What Your Menstrual Cycle Says About Your Health
Did you know that your period can be the biggest and clearest window to what is going on inside your body? Yes, that once a month call from nature can be extremely revealing if you become keenly aware of its subtle shifts, even if you consider your period to be normal and healthy.
According to Ayurveda, a healthy cycle is one that occurs once a month, is bright red without clots or mucous, and is pain-free, bloat-free, and mood-swing-free. Variations from this are the body’s way of demonstrating subtle imbalances.
There are three main categories of these variations. Look for them in your monthly cycle and use it as an opportunity to guide you to optimal health. You’ll notice a shift in how you feel during the rest of the month!
1. The Painful and Bloated Period
Surveys show that 50 - 90% of women have pain with their menstrual cycles (and, unfortunately, most think this is normal). Chances are that you also become gassy, may have a day of spotting before a regular flow that perhaps is darker and has some clots, may experience more fear and anxiety during your period, and likely have some constipation with your cycle.
Uterine pain during your cycle is caused by intense uterine contractions that lead to periods where the tissue does not get enough blood flow. In Ayurveda, this constriction is the cold quality (what we call vata in Ayurveda) at work. All of the above symptoms can be traced to the vata qualities of cold, dry, light, and mobile. If they are present in your cycle, they are most certainly also disturbing the rest of your body.
You may even be experiencing dry skin, sleep disturbances, sciatica and low back pain, or joint pain. So, bring the opposite qualities back!
Try these tips if you identify with any of the above symptoms:
1. Increase your hydration (try ginger teas!) and supplement healthy fatty acids (omega-3s).
2. Eat warm and cooked foods, with plenty of root vegetables and warming spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, and clove.
3. Slow down and have a good routine (which means going to bed on time before 10 pm and getting 7 — 8 hours of sleep).
4. Bring warmth and flow to your body with gentle exercises (yoga is perfect!) and to your lower abdomen with castor oil packs and yoga hip-openers.
2. The Tender and Angry Period
Do you experience painful breasts or get pretty bad acne around your cycle? Do you become irritated, short-tempered, angry and/or frustrated? Perhaps you get nauseated and have looser stools.
You can thank the heat and sharp qualities (called pitta in Ayurveda) for all of the above. Look at the rest of your body for traces of these qualities elsewhere. Do you experience reflux or acidity, migraines, hair loss, stress, challenges with your skin, excessive competition or perfectionism?
Try these tips to cool your system down and soothe the pitta:
1. Try a daily cooling drink with cucumbers (either a juice or as a milkshake), especially as we make our way into the hotter seasons.
2. Sit in a relaxed posture, roll your tongue (or simply grin really wide with the teeth gently clenched together) and suck in the cool air. Practice this for five minutes daily.
3. Meditate. Calm the mind, let go of stress and the need to control all outcomes (in other words, cultivate some faith).
4. Avoid oily and spicy foods.
3. The Puffy and Heavy Period
The heavy, slow, and thick qualities (known as kapha in Ayurveda) bring about sensations of sluggishness and swelling, traces of mucus and a heavier flow, and depression, along with some emotional eating.
If this is the case for you, you may also note slower metabolism, difficulty losing weight or gaining weight with the same lifestyle you had before, sinus congestion, allergies, greed, and maybe even attachment issues. Strengthening your digestion and metabolism (digestive fire or agni in Ayurveda) will help both your menstrual cycle and your overall health.
So try these tips to counter the kapha qualities:
1. Eat a diet with more fruits and veggies, and low in oily foods and sugar.
2. Eat your last meal before sunset.
3. Eat a pinch of grated ginger before and after your meals and drink ginger tea to stoke your digestive fire.
4. Exercise. Stimulate the movement of and bring warmth to the blood and lymph (when you are not on your menstrual cycle).
As you pay more attention, you will begin to become aware of these subtle shifts based on what your previous month was like (if you ate more sweets and dairy you may notice more mucus, or if you have traveled more you may notice more pain and a shorter cycle).
To learn more about your menstrual cycle and for more tips on what you can do, read this free Guide to a Healthy Cycle that I wrote.
And are you ready to learn more about what anxiety, brain health, and your diet all have in common? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Dr. Mark Hyman.