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Menstrual Health: Navigating Your Cycle

If you’re someone who’s menstruated for years, have an encyclopedic knowledge of how to handle PMS symptoms, or know all about the ins and outs of period products, you may be wondering if this blog is right for you. It is! Not only do we cover cycle irregularities and their possible causes, but we also cover why it’s important to do your research before purchasing and using a period product. Let’s dig in!

What is a healthy menstrual cycle?

When we talk about menstruation, we’re talking about a very nuanced and complicated experience, unique to everyone, and when we talk about menstrual health, a healthy cycle could be different from the norm. So how do you know if your menstrual cycle is normal or not? Those with a period cycle need to take note of their experience, how their cycle changes, pain levels, blood flow, and other symptoms.

Types of Period Irregularities

A standard menstrual period lasts between 2 and 7 days with 21-35 days in between[i], but some variances can be normal for some people. There are, however, irregularities that can affect a person’s life to a significant degree like those mentioned below:

  • Dysmenorrhea: commonly known as painful menstrual cramps, it’s estimated that 45-95% of people who undergo menstruation cycles experience this during their reproductive age. Other symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, and depression. While some people are able to manage their symptoms, others experience extreme bouts of dysmenorrheic pain, causing recurring absences from school or work.[ii]

  • Menorrhagia: heavy, prolonged periods caused by uterine-related problems like cancerous and noncancerous growths, hormone-related problems, and other disorders[iii]

  • Metrorrhagia: abnormal bleeding between a person’s regular menstrual periods[iv]

  • Amenorrhea: absence of menstrual periods[v]

  • Oligomenorrhea: infrequent periods where 35 days or more pass between cycles[vi]

If you’re experiencing any irregularities, speak with a medical professional who will know how best to treat your symptoms. If you’re not currently keeping track of the length of your cycles, PMS symptoms, pain scale, or moods, maybe try keeping a journal to log everything or download an app like Cycles[vii] which can help you stay on top of your cycle, health, and overall well-being.

Some Causes for Irregular Periods

Now that we’ve covered different types of irregularities, what actually causes them? Not surprisingly, many of these irregularities can be blamed on hormones.

  • Perimenopause: during this transitional period, monthly ovulation isn’t as reliable as it once was, with symptoms like weight gain, adult acne, menstrual migraines, sleep problems, and hot flashes. This can occur anywhere between one’s mid-30s and 50s and is caused by fluctuating estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels.[viii]

  • Physical and Psychological Stress: high stress levels can cause irregular periods because of increased cortisol and endorphin levels that interrupt regular hormone production.[ix]

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): hormone imbalances resulting in a lack of ovulation cause period irregularities as well as weight gain or difficulty losing weight, excessive hair growth, and development of cysts on the ovaries.[x]

Other causes may include pelvic inflammatory disease, premature ovarian failure, pregnancy or breastfeeding, eating disorders, extreme weight loss, or excessive exercise.[xi]

How to Relieve PMS Symptoms

Now that we’ve covered types of period irregularities and what may cause them, how do people with periods handle their run-of-the-mill PMS symptoms? Many have a tried-and-true go-to list of solutions for PMS symptoms, but some of these are less commonly known:

  • Vitamin B6 and Calcium, according to one study[xii], when taken together help in controlling symptoms like unregulated moods and depression

  • Omega-3 may reduce symptoms like depression, anxiety, lack of concentration, bloating, and headaches[xiii]

  • High-intensity aerobic exercise like running or cycling may reduce pain because it increases anti-inflammatory cytokines and reduces the amount of menstrual flow. Low-intensity exercise like yoga or tai chi can reduce cortisol levels, reducing prostaglandin synthesis[xiv]

  • Heat therapy, like using heating pads or hot water bottles, is effective for relieving pain without the adverse effects of painkillers[xv]

  • NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are very common in treating pain, but can cause indigestion, headaches, and drowsiness[xvi] 

While vitamin B6, calcium, and omega-3 may be great options for managing symptoms, it’s always important to check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure they are right for you!

The Dangers of Period Products

In recent years, many companies have launched new period products like the menstrual cup, menstrual disc, and ultra-absorbent period underwear and inserts—alternative solutions to more traditional pad and tampon options.

These new products may largely be the result of environmental concerns as a lot of period products end up in landfills—but there are other reasons why switching to different products may be a good move.

Many period products have been tested for dangerous chemicals like PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), or “forever chemicals.” Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to decreased fertility, increased risk of cancers, hormonal disruption, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and more.[xvii]

In a study of 44 period products, where samples were sent to a renowned lab that studies these “forever chemicals,” every single product tested contained at least trace amounts of PFAS—even the ones that claimed to be organic and didn’t contain chemicals.[xviii]

PFAS-Free Menstrual Products

While PFAS are used in so many products across all consumer sectors including our personal care products, there are organizations trying to provide transparent information about the products we use. The Green Science Policy Institute created a list of PFAS-free products that includes menstruation products from three companies.[xix] In order to qualify for the list, the company in question must publish its policy statement about not including PFAS in its products, and the products must also be tested by the manufacturer or another entity not affiliated with the company and published online with testing methods explained.[xx]

It's a good idea to do research on products that could have a huge impact on your health, but if you have questions about treating symptoms or which menstrual products are right for you, your pharmacist is here to help!


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