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Understanding Abnormal Menstrual Cycles & Taking Charge of Your Health

Your menstrual cycle offers information on the inner workings of your body. We call it a vital sign because just like an irregular heart rate, blood pressure or temperature, it can give you information about your health, cluing you in when something is up. 

 

The information to be gained is not isolated to observations of your period alone. We feel it is important to track your menstrual cycle as a whole due to the abundance of insight that can be gained! 


This isn’t just a matter of semantics. Your period (bleed) is just one part of your cycle. When we discuss the menstrual cycle, we are including the time from day 1 of your period until the last day before your next one. To review  your cycle has 4 phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory and luteal. While your period gets all the media coverage, ovulation is actually the  “main event” of your cycle, and an important process for not only fertility but also bone health, mood, cardiovascular health, metabolism, muscle and strength, libido, hair, skin, energy and more!

An abnormal cycle (whether “textbook” abnormal or deviating far outside your normal) can give us some indication that there is some sort of imbalance or disruption internally and the shifts in your cycle are your body’s way of expressing that.




What should you do if you are always or have always been outside of these ranges, or notice deviations from your normal cycle patterns and symptoms?


This is when we might want to ask more questions about your health history. 


For example, were you on hormonal birth control for a long duration of time, perhaps during your teenage years when your HPO axis was still developing (a quick aside, the birth control pill contains synthetic hormones that essentially shut down your body's own hormonal production) ? If this is you, and you have recently come off birth control, it may take some time to restore regular ovulatory function. As a result, you may have cycles that are irregular in length as that brain/ovary cross talk gets back on line. You may also experience PMS symptoms due to a lack of regular exposure to progesterone, which is only created after ovulation when the cells surrounding the developing egg turn into the corpus luteum which secretes progesterone. 


Tracking fertile signs can help give you insight as to when and if you are ovulating .  


In this situation, there could very well be other systems that need to be supported such as your thyroid axis or digestive system- both of which impact your hormonal health and fertility. 


What if you have been regularly cycling, and experience a one off shift from your normal cycle patterns? Again, this is where tracking ovulation becomes to the real super start move as it can offer information for you to unpack why for example your cycle might be longer than your normal one month. If you detect ovulation occurred but was delayed, it would make sense  that your period was a few days later to start that month. Or if your cycle is shorter due to a short luteal phase, and you did ovulate it might clue you in about the health of the corpus luteum. We will discuss all of this further, but for now remember just like with tracking macronutrients and achieving physique goals; what gets measured gets managed. 


If you are outside of the normal cycle parameters, it would be something we would suggest monitoring and not brushing off. 


Whether or not you are trying to get pregnant , observing cycle changes are worth investigating because they are ways your body is responding to some type of “stressor.”


 Now , stress can encompass many different things. 


Emotional stress, poor sleep and over exercising are some common stressors, but an underactive or overactive thyroid, poor digestive health, infections and nutrient deficiencies are also stressors to your body and it will respond by conserving energy and devoting resources away from reproduction. Think about it, it doesn’t make sense to bring a baby into the world if you’re facing a famine or running from a tiger! . If facing these types of stressors you might still have a period, but ovulation may not occur, be delayed or ovulation was suboptimal , all of which would impact fertility and those cycle observations! 


Debilitating PMS is another common in society, but absolutely unacceptable biofeedback to have to live with that can stem from one of these stressors or underlying conditions. 

We often see things like painful cramps, water retention and bloating more heightened when women are experiencing gut dysbiosis. The stress of an imbalanced microbiome is the cause of their hormonal imbalances and symptoms. By unpacking the root cause of the gut imbalance (which is often diet and lifestyle related) we in turn see improvements in their cycle related symptoms.  


In a woman of cycling age, Endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, autoimmune conditions , fibroids and obesity could all be (some) reasons why you are not having a regular cycle as well. 


Getting appropriate lab work or testing is important if your cycle is always outside these normal baselines or changes from your consistent pattern for more than a few months in a row.  


Tracking your cycle can tell you a lot,  however at a certain point we want to check under the hood to better understand what is going on internally to create a map for moving forward to an optimal state of health.


Missing a period altogether for 3 months or more is known as amenorrhea and also something to investigate. Remember, your menstrual cycle is a vital sign! And we want to listen when it changes. 


At Fortify Health Coaching, we are here to help you improve your health and quality of life with a holistic approach. We help identify the root cause of your health and fitness concerns and empower you with tools and guidance to begin your path forward. 


Reach out about our coaching and consultation services, and let’s get to work!




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