• Kristin Bignell, PT, MScPT, BScES(hons), CMAG

Part 2: Hormones and Your Cycle: What is ABNORMAL?

How Abnormal Cycles Can Affect Recovery and Performance.


When our bodies make regular, normal-length menstrual cycles with normal egg release (ovulation) and luteal phase lengths we are healthy in body, mind and soul. Illness, not eating enough for our energy needs, angst or abuse are the common causes of adaptive disturbances of cycles/ovulation. Plus, normal-length, ovulatory cycles provide a healthy balance of estrogen and progesterone that together promote current fertility and bone balance as well protecting future heart, breast and whole health. Thus, ovulatory cycles are both an indicator and a creator of good health.”

- Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior. Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of British Columbia.

If you haven’t already, make sure you read Part 1: Hormones and your cycle: What is normal?


So, you now know that your cycle is an extremely important indicator of your overall health. Your menstrual cycle is important for so much more than getting pregnant. An abnormal cycle is often a sign that something has gone awry with our health. If a healthy cycle is regular, timely and symptom-free, how do we know if our cycle is ”abnormal”? How do we know when things have gone awry? AND why is it important for your health, performance and recovery?


As Dr. Jerilynn Prior put it: “Ovulatory cycles are both an indicator and a creator of good health”. Ovulation is the ONLY way we can make the progesterone that we need for brain health, muscle health, good bone density, healthy thyroid function and metabolism. No ovulation = no progesterone = none of the benefits offered by progesterone. From a performance and recovery standpoint, this means we are missing out on the anti-inflammatory and muscle building benefits offered by progesterone.

So, what are some signs that you may not be ovulating? That you may not be producing enough progesterone? Or that your health could use some attention?


1. YOU ARE ON HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL.

Hormonal birth control uses synthetic hormones to suppress ovulation. If you are on hormonal birth control, you do not ovulate. There can be instances where hormonal birth control is necessary but all too often, it is handed out freely as the “be all, end all” solution for many different problems. This is done without respecting the consequences that hormonal birth control has on our health which is especially problematic given that there are many, many simple and natural solutions to many of these problems. Do yourself a favour and read Period Repair Manual by Dr. Lara Briden!


2. YOU DO NOT GET YOUR PERIOD. *If you are between the ages of 16-40 and are not pregnant*

Approximately 2 weeks after you ovulate, you get your period. If you miss your period, this means you did not ovulate. The absence of periods is called amenorrhea. Some common causes of amenorrhea are stress, illness, energy deficiency (See Blog: Bringing Light to RED-S) and medical conditions (e.g. polycystic ovarian syndrome, celiac disease, thyroid disease).


3. YOUR PERIOD IS LATE.

If your cycle lasts longer than 35 days, this can indicate an anovulatory cycle due to stress, illness, undereating or perimenopause. Chronically long cycles can be indicative of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). If you are a teenager, it is normal for your cycles to last up to 45 days.


4. YOUR PERIOD IS EARLY.

If your period comes sooner than 21 days after the start of your previous period, this is a short cycle. Short cycles can indicate an anovulatory cycle.


5. YOUR PERIOD IS HEAVY.

If your period lasts for more than 7 days or if you lose more than 80mL of blood, this is considered to be heavy menstrual bleeding. Heavy bleeding can be due to an anovulatory cycle, polyps, fibroids, copper IUDs, perimenopause, thyroid disease, coagulation disorders, endometriosis, adenomyosis or a hormonal imbalance. When menstrual flow is heavy, you may also see clots. A few clots are fine, but regularly seeing larger clots is a sign to head to your doctor for further investigation.


6. YOU HAVE PMS.

Irritability, headaches, acne, breast tenderness, fluid retention and/or food cravings in the 1-2 weeks prior to your period can occur due to inflammation, stress and/or an imbalance between progesterone and estrogen (relatively low progesterone to estrogen). While these symptoms are relatively common, they are not healthy and in fact, provide a sign that there is potential for improvement in your overall health.


7. YOUR PERIOD IS PAINFUL.

Period pain is incredibly common but should not be considered “healthy”. Period pain that is throbbing, burning, searing, stabbing, lasts more than 2 days, causes vomiting or forces you to adjust your day should be investigated. If your period pain does not respond to lifestyle modifications, it is not normal period pain. Some causes of abnormal period pain include: endometriosis, adenomyosis, infection, copper IUD. Normal period pain is a bit of cramping in your lower back or pelvis that occurs in the first 1-2 days of your period that can be relieved by ibuprofen and does not interfere with your normal activities. Simple diet changes and supplementation should be enough to get rid of normal period pain.

Pay attention! Your cycle tells a revealing story when you take the time to listen. If your cycles are abnormal, it is an indication that your body is not functioning optimally. Abnormal cycles and hormones present an opportunity for intervention to improve your overall health and wellbeing. A healthy cycle can have a lasting impact on your performance, health and recovery.


If you are interested in learning more about what a healthy cycle looks like, how to know if you ovulate and natural solutions to many period problems I would highly recommend checking out some of the resources listed below.


Resources and References:

Website:

The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Resource. http://www.cemcor.ca/

Books:

The Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods by Lara Briden ND

Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health by Toni Weschler

Podcast:

The Heavy Flow Podcast with Amanda Laird

Instagram Accounts:

Dr. Lara Briden: @larabriden

Dr. Jolene Brighten: @drjolenebrighten

Period Tracking Apps:

Clue: https://helloclue.com/

Flo: https://flo.health/


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