There is a renaissance happening with female health: It is starting to get the attention it deserves from medical professionals, and we are talking about it more and more. Debilitating pain and a range of symptoms have rendered women disabled from carrying out normal daily activities and diagnosis can be a long and windy process.
Since suffering with hormonal migraine, I have been attempting to better understand and self educate on the painful menses we have to endure on a monthly basis.
Through gaining self literacy in our bodies we can bring to ourselves the knowledge and acceptance we have been trying to seek externally. We can empower ourselves by better understanding what is going on and take action to reduce pain and actively manage it.
I hope to offer some steps that can help start you off on your journey towards better periods from my own reading.
1. Firstly, I invite you to start logging your cycle. When do you start to see breakouts or breasts swelling? Is your cycle less than 21 days or longer than 28? Maybe your period doesn't come at all, its sporadic or you are on contraception. The side effects of contraception I will go into in another post. Shorter periods under 21 days can also be classed as 'irregular' which is something that can be tracked to pin down which phase of the cycle is being affected.
Don't just think about the physical symptoms but also emotional ones. Is there a consistency to your anxiety of feelings of unexplainable sadness? Furthermore, what is your diet like? Is there an excess of sugar, caffeine, have you had blood tests or have any food sensitivities? These can be huge factors that affect how our hormones are regulating - a lot of it also down to our gut which is only just starting to be fully understood as a 'second brain' to our bodies. Having a diary to record this can also show correlations with symptoms and taking steps to manage these times of the month that are the most challenging.
It's worth looking into period apps that can help you track this so you have a better idea of planning and thinking about your cycle.
2. What is your period like?
We should start off by clarifying with a quote from 'Period Repair Manual' that pill bleeds are not periods. They are pharmaceutically induced bleeds and the hormones we take in contraception are not real hormones.
'Having the occasional pill bleed is necessary to prevent breakthrough bleeding' writes Lara Briden.
It is purely there as a regulator but it is not to be taken the same as a period without contraception.
Moving on, what is the colour of the blood? Is it thick or clotted or runny? A 'normal' period should be red to begin with and get lighter as it goes along.
A heavy flow is characterise by dark colour and clots. You might see a correlation that the more exercise you do, the runnier and lighter your period is. A heavy period can also be correlated with having the copper IUD contraceptive and/or endometriosis where the tissue of the womb grows in the ovaries or fallopian tubes.
A predominantly pink colour indicates low estrogen levels. Estrogen is the main female hormone that aids the growth in our cells and regulates our cycle. The lack of this in our body is what contributes towards painful sex, hot flushes or low sexual desire around the menopause.
3. Evaluating your cycle
Maybe you have a regular cycle with PMS and some discomfort over your bleed, it may not need any diagnosis unless it is sounding irregular or suddenly different. It is normal to have some fluctuations each month but still getting to know your cycle if you have not done this before is an empowering thing to do and you may start to notice subtle differences in actions you take to make changes to your wellbeing. Perhaps you simply need to spend a bit more time giving yourself permission to relax and take time out to cleanse and heal before dealing with the stressors in your daily life.
However if you feel that some of the above has resonated and your symptoms are not sounding 'regular', then read on below:
Low progesterone can be associated with a Poly-Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) diagnosis. Progesterone is something that will need to be measured by a doctor and working out your 'Luteal Phase' within your cycle as you may not be producing enough around this time. PCOS can be characterised by having irregular or prolonged periods, excess hair growth, acne and weight gain. If you have always had periods longer than a 35 day cycle, this may be PCOS.
Do you have heavy periods, breast tenderness, PMS and potentially fibroids? This can be an indication of Estrogen excess. Again, a doctor can measure this in the middle of your Luteal Phase. Estorgen excess (or dominance given it should be balanced with progesterone) can be down to higher ovary production, impaired metabolism or detoxification. This can be managed or prevented with female health supplements including Vitamin b6, b12, Magnesium and zinc. References say that it can be linked to the gut bacteria as well as the liver as even one alcoholic drink a day can increase your levels of estrogen.
These are just the first few steps we can take to making positive change in our periods. I recommend starting with a period tracking app or your own diary, researching your symptoms and understanding more thoroughly if diet and lifestyle are playing a big part in your menses and distress.
We may choose to manage our pain in a few ways when it does hit us. I will make some suggestions:
-Obtain HRT (which you don't need to be on menopause for) to help with things but after exhausting all other options.
-Scenar Therapy or other Tens Machines or devices can help divert the pain receptors to help us if we are struggling in the moment.
-Reflexology or massage can help with general maintenance when undertaken at least once a month, lowering our adrenalin and cortisol stress hormones and give balance to our hormones.
Reading, I can reccommend:
Period Repair Manual, by Lara Briden
Fix Your Period
Our Hormones, Our Health
I hope to write more in the coming months about more specific areas of period and hormone issues I could only give so much attention to in this blog post so stay tuned.