THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE

April 8, 2019

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that my passion for training women and women’s health stems from my own pain around menstrual cycles and fertility.

You’ll also know that I have turned this pain, my pain, into a passion. From this passion, a fire sparked. I am determined to help women understand their body’s through education and an active understanding of what a menstrual cycle is.

I was told that I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) – something I am currently trying to disprove, Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid production) and a tentative diagnosis of Endometriosis.

I’m only turning 25 this week.

25, and I’ve had the words obese and infertility thrown in my face by health care professionals more than I care to count.

I am not obese, and I am not infertile, but for a long while I believed it. You don’t question what your GP says, right?

Wrong.

But, I’m also not someone who gives away my inner authority to a person with a title in their name. So, I questioned their less than ideal diagnosis.

I researched, and I expanded the professionals that I discussed my conditions with. I learnt so much, in such a short frame of time. I was constantly challenged, and I allowed my opinions and decisions to change as I discovered more research, different methods and new opinions through incredible Health Coaches, Naturopaths, Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctors, Online E-courses, Books and Endocrinologists.

But, the place I started, the place every single woman should start – is with their menstrual cycle and understanding what happens (or is supposed to happen) every month.

Knowing where you are in your cycle is a fantastic health tool, natural birth control and aids in resolving any hormonal imbalances as you will be able to help your trusted health care professional diagnose/test for the hormone imbalance or focus on the outcomes you are seeking[1].

I recently did a poll on Instagram and 77% of the women voters were scared of getting their periods when they first heard about them.

77%.

I received two direct messages where they told me that they hid their cycles.

Those messages blew me away, how terrified these poor women must have felt! My response to them both was that I was so, incredibly sorry that that happened to them.

Thank goodness that the taboo around menstruation is being lifted, that women are feeling more comfortable to speak about their periods in general conversation, that we are looking to our periods as a sign of health – not just a nuisance! No more period education to insight fear around our cycles, it's time to educate to give each young women power!

So, what should your period be like?

[Before starting this section, I do need to make it clear that the following is all in reference to a natural menstrual cycle. This means a menstrual cycle where you are not taking/using hormonal birth control i.e the birth control pill or the hormonal implant (rod).]

Your menstrual should arrive periodically in a regular, monthly pattern (hence the nickname, period).

The normal cycle length is 28 days, but this is not the rule. Anywhere from 21-35 days is still considered to be within the normal range. To have a cycle within the normal range, it depends on the timing of the four phases that are the summation of your menstrual cycle[2]. These phases are:

  • Menstruation
  • The Follicular phase
  • Ovulation
  • The Luteal phase

 

Menstruation

This is considered as day one of your menstrual cycle, or your first full day of bleeding. This means if your period starts in the afternoon/night time, you don’t consider your first day until the following day. Menstruation signifies that the implantation of the fertilized ovum has not occurred (meaning you're not pregnant), causing your hormones progesterone and oestrogen to drop and the thickened lining of the uterus (the endometrium) to break down and shed[3].

Your period should last anywhere between three – seven days (most women flow for three – five, including a day or two of light spotting).

Whilst menstruation is an event itself, it actually signifies the start of the Follicular phase[4].

 

Follicular Phase

On your first full day of menstruation, the pituitary gland in your brain releases the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone is what starts the process of maturing your ovarian follicles (all of which are now racing to be the follicle released at ovulation). The follicle that matures the most during this time is the one that will rupture and release the egg for ovulation while the others die off[5].

The follicular phase (including the days you are menstruating) can last for 7 – 21 days.

 

Ovulation

This is pretty much an ultimatum of events, you either ovulate, or you don’t. There is no such thing as half ovulating, or kind of ovulating. The egg is triggered by a rise in the Lutenising Hormone (LH), causing the mature follicle to rupture and release the egg.

This event is called ovulation.

Even if you are not trying to conceive, ovulation is a momentous event in a woman’s body. We are literally superwomen at this time! And it also is how our body’s make the hormone progesterone.

The released egg has a lifespan of 12-24 hours. So, you either fertilise to egg and you fall pregnant, or you don’t and you can expect your period in approximately two weeks.

 

Luteal Phase

This is the final phase of the menstrual cycle, linking the time between ovulation and menstruation. This process is between 12 and 16 days.

To completely understand this process, it gets a little bit technical – but please, stay with me!

When the egg is released during ovulation, the ruptured follicle stays on the ovary’s surface and becomes something known as the ‘corpus luteum’. This is what releases the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is essential for period health, reducing inflammation in the body, building muscles, promoting sleep, calming the nervous system and aiding oestrogen in thickening the lining of the uterus for implantation of the fertilized egg[6].

If pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum will die and progesterone levels will drop, halting the process of the uterine walls thickening and begin the process of shedding – and the cycle on menstruation begins again.

It’s a lot to take in – and it’s a lot to remember! Hence why I have written it down for you. This is a basic reference for you if you’re thinking of starting to track your cycle (which if you’re interested in improving your health, I highly recommend). Keep your eyes peeled as I will be writing more blogs on the menstrual cycle and menstrual cycle dysfunctions.

Remember, there are variances to these phases – the above are based around the average menstrual cycle – but remember, no one is the same and it will change from person to person.

You should be using your period as a monthly report card to evaluate your health. The ‘healthier’ you are, the less symptoms you should have prior/during each menstruation that you have. If you’re hit with symptoms like severe moodiness, cravings, acne or cramping – your body is begging you to do something about your lifestyle habits, it is begging you to look at your health and to actually help yourself. When your body is in good balance, you’ll find that your cycles are more regular, your PMS symptoms are less and you will have an easy menstruation[7].

Your period is your insight into the internal workings of your body, and no sign should be ignored[8]. Remember, your body is your best friend – you can’t live without her, and you need to value what she is telling you.

PMS is not normal – it has become ‘normal’ because many women suffer the effects. But, no one should.

If you do not get your period, or it appears over 35 days apart, you should consider consulting your trusted health care professional as to what to do next.

(FYI – the Pill won’t regulate your cycle. It will shut it down and mask a problem that you will have to deal with later in life).

[1] Weaver, L. and Bannard, S. (n.d.). Dr Libby's women's wellness wisdom. p.175.

[2] Briden, L. (n.d.). Period repair manual. p.59.

[3] Kirkpatrick, B. and Johnstone, A. (2018). Healthy Hormones. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, p.14.

[4] Briden, L. (n.d.). Period repair manual. p.60.

[5] Kirkpatrick, B. and Johnstone, A. (2018). Healthy Hormones. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, p.14.

[6] Briden, L. (n.d.). Period repair manual. p.64

[7] Kringoudis, N. (2019). Beautiful you. Sydney, N.S.W.: HQ Non Fiction, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises, p.33.

[8] Kringoudis, N. (2019). Beautiful you. Sydney, N.S.W.: HQ Non Fiction, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises, p.33.

(disclaimer: I not a Doctor, Medical/Surgical Specialist, Naturopath, Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor or Allied Health Care Professional - the information here has been sourced from published pieces of literature from former mentioned professionals and from my own health experience and research are what I firmly believe.)

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