What does a healthy period look like?
Today I’m going to delve into what a healthy menstrual cycle and period actually looks like. We often hear about the hard times and pain women have with their monthly cycles, but there is not a lot of information out there about a good cycle, and what it looks like when things go right. So today we shall delve into an overview of how your hormones work together synergistically to create a healthy monthly cycle, how long this cycle should go for, how much blood you should lose, and more.
Your cycle length is important.
This can vary from one woman to the next, but as women we adhere to the lunar cycle, which is on average 28 days long. Anywhere from 26 to 32 days is considered within the healthy range, and if your cycle is longer or shorter, there may be hormonal imbalances that need to be addressed.
Within this month-long cycle, there are two predominant phases. They are the ‘follicular’ and the ‘luteal’ phases, and they are each essential for ovulation, conception, pregnancy, and a generally well-balanced cycle to occur.
The Follicular phase
The follicular phase is the beginning phase and starts on the first day of your monthly bleed. Oestrogen is the predominant hormone in this phase, with high levels dropping off after ovulation, usually around day 14 of your cycle.
In the follicular phase, oestrogen helps to grow and thicken the lining of the uterus, which prepares the body for conception to occur. It also aids in mood stabilisation and the production of feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.
If the follicular phase is shorter than 14 days, there is not enough time to create a thick and healthy uterus lining. This can cause problems with fertility and achieving and maintaining pregnancy.
When does Ovulation occur?
Ovulation is the mid cycle event of your menstrual cycle, and usually occurs around day 14 of a 28-day cycle. Each woman is slightly different, and there are a number of signs that show you ovulation is occurring in your body.
The first sign is discharge. Your vaginal mucous is a clear indicator of both the health of your internal ecosystem, and your hormones. When you ovulate, this mucous becomes slippery, clear, and profuse, in order to aid the sperm in reaching your fallopian tubes to fertilise the egg.
Your libido may also be higher at this time, which is nature’s way of ensuring species continuation through healthy conception.
The 3 days on either side of ovulation are your prime window for conception.
After ovulation, your body moves into the luteal phase of your cycle.
The Luteal phase of your cycle
The luteal phase is dominated by high amounts of progesterone and occurs straight after ovulation. Progesterone is the hormone that keeps the uterine lining in place after conception, creating a haven for the egg to grow into a baby. If there is not enough progesterone in this phase, miscarriage or infertility can occur.
We also need high levels of progesterone to help create steady moods, strong and healthy bones, and a healthy metabolism.
If conception does not occur in any given cycle, progesterone drops to allow the uterine lining to shed, which heralds the beginning of your next monthly cycle.
This phase of the cycle also lasts approximately 14 days but can be up to 20 days. If it is less than 10 days long, this can signal low progesterone and hormonal dysregulation.
Now let’s take a look at how much blood loss is normal.
How much blood should I lose during my period?
A healthy menstrual cycle is a finely balanced orchestra and includes a blood loss of approximately 50mls. In terms of tampons and pads, this equals 8 fully soaked pads/tampons over the entire course of the bleed, or no more than 16 regular sized pads/tampons in that time.
If the bleed is part of a healthy balanced cycle, it will last approximately 4 to 5 days. When it goes on longer than this, it becomes very taxing on the body.
The colour of the bleed should be bright red and fresh, not brown, or dark in colour.
If large clots or pain are present during the bleed, hormonal imbalances may be at play.
Is your menstrual cycle out of balance?
We’ve discussed what a healthy cycle looks like, but what about when it isn’t healthy? The following signs and symptoms signal that your hormones need some help.
Whilst having pre-menstrual tension, mood swings, aching boobs, food cravings, and generally feeling like an up and down yo-yo are portrayed as normal in our media, they certainly are not something you need to put up with on a monthly basis.
In fact, the following things are NOT part of a healthy cycle:
- Blood clots
- Heavy blood loss – 80ml or more
- Light blood loss – 25ml or less
- Cramping and pain
- Tender breasts
- Sore, aching back or muscles
- Migraines, headaches
- Dark or brown blood
- Spotting during the cycle
These all signal some kind of hormonal or nutritional imbalance, and they each can have different causes.
Here is a brief look at some of the most common causes of hormonal imbalances.
What causes hormonal imbalance?
Liver – oestrogen, one of our main female hormones, gets metabolised and detoxified in the liver. If the liver isn’t at optimal function, it can’t excrete excess hormones. This can allow oestrogen to be recycled back into the body’s circulation, which can contribute to some of the above symptoms.
Chronic stress is another major cause of hormone imbalance. Our main stress hormone cortisol is produced in excess when we are constantly feeling stressed. This allows our adrenal glands to ‘steal progesterone’ from other places where it is needed in the body, and then use it to make extra cortisol. A lack of progesterone can cause many of the above symptoms, including painful periods, mood swings and infertility.
Some other causes of hormone imbalance include an imbalance of healthy gut bacteria, excessive caffeine consumption, under functioning thyroid, an inflammatory diet and more. We look forward to covering these topics in more detail in future blogs.
If this article resonates with you and you would like to get your period or menstrual cycle symptoms under control, you can book in to see me here.