Centre. Blood pressure, heart rate (pulse), respiratory rate and temperature, these four standard vital signs, give health professionals an insight into how your body is feeling in any given moment. And news flash, if you experience a menstrual cycle, even an irregular one, you also have a fifth vital sign. Your monthly cycle is a report card from your body and I understand for many a monthly cycle is non-existent and looks more like 5, 6, 7+ weeks BUT it is still very useful information. It’s a reflection of how your body has functioned over the last 120 days.
The significance of 120 days
Whilst we often focus on our period when it comes to the menstrual cycle the star of the show is actually ovulation, which is generally two weeks prior to the start of a menstrual bleed. The egg that is released during this event takes around 120 days to reach maturity. To explain; in a healthy cycle a woman ovulates around approximately day 14 when oestrogen levels peak (side note: this can vary a lot, from day 8 to day 22!). The egg that is released during this cycle began its journey 120 days prior as a teeny tiny follicle in the ovary. Over this time the follicle goes through a maturation process and it’s the effects of food and lifestyle, along with overall health, that determine the quality of the egg.
What’s so special about the egg?
Of course, if you’re looking to conceive, we want this egg to be tip top quality however if conception is far from your mind, we still want to ensure that this egg it healthy and happy. Why? Progesterone, that’s why! After ovulation, the follicle that this egg was released from continues its life cycle and matures into the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum is responsible for producing progesterone, your calming reproductive hormone. Progesterone and oestrogen are like Yin and Yang, they counterbalance each other. Progesterone is calming, whilst oestrogen is stimulating. When it comes to overall health progesterone reduces inflammation, regulates immune function and supports thyroid, brain, bones, and breast tissue whilst also building metabolic reserve. As Naturopathic Doctor and author of the Period Repair Manual Lara Briden says “… each and every ovulation is like a monthly deposit into the bank account of long-term health.” We need that healthy dose of progesterone to support not only our menstrual cycle, but our overall health and the only way to do that is to ensure healthy ovulation occurs. If at any point during the 120 day maturation process the egg quality is compromised, (remember this comes back to diet, lifestyle and overall health) this is when we begin to see hormonal imbalances leading to cycle irregularities, mood disturbances and many other symptoms.
Reading the signs – the yin vs the yang
Those symptoms I mentioned earlier, the ones that are very common but not so normal? They are messages from your body, your fifth vital sign, your monthly report card. They are trying to tell you something about your inner health. Here’s some examples:
Signs of low progesterone – heavy or long periods, spotting before your period, absence of period, anxiety, depression, night sweats, headaches.
Signs of oestrogen dominance – heavy or long periods, bloating, mood swings, fatigue, breast tenderness, decreased libido, headaches, fibroids, weight gain.
Notice the similarity with some of those symptoms? It can be difficult to discern between low progesterone and oestrogen dominance. This is when working with a natural health practitioner is so incredibly helpful and insightful. We understand that your symptoms have become a burden but we also understand that your body is trying to tell you something and we’re here to listen.
Where to start
- Tracking your symptoms – it can be as simple as jotting a few notes in your diary each day. Consider every symptom and feeling as useful information. Eg: bowel movements, acne, sleep patterns, headaches, bloating, heavy bleeding, clots, etc.
- Download a cycle app – such as Clue, Kindara or Flow. These apps are great for tracking your cycle. You can enter all of your symptoms and keep track of what day of your cycle you are up to. *Note: do not rely on these apps as a form of contraception. They use an algorithm to pinpoint ovulation/fertile window and are not accurate in anyway.
- Make an appointment with us and bring along all of your beautiful notes you have been taking! We can then work together to dig deeper and decipher your body’s messages, improve your cycle and resolve your symptoms.
To book an appointment with one of our experienced practitioners or chat to the Herb Bar for a free mini consult to discover how we can help, phone 02 4961 4075.
Written by Samantha Wilson