Menstrual Cycle Myths
Your Kamloops Naturopathic Doctor’s advice for navigating your period and the plethora of misinformation surrounding menstrual cycles.
Over my years as a Naturopathic Physician, I have been witness to some significant improvements in women’s health, but there is still much to be done. I believe that the only way to move the needle in terms of the quality of health care women receive is to improve the access (and accuracy) of the information required for women to make informed decisions about their health care and their body.
One of the topics my patients have the most confusion and questions about is their menstrual cycle. It is common for women to assume that their menstrual cycle is irrelevant until or unless they are considering or trying to conceive, but this could not be more untrue.
Your menstrual cycle is actually a pretty cool barometer of your overall health. Recently, it's even been bumped up to 'vital sign' status—that's right, it's hanging out in the same club as your blood pressure now. If it starts acting all irregular on you, that might be your body's way of hinting at a higher risk of biggies like heart disease or cancer.
So, let’s tap into what our bodies are trying to tell us by equipping ourselves with the knowledge necessary to do so. Here are the biggest myths about your menstrual cycle:
Menstrual cycles are 28 days in length.
The length of a woman's menstrual cycle can vary, but it typically ranges between 21 and 35 days. The average is usually around 28 days, although it's completely normal for this to differ from woman to woman, and even from month to month.
While you’ve likely heard the term countless times in your life, I’d like to take the time to really break down the menstrual cycle. The complex and natural process is a coordinated series of hormonal changes that prepare a woman's body for potential pregnancy. Here's the basic rundown:
The cycle begins on the first day of menstruation (bleeding), which is the body's way of shedding the lining of the uterus (endometrium) that has built up in preparation for a potential pregnancy.
After menstruation, the body starts preparing for ovulation, which is when the ovaries release an egg. This preparation involves the production of the hormone estrogen, which helps build up the uterine lining again.
Ovulation usually happens around the midpoint of the cycle, although the exact timing can vary. If the egg is fertilized by sperm, it can implant itself into the thickened uterine lining and begin to grow. If the egg isn't fertilized, it breaks down and is expelled from the body.
After ovulation, the hormone progesterone rises to help maintain the uterine lining just in case of pregnancy. If pregnancy doesn't occur, progesterone levels drop, triggering the start of menstruation and the beginning of the next cycle.
Several factors can influence the length and regularity of a woman's menstrual cycle, including age. Adolescents just starting their period and women approaching menopause often have irregular cycles. Remember, what's "normal" can vary widely. No matter where you are in life, consulting with a healthcare provider about your menstrual cycle is extremely beneficial as other factors can impact your cycle.
Stress is indeed a major player in disrupting hormonal balance. When we're under a lot of stress, our bodies respond by releasing cortisol. This hormone can actually interfere with how our reproductive hormones usually work. It's all part of the body's survival instinct, prioritizing our immediate well-being over reproductive functions when stress is high. Lifestyle choices, including your diet and how active you are, also significantly influence the regularity of your menstrual cycle. Too much physical activity or not enough nutritious food can upset your hormonal balance and lead to changes in your cycle.
Additionally, certain underlying health conditions, like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and thyroid disorders, can cause hormonal imbalances that disrupt the regularity of your menstrual cycle. By understanding the signals your body is sending, we can collaboratively support your hormonal health and menstrual regularity, focusing on maintaining a balanced lifestyle and effective stress management strategies.
Every woman ovulates on day 14.
The notion that every woman ovulates on day 14 is indeed a myth, and here's why: The menstrual cycle of each woman is unique, and it can vary significantly in length. The "average" cycle length is often cited as 28 days, with ovulation supposedly occurring on day 14. However, this is merely an average, not an absolute rule that applies to everyone.
Ovulation, or the release of a mature egg from the ovary, typically happens about two weeks before the start of the next menstrual period. But given that menstrual cycle lengths can range from about 21 to 35 days as mentioned previously, the day of ovulation can also vary. For instance, a woman with a 24-day cycle might ovulate around day 10, whereas a woman with a 35-day cycle might not ovulate until around day 21.
As mentioned, certain factors such as stress, diet, exercise, and underlying health conditions like PCOS can influence the timing of ovulation. Even regular aging can impact cycle length and the timing of ovulation. And many women have irregular cycles, meaning that the length of their cycle varies from month to month. For these women, predicting ovulation based on a day count becomes even more challenging.
So, while the day 14 rule might be helpful as a general guideline, it certainly doesn't apply to every woman or every cycle. It's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider or a fertility specialist for personalized advice about ovulation and fertility.
As you can only get pregnant six days during your menstrual cycle (five days prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation), it can be very difficult to predict your fertile window. I understand how frustrating it can be, but please do not rely on cycle tracking apps for your primary source of predicting ovulation. I am honored to work with women directly to decode and simplify their cycles through natural treatments and counseling. To learn more about my services as a fertility-based Naturopathic Physician, click here.
Period pain is normal.
Many women think that period pain is just part of being a woman, but that's not the case. While it's common, with about 80 percent of women I see in my clinic experiencing period pain, it's not what's “supposed to happen.” If you're dealing with moderate to severe cramping, it's a sign that something is out of balance.
Popping painkillers or just “dealing with it” each month is not the solution. Instead, it's time to listen to your body and address the underlying issues. Conditions like PCOS, PMS, endometriosis, and perimenopause can all cause period problems, but you don't have to suffer through them.
Your body actually makes substances called prostaglandins that can either cause or ease cramping. The good news is that by taking care of your body and eating right, you can help your body make more of the good prostaglandins to ease period pain.
While mild cramping on one day of your period can be normal, severe or ongoing pain is not. Conditions like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and adenomyosis can all cause more intense period pain.
Endometriosis: This is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside the uterus, such as on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or other pelvic or abdominal organs. This can cause severe pain, especially during menstruation.
Uterine fibroids: These noncancerous growths in the uterus can cause heavier or more painful periods.
Adenomyosis: This is a condition where the endometrial tissue grows into the muscular wall of the uterus. This can lead to prolonged, heavy periods and severe menstrual cramps.
In these cases, the pain is more than just a minor discomfort—it can be debilitating and significantly impact a woman's quality of life. If menstrual pain consistently prevents normal activities or is accompanied by other symptoms such as heavy bleeding, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider.
Natural Hormonal Therapy in Kamloops, BC
I understand how frustrating it is to not understand your menstrual cycle—but I also understand how liberating it can be once you do. My mission is to help other women find the same clarity I did once listening to my body’s natural cues through education. My fertility-based Naturopathic practice is designed to help you navigate the plethora of misinformation and myths surrounding your health so we can get to the root cause of your concerns, optimizing your health and life.
Your hormonal health goes well beyond the menstrual cycle myths we discussed today. To learn more about your menstrual cycle, hormones and how working with a Naturopathic Physician can address your concerns, book your consultation with me here. And if you found this article helpful, please share the link with the women in your life and stay in touch with me over on socials @drmarissagaucher.nd.