Periods are one of those matters that most people tiptoe around. Modern society teaches us to skirt around this taboo topic, not because it’s unimportant, but because it makes people uncomfortable. Well, it’s time for all that to change. Your period provides a crimson window into your health.
And let’s face it, it’s probably time you had a bit of a refresher from your high school sex-ed classes. There’s likely a lot you don’t know about what your period is telling you. Here are five reasons why you period is lighter, heavier or stranger than your usual monthly cycle.
What constitutes a “normal” period?
The answer to this question is that there’s no “perfect” period. Many women have consistent periods that occur at a similar time each month and last for a similar duration. Others experience varied menstruation from month to month, with both the regularity, consistency and length of their period changing significantly. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong health-wise. But, it’s also possible that those variations are trying to tell you something.
According to some experts, the ideal menstrual cycle is between five to seven days in length. It should start with a bright cranberry color and have the consistency of a jello mix that has yet to solidify. This “normal” period would typically occur every 28 to 30 days.
That’s just to give you an idea. There will be variation in your period from time to time — that’s okay. But when you notice significant changes in your menstrual cycle, be that in viscosity, regularity or length, you need to start asking questions. Here are a few starting points to give you an idea of what your period is trying to tell you.
Your period is heavier than usual
If you’re finding that you need to change your pads or tampons as often as once every hour, are seeing large, dark purple clots in your discharge or need to take extreme measures like putting special sheets on the bed to prevent a monthly mess, then you may have a problem. This suggests that your period is heavier than it probably should be. But, the upside is that you can tell a lot about your health from this.
The most likely cause of heavy menstruation is elevated estrogen levels. This hormone is utilized to build the lining of your uterus, along with a range of other vital functions in the female body. The cause of your estrogen dominance could derive from the fact that your liver is unable to adequately process and break down this hormone. This could be due to a diet that prevents your liver from operating as it should.
What to do for a heavier period
The solution is to support your liver and support your health in general. Using natural detoxifying herbs like milk thistle can give your liver a much-needed boost and allow it to get on top of your estrogen overload. Next, drinking plenty of filtered or (preferably) spring water can help your body to expel hormone buildup and other toxins faster. Finally, eating plenty of dark leafy greens can support both your liver and immune system to overcome this problem.
Another approach is to determine why you have an estrogen overload in the first place. As you may already know, contraceptive pills can wreak havoc with your hormones. They can cause your body to produce an excess of estrogen in relation to other hormones. Consider ditching the oral contraceptives for other effective methods if you’re serious about your health.
In addition, tap water has been shown to contain large concentrations of estrogen-mimicking compounds in many areas. Stick to mineral or spring water in glass bottles. Or, get your hands on an effective water filter. Lastly, consider avoiding high-estrogen foods. These include dried fruit, flaxseed, sesame seeds, chickpeas, peas and alfalfa sprouts. This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives you a good starting point.
Your period is lighter than usual
If you’ve noticed that your menstruation is shorter than usual, there isn’t much flow or the periods aren’t happening at all some months, it’s probably a bit on the light side. A short period of three days or less can indicate low estrogen levels. As I discussed in the previous section, estrogen is used by the body to build your uterine wall. So, too little flow means your lining isn’t sufficient to allow “normal” menstrual discharge.
Estrogen production is highly dependent on the foods you eat. This means a lack of certain foods can manifest in lighter monthly periods. Get plenty of protein from healthy sources, like grass-fed beef, lamb, free-range chicken and pork — not soy! And, the occasional raw almond or cashew can go a long way towards helping your body get back on top of that estrogen problem. Eat plenty of healthy fats, including saturated fat from grass-fed butter and coconut oil. Also, eat omega-3 rich fatty foods like sardines and mackerel to help stabilize hormone production.
Your period is brown at the beginning
You know that something is up when your period isn’t even the right color! If your flow at the start of every month looks brown, or even contains brown spots, you may be seeing old oxidized blood that didn’t get expelled from your uterus during the previous period. Typically, this is caused by a depletion in the hormone progesterone, which can be due to a wide range of factors. Low progesterone can also manifest in a variety of other ways, including difficulty ovulating and irregular menstrual cycles.
Once again, we turn to diet to solve your problem. Eat plenty of pastured, organic eggs to help boost the production of progesterone in your body — but only if you eat the yolks! Besides, egg yolks are by far the most nutritious part of the egg. They provide a wide range of other nutrients that will nurture your body and help get your hormone production back on track.
In addition, supplement your diet with a high-quality B6 vitamin to increase progesterone production. This will ensure that your period returns to that healthy, deep red color you should otherwise expect.
Your period is causing your pain
This one is something you really want to avoid, as it can seriously impact your day-to-day life during menstruation. Otherwise known as dysmenorrhea, menstrual cramps cause pain during the shedding of your uterine lining. And it’s an all too common symptom. An estimated 50 percent of all American women suffer from this condition. It is often due to excessively high levels of the hormone prostaglandin.
Prostaglandin is associated with pain and inflammation. More prostaglandin can result in more severe pain and cramps in the lower abdomen during menstruation. It can also lead to the debilitating condition endometriosis, which is a whole different kettle of fish.
What to do for a painful period
While oral contraceptives have been shown to lower the production of prostaglandin in the body, as we discussed above there are plenty of other reasons why you don’t want to be resorting to using these. There are other, more wholesome ways to achieve the same result. These include reducing the amount of omega-6 fatty acids in your diet and increasing omega-3 intake.
Omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to contribute to inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes, thereby worsening your problem. Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils and any animal products sourced from caged poultry or pork.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the yin to omega-6’s yang. They lower inflammation in the body. This should help to decrease inflammatory prostaglandin production in order to minimize menstrual cramping and pain. Get plenty of healthy fats in your diet. These include chia seeds, cold-water fatty fish (such as salmon and mackerel) and grass-fed beef and lamb.
Next, increase your vitamin E consumption. Scientific evidence suggests that vitamin E, otherwise known as tocopherol, is effective in treating primary dysmenorrhea. You can either up your vitamin E intake by eating plenty of raw, additive-free nuts and seeds, olive oil, dark leafy greens, shellfish and broccoli. Otherwise, get your hands on a well-respected vitamin E supplement.
Your cycles are super short
If your cycles are becoming more frequent and occurring less than every 28 days or so, you probably need to start asking questions. There’s a reason why our ancestors referred to menstruation as “moon flow.”
If you’re noticing short period cycles, it’s possible that you’re suffering from an underactive thyroid. This gland controls a wide range of things in your body, including the production and regulation of many hormones. So, if your thyroid is out of whack, so too will your monthly cycle. Consider increasing your intake of iodine from natural sources like kelp and other marine-based organisms. But make sure you don’t overdo it! Too much iodine can send your thyroid into overdrive, which comes with its own host of problems. If in doubt, consult a professional.
Do you have period problems? Have you tried any natural solutions to resolve them? Tell us about your experience!
— Liivi Hess