The truth is, there is a lot of misinformation about the menstrual cycle out there. From the facts we were taught in health class that weren't entirely true, to the misconceptions that were passed along to us from well-meaning moms and friends, to the ancient sense of feminine wisdom and connection that's been lost over the centuries, most of us have experienced more than one moment of wishing we had a better understanding of both menstruation and ourselves.
To get you started, here are some of the most common menstrual cycle myths that we need to debunk - let your period and hormone re-education begin!
1. The birth control pill balances hormones.
The birth control pill can't balance hormones, because it shuts down a key component of the regular hormonal cycle: ovulation. While this is very effective for preventing pregnancy and can often provide relief from hormonal symptoms like acne, PMS, and heavy periods, the birth control pill is a band-aid fix for hormonal imbalances rather than a genuine solution.
If nothing has been done to remedy the hormonal imbalances that may have caused you to be given the pill in the first place, the original symptoms will likely return if (with your doctor's approval) you discontinue it. And, since the pill masks symptoms of hormonal imbalances, it's also possible that these imbalances have been worsening without your knowledge while you've been taking it.
To clarify - I don't think there's anything wrong with a band-aid fix. Maybe temporary relief is just what you need. But I do think we need to get much better at communicating that the pill is not a true solution to hormonal imbalances and that there are multiple ways to actually rectify those imbalances, whether or not you're also taking it.
2. PMS is normal.
PMS is common, but it's not normal. Unfortunately, because so many people suffer from premenstrual symptoms like mood swings, anxiety, depression, insomnia, abdominal bloating, and brain fog, PMS has been normalized, which means that too many people are suffering each month because they've been taught that it's just par for the course of having a menstrual cycle.
Experiencing minor fluctuations in mood, energy, and sociability the week before your period is normal - you may feel a little more emotional, more tired, and more likely to curl up in bed with a Gilmore Girls rerun than to go out on the town with your friends. But any severe premenstrual symptoms (especially ones that disrupt your life) are not normal and are likely signs of a hormonal imbalance such as too much estrogen relative to progesterone, or estrogen dominance.
This hormonal imbalance may be caused by factors such as stress, imbalances in adrenal or thyroid hormones, or exposure to too many environmental estrogens, but it can also be addressed so that PMS can be a thing of the past.
3. Painful period cramps are normal.
Similar to PMS, painful periods are common but not normal - another misconception that has contributed to unnecessary monthly misery. It is normal to experience minor pelvic or back discomfort during the first few days of your period, but this pain should not require medication or prevent you from taking part in your usual activities. Severe pain is typically a sign of too much inflammation in the body, which results in the production of inflammatory prostaglandins during menstruation, causing excessive pain.
This inflammation could be caused by things like high stress, an inflammatory diet, undiagnosed food sensitivities, or an imbalance in gut bacteria, but it can also be rectified so that painful cramps don't have to be your normal anymore.
4. You can get pregnant any day of your cycle.
Health class may have taught you that pregnancy could occur at any point in your cycle (probably in the interest of erring on the side of caution) but that's not actually true. Pregnancy can only occur when it's possible for an egg to be fertilized, and an egg is only viable for 24-48 hours after it's released at ovulation. However, it's also possible for sperm to live in the uterus for up to 5 days (although up to 3 is more likely). This means that 3-5 days before ovulation are considered fertile days, too, since sperm could hang out until ovulation and fertilize the egg.
This stretch of time from a few days before ovulation to the day after is called your fertile window, and introducing sperm to the vagina (or uterus, as with some forms of insemination) can only result in pregnancy during these days. This is why, if you ovulate, it can be very useful to be able to pinpoint when it occurs. Tracking ovulation is used by some folks to help them conceive or as part of pregnancy prevention, but this can get tricky in practice and should only be done if you've been trained by an expert.
5. Your hormonal cravings don't mean anything.
Sometimes we've been taught to belittle or despair over our desires for sweets or treats, but cravings are actually super informative! There's nothing wrong with enjoying a favourite food, of course, but beyond that, cravings can give us some insights into hormonal imbalances or missing nutrients. For example, craving chocolate around your period can be a sign of low magnesium or even low iron (especially if you experience heavy bleeding), and getting a hankering for sweets in the afternoon can be related to adrenal dysfunction from high stress.
If your cravings have a deeper meaning, you can have the best of both worlds by addressing the underlying issue while also incorporating specific foods that can satisfy your taste buds and nourish the body in the way it requires.
It's also worth noting that your carbohydrate needs increase before your period, so it's completely normal to crave more carbs the week before Aunt Flo's arrival. If you find yourself wanting lots of chips, or pasta, or high-carb veggies like banana or sweet potato, your body may simply be asking you to stock up on carbs - just remember to balance carbs with fat, fibre, and protein to keep your hormones happy.
6. Periods are just a monthly annoyance, and we should avoid them if we can.
While dealing with blood for a few days in a row may not be anyone's idea of a good time, periods are so important! We've been taught a lot of secrecy and shame and even resentment towards this natural body process, but periods need to be talked about and understood. They actually give us a wealth of information, because your menstrual health is a reflection of your overall health. For example, while it's normal to have a period that's missed or delayed due to stress, consistently skipping your period or losing it altogether can be a sign that the body is under too much stress and needs some more support.
In addition, symptoms like period cramps, delayed ovulation and PMS can give you insight not only into imbalances in menstrual hormones, but also provide clues about potential dysfunction elsewhere in the body, like overworked adrenal glands, a slugglish thyroid, or an overburdened liver. Your menstrual cycle is really a magnifying glass for the rest of the body, and it's a valuable tool once you know how to read it!
If you want to learn more about the menstrual cycle, or have another myth you'd like to see debunked, grab a free call! It's a no-strings-attached virtual chat where you can get your questions answered and get started on your journey to finding hormone harmony.
Grab your free call here: www.kristintalkshormones.com/contact