The menstrual cycle may seem like a basic concept, but in my work with women I am constantly drawing diagrams and explaining what is actually going on throughout a women’s menstrual cycle. Most women’s understanding is limited to ovulation and the dreaded period, perhaps with an idea of being ‘hormonal’ thrown somewhere in the mix.
There is so much more to the menstrual cycle than just those awful 5-7 days of bleeding we all come to loathe, or if we are lucky, find mildly inconvenient. The menstrual cycle is made up of four distinct hormonal phases which influences our biology in so many ways – from our mood, to our body temperature, metabolism, energy levels and immune system. Having a period generally means that we have ovulated and released an egg. That means that there is the possibility of life. For our bodies to put energy into the possibility of pregnancy, that means that our bodies have to have met a basic level of health that month. In this way, as inconvenient as it may be, having a period means that our bodies are functioning well.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend using the menstrual cycle as a vital sign of health, just like we would use blood pressure, heart rate or temperature to give us vital clues about the state of a woman’s health.
- If periods are missing that may indicate inadequate nutrition, or stress or overexercise.
- Painful periods might be a marker of endometriosis or underlying inflammation.
- Infrequent periods might be a sign of insulin resistance, polycystic ovarian disease or undernutrition.
In this way we have a lot of power as women to be able to pick up when things might need a little tweak or some extra help.
As Lara Briden, author of ‘The Period Repair Manual’ puts it – your period is like your monthly report card. If something is off, we have this incredible clue each month that we may need to make some changes or have reassurance that things are ticking along optimally.
Not only does having a normal period (not too heavy, not too painful, not MIA) give you vital information about your underlying health and clues about how to fix it, it also means you are making reproductive hormones which are actually so much more important to our health than just baby making. In this way having a period is health giving also. Having a normal period usually means that you have ovulated – and ovulating is how women make their hormones. We make hormones cyclically. At ovulation we have peak levels of oestrogen – vital for mood, libido, energy, metabolism, skin, heart and bone health. We also have peak testosterone responsible for energy, libido and confidence. After ovulation we make progesterone. The only way we make progesterone is to ovulate and it is important for its anti-anxiety and sleep benefits, metabolic and positive effects on bone health.
All these amazing things going on in the background behind the period are really what the menstrual cycle is all about, and the period is often just a mirror to how well those biological processes are performing. There are many factors that can influence how our hormones are made and the resulting period that we see at the end. These include how well we nourish our bodies, how we move, how we rest and switch off and the myriad of environmental exposures we encounter on a daily basis.
I think the nuances of the menstrual cycle are so amazing that it’s a little bit magical, and I want you to see that too. Maybe if were taught more about the magic and wonder of our bodies there would be less shame, fear and negativity associated with the menstrual cycle. Also learning to use the concept of your period as a monthly report card, means that you can start to uncover root causes to any period issues you have and treat your body as a whole. Your period is not divorced from the health of the rest of your body. If something is off there, then there is usually something deeper going on. In this way even if you are someone who suffers with endometriosis, PCOS or severe PMS, you can still use this deep knowledge of hormones and biology to improve symptoms or go some way to treating the root cause of your condition.
I think if women understood their biology better and the hormones that make us who we are, and also start to understand the link between our general health and the health of our hormones, we can be powerful beyond measure. Who doesn’t want a world where women are educated, empowered, emboldened and happy to be unapologetically ourselves!
If you want to learn more about the magic of your menstrual cycle come along to our shows featuring Lucy Peach – Period Preacher presented by The Doctor and The Naturopath – Dr Peta Wright (gynaecologist) and Elysia Humphries (naturopath).
Lucy will discuss the emotional landscape of the menstrual cycle, and Dr Peta Wright and Elysia Humphries will talk about how general health and lifestyle affect the menstrual cycle, and period troubleshooting for women who may want to go deeper than the oral contraceptive pill as the only option.
We will explore:
- Why your menstrual cycle isn’t just your period
- What’s actually happening in the background behind your period
- Why your period isn’t really the main event
- What the point of the menstrual cycle is apart from baby-making
- What superpowers do your hormones have
- How the way you treat your body affects your menstrual cycle and period health
- How to hack each phase of your menstrual cycle for greater happiness, productivity and well-being
- How the pill works
- What are ALL the options for treating common period problems
To purchase tickets or learn more: https://www.thedoctorandthenaturopath.com/events
All proceeds from this event benefit Glory Reborn – a charity providing holistic medical care to marginalised women and babies in Cebu, The Philippines.
Blog post by Dr Peta Wright