Regulating Your Menstrual Cycle
Your menstrual cycle is a reflection of your overall well-being. Regular periods indicate your uterus is healthy, your hormones are balanced, and your body is getting the food, exercise, and sleep it needs.
What is regular?
It’s a common misconception that a menstrual cycle should last for 28 days. Regular cycles can vary from 23 to 35 days, and they’re considered regular if your periods occur over roughly the same number of days each cycle. Ovulation occurs about 14 to 16 days before menstruation, not 14 days after menstruation starts. The second half of the cycle – from ovulation to menstruation – is typically the same length, but the first part may vary from cycle to cycle. So if your periods always appear, for example, around day 24, they would be classed as normal. Irregular periods on the other hand, can be difficult to predict. There may be long gaps between them, or they may come too frequently, or you may have gaps of no periods at all, followed by continuous bleeding for a few weeks as well as spotting in between periods.
Minor or occasional cycle irregularities are common for most women because dieting, travel, stress, exercise, and seasonal changes can all have an effect on your period. It’s perfectly normal to have erratic cycles on the run-up to menopause, too. However, if you aren’t approaching menopause and experience irregular menstrual patterns for more than three cycles in a row, follow the professional advice to try to restore some balance – and please visit your doctor. He or she will be able to rule out any medical cause, such as polycystic, ovary syndrome, a build-up of your uterine lining, fibroids, or an infection. In rare cases, irregular periods can be a symptom of uterine or cervical cancer, and they may also be caused by certain medications such as corticosteroids. Let your doctor investigate what’s going on.
The first stop for anyone experiencing irregular periods has to be the hormone-balancing diet. In particular, stock up on the phytoestrogens, which help control levels of excess estrogen in your blood, and on fiber, which optimizes the transportation of waste products (including “old” estrogens) out of your body. Reduce your intake of saturated fat, which can raise levels of estrogen in your body.
If there can be a “star” food for regulating your hormones and your cycle, it’s flax seeds, which contain good phytoestrogens, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Use ground, organic flax seeds and sprinkle them over your food. I like to eat them added to my morning oatmeal.
While being the right weight for your height is certainly good for your well-being, avoid crash dieting or fad diets because losing weight rapidly may cause erratic periods or stop them completely. If you’re overweight, following the hormone-balancing diet should restore your natural weight gently and without a shock to your system. If obesity has caused your periods to stop, losing weight slowly can trigger ovulation. As with everything in life, balance is the key.
Vitamins and Supplements
• B-Complex The B-vitamins can boost your body’s ability to cope with stress and are important for thyroid and adrenal function, which can affect your menstrual cycle.
• Magnesium This calming mineral helps your body cope better with the effects of stress.
• Antioxidants These nutrients protect your cells from free radicals, and they are extremely important if endometrial hyperplasia (excess uterine lining) has caused your irregular periods. Vitamins A, C, and E and the minerals zinc and selenium are all antioxidants. Find an antioxidant supplement that contains, or take separately, the following: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc.
• Omega-3 Fatty Acids DHA has been shown to lower levels of estrogen in the body. (Use falx seed oil if you’re vegetarian).
For your hormones
• Agnus Castus This herb works on the action of your pituitary gland to restore hormonal balance.
• False unicorn root This herb helps normalize ovarian function.
• Siberian Ginseng This herb is an adrenal tonic.
• Valerian and Skullcap
Exercise Regular, moderate exercise is great for hormone balance as well as for your heart and weight loss. However, don’t do too much too vigorously because extreme exercise can cause your periods to become irregular or to stop altogether. Aim for between 30 and 60 minutes daily of moderate exercise, such as walking, cycling, swimming, or even gardening.
Cut out alcohol Try to eliminate alcohol from your lifestyle completely as it severely upsets the function of your liver, meaning that you can develop estrogen excess, which in turn can unsettle the good hormones in your body and encourage the growth of fibroids.
Limit stress When you’re under physical or emotional stress your body releases hormones that interfere with ovulation. This is nature’s way of saving you from pregnancy when you would find it hard to cope. If you’re under severe stress, perhaps through bereavement or divorce, your periods may stop altogether. Go to your doctor – if there’s no physical cause for your menstrual irregularities, take it as a clear warning sign that you need to take time out to relax. Examine your life carefully – what’s causing the stress? What steps can you take to overcome it? If it’s a job situation, perhaps you need to rethink your work-life balance; if it’s a bereavement or divorce, consider going to a counselor, or seeking the support of a good friend to talk things through with.
Make a point of taking time out every day, even if it’s just for ten minutes, to spend time in quiet contemplation. If walking or swimming relax you, all the better, because the gentle nature of these activities will release endorphins in your system to lift mood, too. You could also treat yourself to a weekly massage or use essential oils in your bath (lavender is a great relaxer). Find what works best for you. Finally, remember to take those stress-busting supplements and herbs. You should find that as your stress ebbs away, so your periods become more regular.