Your 5th Vital Sign - Are You Listening?
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
One of the areas I find I do the most coaching and education around is hormone health, particularly the menstrual cycle. Many women and people who menstruate arrive in my clinic room with nary a clue as to which hormones are playing a role in their brutal PMS or debilitating menstrual cramps, let alone which of these symptoms are worth assessing and treating.
If you were like me (and this is confirmed by many) your hormone education consisted of 1-2 classes around 6-9th grade that basically reviewed how to deal with your period and how not to get pregnant. There were snickers from everyone, feelings of embarrassment or shame, wondering if you were normal or weird (sadly, I always settled on weird).
Flash forward through adolescence to adulthood and many people who menstruate still don't know that the negative experiences of their period are common, not normal. Yes you read that correctly - just because many people have terrible moods, want to eat everything in sight or need to consume a whole bottle of ibuprofen to survive their cramps, does not make it normal.
Now, why has there not been more awareness on this topic? Historically, period talk has been taboo and something to whisper to a gal pal under your breath, "Aunt Flo is here". But, thank the hormone heavens, this is changing with more body positivity and openness because truly, there is empowerment and community in sharing our experiences, not hiding them.
From a naturopathic but also personal goal (noted as above, feeling weird about my hormones growing up), I aim to dispel myths and educate people on how their period is their 5th vital sign, providing valuable information each month and one that should not be ignored nor suffered through.
Signs of hormonal imbalances commonly experienced**, but as you know now, are not normal:
PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome)
- 7-10 days before your period
- feelings of dread, doom, anxiety and depression or irritability
- breast tenderness, exhaustion, body aches, headaches
- bloating, weight gain, digestive issues, extreme food cravings
- can be related to excess estrogen or insufficient progesterone
- any uterine cramping that requires pain medication is not normal, period
- multifaceted, it can be related to excess estrogen or inflammation from diet, alcohol or other factors
- a normal range is 20-80mL for the entire cycle (4-16 regular tampons or 2-8 super tampons)
- anything more than 80mL is considered very heavy indicating possible estrogen excess
- less than 20mL can indicate insufficient estrogen or other hormonal conditions
- a period every ~25-35 days is considered normal
- while there can be some fluctuation, skipping months or unpredictability is a clue of possible conditions such as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or hypothalamic amenorrhea
If you share these experiences I encourage you to reach out to a health professional who will assess your hormones to determine the root cause. Know that you have many options beyond taking a birth control pill or using an IUD as these methods essentially 'hush' your own hormones temporarily but do not address the root cause; and often times once the contraceptive is removed, your hormones will bounce back in their irregularity.
Naturopathically, I encourage a whole-body approach - supporting hormonal imbalances with botanical herbs, choice nutrients and nutrition for foundational changes and long-term success as well as processing mental health experiences through trusted referrals to qualified counsellors.
This is a sample of what myself and two other hormone enthusiasts will be addressing in a 4-part online educational series to empower all menstruators to take action for their hormone balance. Each week we'll be reviewing a different part of the menstrual cycle (indeed, there are 4!), what is normal, how to assess hormones and promote balance with nutrition, choice supplements and exercise.
*please note this event has now ended, but future events are in the works!
**These are the most common experiences people have, but know that there are many other considerations when it comes to assessing hormonal imbalances. Depending on where you are in your life phase, your hormones may shift further as you enter your late 30s to early 40s, starting the journey into peri-menopause.