A female’s cycle is a barometer of health. From simply observing our monthly cycle, we are able to gain insight into our overall health – our hormonal balance, nutritional profile and natural detoxification processes.
Clinically I see that women are open about their health; that we are happy to ask for help and to search for answers. I also see that we often put ourselves second and that there is A LOT of confusion around our reproductive health. I have been holding on to these points for a little while now, so before we get into it, let’s have a quick look in the female reproductive system.
Each month, like the moon, the female body goes through a cycle. We bleed, we ovulate, we bleed, we ovulate and it repeats over and over each month, around a whopping 450 times over a lifetime until we reach menopause. During that cycle, there are hormonal changes and fluctuations. Nutrients are used and days are counted. A healthy and happy cycle is between 27-32 days. This can differ from month to month and woman to woman. A bleed shouldn’t hurt or cause pain. It should arrive and leave with ease. This is a tiny snapshot, in reality, the process is much more intricate and way juicier.
Ok, time for the 13 things every woman should know about their cycle:
1. How to track your cycle:
The first day of your bleed is DAY ONE of your cycle. This keeps counting until day one of your next bleed. You can count with your fingers and toes, temperature track or get a little fancy (and my preferred) use an app! Clue, Kindra, Period Tracker… whichever you pick, they will make things easier and help take the guesswork out of tracking. A healthy cycle is between 27-32 days with 4-6 days bleed, it is made up of 4 stages. Menses, Follicular, Ovulatory, Luteal before circling back around to Menses. During that time hormones increase and decrease naturally, we need Oestrogen to support ovulation and Progesterone to finish the cycle – sometimes an imbalance of nutrients, stress, environmental factors alters this natural hormone progress causing PMS, lengthened cycles or painful bleeds – If you experience any of these symptoms is best to check in with your health care professional.
2. You may not ovulate on day 14:
Sitting in Sex Ed, you are taught you bleed on day 28 and ovulate on day 14. Wonderful! but not always true. Tracking your cycle (temperature, mucous, moon, pathology, urine changes) is the best way to know when you are ovulating. If your cycle is longer than 28 days, that your ovulation will also be later.
3. You can track ovulation with a thermometer:
Our body naturally goes through temperature spikes and drops, throughout the monthly cycle. As you naturally progress from bleed towards ovulation, your temperature increases. It is a subtle increase, often less than a degree, but it shows ovulation has occurred. It then stays elevated until the next bleed. This is due to the changes in estrogen and progesterone throughout the month. Our thyroid and adrenals also place a role here as they can both affect your Basal Body Temperature. To track your cycle (and ovulation) simply take your temperature under the tongue each morning, at the same time, before moving or getting out of bed. You can use apps to track the temperature changes or manually graph them to see the changes throughout the month. It’s an incredibly inexpensive and accurate way to track ovulation. You can use BBT tracking to achieve or avoid pregnancy.
4. Period Pain is not normal:
No matter how many times you have been told ‘it’s just a women’s thing’ – period pain is not normal. Pain, cramping, migraines, needing to vomit from the pain around a bleed (or ovulation) is not normal, they are common but not normal. A bleed should come and go with ease. Common conditions such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), PMS … the list goes on.. again, if you experience pain around your bleed or ovulation best to book an appointment with your health care professional and do a little detective work to find the cause.
5. Mucous is normal:
Ladies, I can not say it enough! Cervical Mucous is normal, it changes throughout the month and it is a clear indication of ovulation and hormonal changes. When the mucous changes from a thick creamy texture to a stringy egg white consistency it indicates that ovulation is about to occur. This is the time to have sex if wanting to conceive or avoid sex if you are trying to avoid a baby. The only time mucous may not be normal is if it is yellow in colour, strong smelling or itchy.
6. The moon can affect your cycle:
The moon moves water, we are around 70% water so its no wonder the moon can have such an effect on us. We can feel and see subtle shifts as the moon shifts. We can ovulate on a full moon and bleed on a new moon. As the moon shifts, we shift.
7. Stress can affect your cycle:
Our body is smart if we are too stressed with work and life, adding a child into that mix would just add more stress – So it thinks its helping, shifts (or skips) ovulation and moves the bleed to help us feel less stressed. However, in reality, if you’re not trying to a pregnancy, a lengthened cycle can bring a whole different side of stress. Stress its self can cause inflammation in the body and this can shift hormones around, use nutrients that were allocated for other areas and alter our cycle.
8. Food can affect your cycle:
There are common foods that can cause more upset (and inflammation) than others; dairy, gluten, refined sugar, soy, and processed foods are all on that list. If you are experiencing pain around a bleed or ovulation looking at your dietary intake can support and reduce those symptoms. Dairy can be a big contributor to upset cycles, PMS and painful bleeds… eliminating it (and the dairy protein casein) can be an easy place to start. Eliminate it for a couple of cycles and keep track of the changes.
9. The Oral Contraceptive Pill can’t fix periods:
The OCP is brilliant at pushing the pause button on periods and cycles, this, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that the problem does away. Often it can make things worse once you come off the OCP. It doesn’t help to ‘balance’ hormones. As a side note: the Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP) contains progestins rather than the calming hormone we naturally produce progesterone, which is why some women find their moods change for the worse. It also can cause a shift in gut (and vaginal) flora disturbing the microbiome and deplete key nutrients such as B Vitamins.
10. The bleed on the Oral Contraceptive Pill isn’t a period:
It simply isn’t the same thing. Hormones didn’t rise and fall. You didn’t ovulate, it’s not a period – it’s an OCP bleed.
11. Your vagina is a self-cleaning system:
There is never a good reason to use floral scented douches, glitter, harsh soaps or fragrance. The vagina naturally has good bacteria and self-cleaning abilities (through mucous changes throughout the month and the bleed its self) is a well-oiled machine. Adding fragrance throws off this microbiome balance and can cause conditions such as thrush and itchiness.
12. Organic products are always a good idea:
I recently read an article on why you don’t need to spend the money and use organic – I was disappointed as this could not be further from the truth. Cotton is one of the most heavily processed and sprayed crops, that means that all those chemicals and pesticides sit within the cotton, and in turn, sit on (or in) your most delicate body part – and direct access to your bloodstream. Conventional tampons and pads often have a thin layer of plastic coating the product, for tampons, this is to help ‘glide’ in and out – again, these plastics have direct access to our bloodstream and are known to cause havoc on our hormonal and reproductive health. The reality is that a pack of Organic 16 reg tampons will cost around $5.35 – less than a glass of wine.
13. No one knows your body better than you:
I can not say this enough to my clients; if your cycle is off, if it hurts, if it different to previous months, if you are vomiting from period pain … speak up. Nothing breaks my heart more than hearing from women that the pain on their bleed is in their head, that it is normal or just a women problem. Be your own advocate. You know your body best. Having the knowledge and understanding of the duration of your cycle, when you ovulate, how much blood you lose each month and what colour it is, when pain starts and how long it lasts – is powerful information to explain what your body is doing and how it is treating you.
Words: Alyce Cimino | BHs Naturopathy
Alyce is a degree qualified naturopath and owner of AHARA HEALTH. Alyce has struggled with her own reproductive health issues and understands the challenges that can come from it. Alyce’s area of interest clinically is women’s health; young and old, helping women to understand their body and empowering women to put themselves first and their health first.