What your Cycle can Tell you About your Body
Women are intricate beings, greatly influenced by various hormones that control a variety of physical, emotional, and mental functions within the body. These hormones are powerful messengers and it’s essential that they remain in a balanced state in order for the body to be properly regulated. When balanced, a complex feedback loop between the brain, ovaries, and adrenals will leave us feeling energetic and in tune with nature.
Our menstrual cycle, in particular, can tell us a lot about the state of our hormonal and overall health. The hormones that regulate our menstrual cycle also influence other aspects of our daily lives - including sleep, coping with stress, and even metabolism. Observing the changes you experience throughout your monthly cycle can provide you with valuable information and give you insights into the intricate nature of your being.
The Menstrual Cycle
There are five main groups of steroid hormones that surge at different times of the month in order to regulate menstruation. These include glucocorticoids (cortisol), mineralocorticoids (aldosterone), androgens (testosterone), estrogens, and progestogens.
Why We Should Tune In
These chemical messengers provide us with key indications as to what’s going on with us internally, and one of the best ways to become more in tune with your body is through observation of monthly menstrual signs and symptoms. Although it may be viewed by some as that dreaded time of the month, women are blessed with the ability to menstruate and have their bodies perform a full detox on a monthly basis. How we feel and behave around this time can tell us how well our bodies are performing this task.
When Out of Balance
When imbalanced, body processes malfunction and this can affect sleep, mood, libido, and in more severe cases can cause exhaustion, infertility, fibroids, and other disorders. An imbalance can occur by having too much estrogen in relation to progesterone, or due to excessive exposure to environmental estrogens, which may ultimately result in estrogen dominance.
Signs of Hormonal Imbalances:
Several signs may be present to give you an idea of whether your hormones are imbalanced. Watch for the following conditions:
Hypothyroidism (inability to lose weight, cold extremities, intolerance to exercise)
Adrenal exhaustion (fatigue, inability to handle stress, difficulties with sleep)
Liver overload (multiple chemical sensitivities, skin disruptions)
Ovarian cysts and fibrocystic breasts
Insulin imbalances (low blood sugar, sugar cravings)
An excess of estrogen in the body is often the cause of female reproductive health concerns and a compromised menstrual cycle. On the other hand, too little progesterone can also be of concern and may mimic the sign and symptoms of estrogen dominance. Factors that may increase estrogen in the body include:
Consuming foods that have hormones added to them such as commercially produced meat, eggs, and dairy products
Taking birth control pills (BCP), as they have high levels of estrogen
Exposure to environmental toxins that mimic the actions of estrogen in the body (xenoestrogens)
Exposure to radiation, which increases estrogen levels in the blood
Chronic constipation, which interrupts our natural excretion of estrogens from the body, allowing them to be reabsorbed
Taking synthetic estrogen supplements such as hormone replacement therapy
Determine Your Cycle
The following tips can be used to identify what your menstrual cycle is trying to tell you
A woman's full cycle often ranges from 28-30 days, and typically, the bleeding phase will last anywhere between 3-5 days in a healthy individual. Several conditions may affect the length and duration of your period, including menorrhagia, a complaint characterized by excessive bleeding, and amenorrhea, the absence of a period.
Excessive Blood Loss (Menorrhagia)
Whether a woman’s period is heavy or light is completely subject to the individual, however certain guidelines can help you determine where you fall on the spectrum. A woman who menstruates for more than 7 days or has a cycle shorter than 21 days is considered to have excessive blood loss. This also includes women who find themselves having to change a pad or tampon every half hour, which may require emergency medical attention. Functional menorrhagia, that is menorrhagia not caused by uterine fibroids or endometriosis, involves abnormalities of the lining of the uterus. This may be due to an iron deficiency, hypothyroidism, vitamin A deficiency, the use of IUDs (intrauterine devices), or a variety of other factors such as infections.
Simple help for healing: Chasteberry (vitex) for hormonal regulation. Ginger to inhibit inflammatory prostaglandin production associated with heavy bleeding. Astringent herbs like yarrow can help strengthen and tone uterine tissues and prevent excessive bleeding. Blue cohosh can be used along with yarrow as a uterine tonic to regulate blood flow. Useful supplements are vitamin A, vitamin K & chlorophyll, B-complex vitamins, iron, vitamin C & bioflavonoids. Diet should be whole foods based, nutrient-dense, high in wild fatty fish, essential fatty acids, and low in other animal fats.
Infrequency or Absence of a Period (Amenorrhea)
Cessation of a regular period may be the result of many factors including high physical or psychological stress, inadequate energy (caloric) intake, excessive physical exertion, poor iron status, high cortisol levels, and low body fat levels. Amenorrhea is strongly associated with a loss in bone density and tends to be more commonly a concern for endurance athletes. Other considerations include the presence of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and early menopause. It’s important to determine the root cause of amenorrhea in order to make the adjustments - herbs, supplements, diet, or lifestyle - best suited for your specific condition.
Help for healing: Nutrients essential to improving amenorrhea are: vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, omega fatty acids, cholesterol, fiber, and zinc. A diet high in whole plant foods, wild-caught fish, organic eggs, leafy greens, fruits, nuts, and seeds should help you attain all of these vitamins. Supplement wherever needed. Herbs to help regain your menstrual cycle are: black cohosh, dong quai, motherwort, and white peony. Other areas to address are the potential presence of PCOS, being overweight or underweight, stress, thyroid issues, and menopause. Over-exercising can often cause missed periods. Yoni steaming is a helpful tool to help bring on the menses (more on this below!).
PMS:The Not-so-normal Symptom of Menstruation
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a common term that is often associated with a woman’s unexplainable mood or behavior that to many might seem out of line or irrational. These changes typically occur 7-14 days prior to menstruation and may affect our behavior as well as our physical state. PMS can be classified into 5 categories and each is associated with a specific hormonal imbalance.
The most common type, symptoms of PMS-A include anxiety, irritability, and emotional instability. The imbalance is caused by too much estrogen and too little progesterone.
Helpful tips: Reduce your xenoestrogen exposure by eliminating plastics, conventional produce and animal products, and non-organic skin care and home cleaning products. Support your adrenals to ease anxiety; licorice root as a decoction is a wonderful adrenal tonic. For acute anxiety, try lemon balm or ashwagandha for an immediate calming effect.
Typical symptoms of PMS-C include cravings for sweets and carbs, an increase in appetite, headaches, fatigue, fainting, and heart palpitations. The imbalance may be due to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and too much insulin being produced in the earlier part of the cycle.
Helpful tools: Take steps to balance blood sugar by consuming a low sugar and carb diet. Eat frequent, small meals throughout the day that contain healthy sources of protein, fats, fiber, and greens, and consider taking a chromium supplement of 200-400 msg daily.
This type of PMS is associated with crying, confusion, and feeling overall depressed. It’s mainly caused by low estrogen and high progesterone.
Help for healing: A dose of 30-60 mg of zinc daily, along with 100-300 mg of vitamin B6, is recommended. Consider taking 400 mg of magnesium before bed to further reduce symptoms.
Typical pains that are associated with menstruation include cramping, headaches, and back aches. Like PMS-A, it’s associated with an imbalance of too much estrogen and too little progesterone.
Healing tips: Ayurvedic principles recommend drinking the following: take one tablespoon of aloe vera gel with two pinches of black pepper orally three times a day until cramps disappear. Also consider taking 400 mg of magnesium per day to help relax muscle contractions. Cramp bark is another great option. Take the following dose: Tincture: Minimum 20-30 drops, maximum 1 tsp, 3x per day. Decoction: 1g per cup of water, 2-3x per day. Powder: 1-4g or as needed.
This last classification is linked to water retention and bloating. Women who suffer from PMS-H tend to gain weight during this time of the month and feel bloated with breast tenderness. This is the second most common form of PMS. It can be due to high aldosterone levels, stress, high estrogen, low magnesium levels, or high salt levels.
Help for healing: Ensure that you avoid all allergens whether it’s from food or beauty care products. Take 1-2 grams of potassium each day along with a B-complex vitamin. In addition, take an extra 50-200 mg per day of vitamin B6 and ensure that you’re exercising & sweating on a regular basis.
Color of Menstruation
The color of your period can tell you a lot about what may be happening inside of your body. For instance, if you start your period each month with brown-colored blood, this often means that your previous period didn’t shed efficiently. This is generally caused by a lack of circulation and can easily be remedied by drinking more water, exercising, yoni steaming, & practicing womb massage.
Circulation and full clearance each menstrual cycle is incredibly important for fertility. If there’s a build-up of past menses, tissues, cysts, etc., then a fertilized egg will be unable to complete the implantation process. Regular movement, blood flow, circulation, and yoni steaming are all powerful tools for cleansing and preparing the womb.
A healthy period is generally 3-4 days of bright red blood.
Brown blood can also be a sign of low progesterone, which can contribute to PMS & lack of ovulation. To balance progesterone levels, support your adrenals to better manage stress. Licorice root, siberian ginseng, and ashwagandha are wonderful adrenal tonics. Vitex (chasteberry) is excellent for promoting progesterone production.
Barely-there blood is often a sign of too little estrogen or a lack of essential vitamins and minerals, which can be due to extreme diets, fasting, or high levels of stress/adrenal burnout. Providing your body with sufficient nutrients from whole foods as well as reducing stress will contribute greatly towards rebalancing your hormones and regaining normal menstrual flow.
Help for healing
Yoni Steaming Also known as vaginal steaming, yoni steaming is an ancient practice of using herbal medicine to connect with and heal your body. It involves sitting over herb-infused water which allows steam to permeate the body, offering natural healing on a deep level. Yoni steaming has been used throughout history to relieve pain, reduce brown blood and detoxify the womb, correct menstrual cycles, increase fertility, and more.
Womb Massage is a healing practice used to support reproductive health, fertility, and regulation of the menstrual cycle. It has also been known to help correct a prolapsed uterus. It’s especially beneficial in breaking up adhesions such as with blocked fallopian tubes, PCOS, and endometriosis.
Daily movement is important for ensuring adequate circulation and blood flow. The skin is one of our main elimination organs, and every time we sweat we are helping it to detoxify and to remove toxins from the body. This allows other elimination organs, like the liver, to do a better job of processing and eliminating other toxins including excess hormones.
The following essential tips should help you achieve the healthiest period possible. Keep in mind that long-term hormonal abnormalities require the support and care of a holistic practitioner.
Balance Blood Sugar It’s important to get hormones in check to regulate your period and reduce symptoms. This means all hormones, including insulin - not just estrogen. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day and consume protein at each meal to balance blood sugar levels and prevent insulin spikes. High-protein or high-fat snacks between each meal can replace sugary or carb-filled treats. Good sources of protein include organic & pasture-raised meats, sustainably sourced cold-water fish, organic free-range eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Drink More Water Drink an additional liter of water every day starting a week before menstruation, and ending one week after your period. Your standard water consumption in ounces each day should be at least half of your body weight in pounds.
Increase Fiber Fiber is essential to eliminate excess estrogens from the body. Foods that are high in fiber include nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Ensure these foods are soaked prior to cooking to remove any anti-nutrients, such as phytates. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also a great source of fiber.
Phytoestrogens have an important impact on hormonal regulation in the body. They can help to balance estrogen levels, either increasing or decreasing them to meet optimal levels. Flaxseeds are a great option. They can be ground up and added to smoothies or used to top salads. Flaxseeds are excellent for reducing harmful estrogen production and estrogen metabolites.
Chasteberry (vitex) is one of the best-known botanicals that have been used to treat hormonal imbalances and abnormal bleeding, including heavy menses. It’s important to note that chasteberry may take 3-4 months to see optimal benefits, but it’s definitely worth the wait. Unlike many other herbs, chasteberry is an adaptogen and will therefore cater to a variety of menstrual complaints and help to regulate any imbalances. Take 15 drops of liquid extract daily for optimal results.
Support Hormonal Balance (specific to estrogen dominance)
DIM (diindolylmethane) is a powerful metabolizer of estrogen and assists in its removal from the body. It also supports the body’s ability to regenerate new blood vessels, specifically in the breasts and cervix. DIM is a safe supplement to take if you’re menopausal or are currently on, or have a history of taking, hormone replacement therapy.
Zinc is required for the production of all hormones and a deficiency in this mineral has been linked to menstrual irregularities. Consider taking 30-60 mg of zinc daily in capsule form.
Vitamin B Complex- B vitamins are required by the liver to process and eliminate excess estrogens, therefore supplementation may promote estrogen metabolism. B vitamins are water-soluble and therefore not stored in the body, so it’s important to take a B-complex daily. A supplement that contains 3-9 mg of thiamine, 4.5-9 mg of riboflavin, and up to 60 mg of niacin is ideal.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Beneficial omega 3 fatty acids are essential for the production of many hormones. For women who are suffering from menstrual issues and therefore reducing their intake of animal products, it’s essential to take omega 3 fatty acids, specifically fish oils, to ensure sufficient production of these hormones. Take 1,500 mg of EPA/DHA daily.
Avoid consuming foods that may contribute to or trigger PMS symptoms. These often include sugar, alcohol, caffeine, dairy, and processed/fast foods. This is especially important one week prior to expected symptoms.
Xenoestrogens, or man-made chemicals that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, are not only hormone-disruptive, they’ve been shown to be cancer-causing. They contribute to many estrogen-dominant conditions including uterine fibroids, heavy menstruation, and infertility. Xenoestrogens can be found in pesticides, conventional beef and dairy products, conventional cosmetics, self-care products, and cleaning products, fabric softeners, bleach, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. Their ability to disturb our natural menstrual rhythm comes in many forms, not just through the mimicking of hormones. Their effects can lead to the storage of fat which contributes to increased levels of estrogen and excessive amounts of insulin.
The Birth Control Pill (BCP) Synthetic estrogen found in the birth control pill (as well as in fertility drugs and hormone therapies) are major contributors to estrogen overload. The pill is typically prescribed for many suffering from menopausal conditions, such as cycle irregularities, acne, and endometriosis. However, it is not recommended for long-term use, which has been associated with blood clotting and cardiovascular disease. The very reason many women take the pill in the first place is a condition that is only made worse once they stop taking the pill. This can lead to even heavier periods and enhanced fibroid growth, which can potentially lead to hysterectomy
Soy products contain substances called phytoestrogens, which as discussed above help to balance estrogen levels in our bodies. Women with low estrogen find that the phytoestrogens in soy actually help to regulate their periods and ease symptoms associated with PMS. However, other women (generally those with excess estrogen or estrogen clearance gene mutations) find that consuming soy has the opposite effect and that it exacerbates their menstrual, infertility, and menopausal conditions. Tune in and consider eliminating soy if your other interventions are not yielding desired results. If you do choose to consume soy, always choose organic, non-GMO soy. Fermented soy products, such as tempeh, natto, and miso are the best options.
Listening to your body and observing its monthly rhythm can give you a lot of information about the health of your hormones. Ensuring proper foods and adding herbs and supplements can help you achieve optimal period and hormonal health.