For women, monthly cycles are a refection of overall health. More than ever, these cycles are being disrupted by highly processed diets, sedentary lifestyles, high stress, digestive dysfunction, hormonal birth control, environmental exposure to hormone disruptors, and increasingly altered genetics. These factors lead to short cycles, long cycles, excessive bleeding, longer periods, fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, premature menopause, and severe premenstrual symptoms such as cramping, bloating, headaches, digestive distress, and mood swings, to name a few. Much of the attention in conventional medicine is focused on alleviating symptoms, and while this is completely necessary on occasion, it should not be the only approach taken. Many teenagers are being put on hormonal birth control to control painful cramping. Women are having endometrial ablations or hysterectomies as a “treatment” for excessive bleeding. As many of you know, this is akin to putting a sticker over the “check engine” light instead of searching for and addressing the engine malfunction.
A normal cycle. Many women believe that these symptoms are normal. In fact, there is very little education done on what a normal cycle looks like. So let’s start with some of that education. A woman’s cycle is measured from the day she begins bleeding until the day before she bleeds again. It is often more irregular for a few years after they begin bleeding as a teenager (menarche) and for a few years prior to stopping (menopause). Outside of this, a normal cycle should last 27-30 days. The actual length of the period or menses (days you bleed) varies for each woman but should be about 3-5 days. The majority of premenstrual symptoms experienced are not “normal”. A small amount of cramping can be normal as this correlates with the built up lining of the uterus being shed when pregnancy does not occur. Excessive spotting, mid-cycle spotting, passing clots, migraines, constipation, diarrhea, acne, bloating, fatigue, excessive cramping, disturbed sleep, etc are all abnormal signs/symptoms that need to be addressed. Some women experience extreme anxiety, sadness, irritability, or mood swings associated with their cycles. This is also not, “just a part of being a woman”.
Let’s break down your cycle even further. You have 2 phases to your cycle; follicular and luteal. The follicular, or proliferative phase, is from days 1-14. During this phase the ovaries are stimulated to ripen a follicle, which means an egg becomes mature. This follicle secretes estrogen. Estrogen helps promote thickening of the lining of the uterus. This is important if the egg is fertilized and implants in the lining of the uterus (ie pregnancy). Ovulation then occurs, which is the releasing of an egg. At this point pregnancy can occur if the egg is fertilized. After this happens, the luteal phase is entered. At this point that follicle turns into what’s called a corpus luteum and begins to secrete more progesterone than estrogen. This stimulates the body to secrete nourishing substances that would sustain a pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, the hormone production declines and this results in the uterine lining shedding. This shedding is the bleeding associated with your period.
What if I have these symptoms? After reviewing this, do you believe your cycle is “normal”? If not, let’s get to the bottom of it. Naturopathic medicine looks at you as a whole person and can help determine the reason your cycle is imbalanced. Today it is much more difficult to be healthy due the pollution of our food and environment. Take a strong stand against painful periods, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and other hormonal imbalances by building yourself up with individualized naturopathic medical care.