Our menstrual cycles are special, sacred, and give us a lot of insight into our overall health. Our hormones, including our sex hormones that affect our menstrual cycle, are constantly in flux and therefore are susceptible to our daily lifestyle choices.
Normal menses range from 21-35 days with normal bleeding ranging from 3-7 days. The average length of the menstrual cycle is 29.5 days, but everyone has a different normal as we are all unique! There are many hormones involved in our menstrual cycle but the 2 main hormones are estrogen and progesterone. Imbalances in these hormones, as well as thyroid hormones, nutrient deficiences, stress, blood sugar imbalances, neurotransmitter issues, and more can cause issues with our menstrual cycles.
While many women experience cramping, heavy bleeding, and PMS (such as breast swelling, mood changes, and bloating) this does not mean these symptoms are normal. Periods can be a time of slowing down, needing rest, and reflection, but should not be painful and distract you so greatly from your normal and balanced life.
There are many habits and lifestyle choices that can affect your menstrual cycle, negatively and positively. Here is a list of some of the biggest ones.
The recommended amount of alcohol for women to consume is 7 drinks per week. In my practice, I often see that even 1 drink per week can negatively affect a woman’s menstrual cycle!
Alcohol is processed by the liver just as our sex hormones are. Alcohol is much more toxic to us than our own hormones, and our body will choose to process alcohol before sex hormones. If we have an excessive amount of our own sex hormone estrogen it can cause a whole range of symptoms such as heavy bleeding and cramping.
Alcohol is also very inflammatory, dehydrating, can negatively affect our microbiome, and can deplete important nutrients which can increase the likelihood of PMS and painful menses.
Sleep is essential to overall health and the menstrual cycle is no exception.
Sleeping 7-9 hours in a cool, dark room and sleeping by 10:00PM is essential for optimal hormonal health.
If you have trouble sleeping, I recommend reading here for tips on having a more restful night.
Xenoestrogens are chemical compounds that mimic estrogen and can bind to the estrogen receptors in the body.
These kind of compounds can be found in many places inside your home and can be everywhere in your daily life. They’re found in cooking utensils, personal care products, receipts, water bottles, and more.
This estrogen-mimicking effect can cause estrogen excess and can affect your menses negatively. It can contribute to painful menses, heavy menses, fertility issues, breast swelling and tenderness, migraines, mood changes, and more.
These xenoestrogens can be hard to avoid! One of the most common examples of xenoestrogens is BPA (bisphenol A). This is found in receipts, plastic water bottles, food containers, and metal can coating. I recommend even being wary of cans and bottles that say “BPA-free.” This can simply mean that these products contains BPS (bisphenol S) or BPF (bisphenol F), which simply means that the chemical structure has been changed ever so slightly, but the effects on your body are very similar and sometimes worse than the effects of BPA.
Nutrition is a cornerstone of our health. Food becomes us! This means our nutrition is extremely important for our menstrual cycle on many differnet levels.
Having proper fat intake is important as fats are building blocks for our hormones.
Eating inflammatory foods such as processed foods, sugar, and vegetable oils can to more painful and heavy menses, as well as contribute to PMS.
Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can support the diversity of our microbiome and affect our menses in a postive way by balancing hormones.
Our bodies are around 70% water so how much we drink and what type of water we drink is very important.
Being chronically dehydrated can cause toxins to build in the body and burden our bodies with excess inflammation, which could eventually lead to a more disturbed menses.
Also, our tap water contains medications, heavy metals, and synthetic chemicals that can also place a burden on our hormones. Drinking filtered water is important for our hormone health.
STRESS + EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES
Stress and emotional disturbances can wreak havoc on our menstrual cycles.
Stress can alter thyroid hormones, increases demand for nutrients, affect blood sugar, and cause imbalances in sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
There are a wide variety of medications that could affect the menstraul cycle. All of the organs and systems of the body are connected. This means that even a seemingly unrelated medication could affect our sex hormones and therefore our menstrual cycle.
Pesticides can disrupt the microbiome and our digestive health in general.
This can impair the ability of our bodies to process hormones properly. Try to eat organic fruits and vegetables when feasible and available. The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen are great resources if you’re trying to prioritize which foods are most important to eat organic.
Hitting a sweet spot is important for exercise. While exercise is a key tenant of health, too little or too much exercise can affect your cycle.
Exercise can improve blood sugar, mitigate stress, and is great for detoxification, but too much exercise can cause amenorrhea or a lack of menses. While too little exercise can cause homronal imbalance as well. One example is that women with PCOS can help regulate their menstrual cycle by building muscle!.
Sex, and orgasms, can help balance sex hormones! It can help reduce cramping and support lighter periods.
Orgasms can also reduce stress because of the large amount of oxytocin that is released!
While so many of our choices can affect our menstrual cycles, it is important to remember that these changes take time. If you have irregular, heavy, or painful menses, or struggle with PMS I recommend starting small. Pick one small change that could help you have a better cycle. Also, remember your body is the best teacher. Tune in, journal, and listen to your intuition to find what it may need most.
If you need more support, I recommend working with a healthcare provider to identify what may be affecting you most. The key is to develop a comprehensive and unique plan that is catered to you and your body.