PERIOD PRIDE: The Physical and Mental Health Effects (and Benefits) of Periods
People who menstruate have been discriminated against and shamed for centuries; which is ludicrous because, not only is menstruation a normal biological process, it is also a major reason the human race exists.
Thankfully, activists around the world are starting to create a culture of celebration and pride around menstruation and the hormone life cycle (including menopause). A great example: Period- End of Sentence won an Oscar award for their portrayal of women helping women gain access to period products in India.
At Peak Resilience, we not only understand the effects of people’s menstrual cycles on their mental health, we also acknowledge the politics of menstruation. That is, women and people who menstruate can experience conscious or unconscious shame about their cycles, pain, lack of appropriate medical care due to medical gender bias, and they can still be stigmatized for something that is totally natural (and necessary).
So in order to emphasize a shame-reduction approach to menstruation we partnered up with Hormone Health Extraordinaire and Naturopath Dr. Joanna Rosenfeld to explore the physical, mental and political factors that go into menstruation. We are bringing you a 4-part blog series over the month of May, finishing with a “Celebration of Menstruation” on May 28th (also Menstrual Hygiene Day)! This is our way to celebrate menstruation in a way that is inclusive, intersectional, and honours our bodies and the environment.
Let’s get started with the basics of menstrual cycles courtesy of Dr. Rosenfeld:
What’s in a menstrual cycle?
Women and people who menstruate have about 450 menstrual cycles in their lifetime, but many don’t know much about their cycle. Our hormones are literally on a roller coaster ride (twice!) throughout the month, so it’s no wonder you feel different at various times during your cycle.
How to count your cycle?
Your menstrual cycle starts on the first day that you have a full flow, so premenstrual spotting doesn’t count. Generally, if your flow starts after 5pm, you will count the next day as your day 1. You will then count every day until your next flow starts. There you have it! Pretty straightforward!
So what is a considered a healthy cycle length?
We are all different, and so are our cycles! Anything from 21-35 days can be a normal, healthy cycle. Anything shorter, or longer than this is commonly an anovulatory cycle, or a period without ovulation. In terms of an ideal cycle for fertility, I like to see a more narrow window - between 28-33 days, which is also supported by fertility studies.
How long should my period last?
A healthy period lasts for about 5 days, with the heaviest flow on day 2, and lighter towards the end of your flow.
A period that is consistently much longer than that, can be due to conditions such as uterine polyps or fibroids, hormonal changes, or in rare cases, cancer.
A shorter period, which only lasts 1-2 days can normal, but can also be a symptom of lower estrogen levels, thyroid imbalance or nutritional deficiencies.
What should my period look like?
Your period blood should be red, slightly darker than blood that you might see if you cut yourself. As the flow slows towards the end of the cycle, brownish blood can be common and is normal. Some spotting before your period is also common, but not ideal as it can indicate lower progesterone levels.
Foods to eat during your period:
Many women suffer from low iron levels (ideal ferritin levels should be around 70µg/L!), and you may often notice that you crave a big steak even though you don’t usually eat red meat. This is your body trying to communicate with you, so listen as best you can! Iron rich foods include grass fed red meat, fish, beets, spinach and leafy greens.
If you’re not sure about your iron levels, your doc can order a blood test to see where you’re at. If you can’t tolerate or absorb iron supplements, Mainline Wellness provides safe, well tolerated iron sucrose IVs for people who are chronically low.
A square of dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, which can help alleviate cramps. Just try to avoid excess sugar and processed foods, which can make PMS symptoms like acne, cramps and water retention even worse.
Drink a lot of fluids during this time to help decrease your bloating. Herbal teas such as turmeric and ginger can be beneficial for reducing cramps. Nettle and raspberry leaf can also be beneficial for improving iron levels, and reducing heavy bleeding.
Which activities are best?
It is common to feel low energy during your period so if this is the case for you, stick to light exercise - walks in nature, restorative yoga or swimming can be great options.
If you are feeling more energetic, you can take on more intense exercise. As always, just make sure to listen to your body.
Do what feels best at each time in your cycle- for YOU
If you’re noticing things that are outside of the stats on what is considered “common”- and that is affecting you negatively in some way- talking to a health professional (like a Physician or Naturopathic Doctor ) can help you treat symptoms and their underlying cause.
Next in our series: A detailed physical and mental health explanation of what is actually HAPPENING at these points in our cycles.