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What is an optimal period and what can it tell you about your health?

Symptoms associated with periods are often dismissed as normal but are they optimal? The period can be considered as one of our vital signs about our health because our hormones and menstrual cycle reflect our wider health and our sex hormones are important for much more than reproduction. In an optimal period, the cycle should be regular, with roughly the same number of days between each cycle. A cycle should typically lasts between 26 and 32 days. A healthy period bleed should last around 4 to 5 days with no spotting before the period or be prolonged after it. Periods should be mostly painless, preceded by mild or no premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. The colour of the blood is a healthy deep red - think claret red wine. The flow is neither too heavy nor too light, with an average volume of around 50ml per period give or take (a fully soaked super tampon holds about 12 ml). The bleeding typically starts heavier and gradually tapers off, without the presence of clots.

However, period deviating from the optimal could signal a variety of underlying factors which are not mutually exclusive. Suboptimal periods can signal hormonal imbalances, such as those related to peri-menopause, low progesterone, poor oestrogen clearance, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid issues, endometriosis, or the presence of polyps or fibroids. Other potential causes for an imperfect period include nutritional deficiencies, acute or chronic stress, malnutrition, imbalanced blood sugar, inflammation or gut issues, over-exposure to xenoestrogens (chemicals found in plastics, cosmetics and other man-made chemical compounds), stopping hormonal contraception, infection or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Several strategies can be helpful to restore health and optimal balance. Ensuring adequate sleep, effective stress management, and maintaining a balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables, protein, and healthy fats are all beneficial. Investigating underlying causes through testing, such as assessing gut health, nutrient levels, sex hormone balance and thyroid health can guide the use of appropriate targeted supplements and lifestyle recommendations. Acupuncture can also be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to optimising the menstrual cycle. As a nutritional therapist and acupuncturist specialising in women’s health and thyroid conditions this is what I live for! I love digging in and getting to the root cause of troublesome symptoms or supporting women trying to conceive to get them back into a healthier, happier place.

Jill Storstein MSc, DipAc, GDipFNM, MBANT, MBAcC

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