Mental Health

Your Menstrual Cycle As A Vital Sign

February 1, 2024

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I'm Michelle — health coach for women who want to escape diet culture and find the health they deserve.

Meet Michelle

If you’ve been following my journey recently, you’ll know I’m currently navigating pre-menopause and often talk about what’s going on with my periods. Before I went to medical school (I was 32 when I started), I had painful periods every month and was always told, “this is just normal”.  But it’s simply not true. 

When I went to medical school, I learned that we are actually not supposed to have heavy or very painful periods. Just because so many women struggle with their cycles does not mean it’s normal. Periods are often called the “fifth vital sign” because they really do tell us if other things are not working right or need looking into. And there are people who can help us get to the root cause of the issue.

One of those people is Dr. Erin Ellis, a naturopathic doctor who helps with hormone balancing, fixing periods, and regaining energy. I recently spoke with Dr. Ellis about how we can really get to the heart of the menstrual issue. And today, I want to share her insights on the importance of hormones, managing stress, nutrition, exercise, quality of sleep, the types of environmental chemicals we’re using on our bodies, and how every one of these things will affect our menstrual cycles. 

Advocating for Yourself 

When you’re dealing with troublesome period symptoms, the first step is to make sure you speak up for yourself. You certainly don’t have to settle for standard treatments like birth control or surgery. Instead, you can ask for thorough investigation through lab work and imaging, request tests like transvaginal ultrasound to check for conditions like fibroids, cysts, or thickened endometrial lining. And if you’re hitting a dead end with your current doctor, think about seeking out alternative practitioners like functional medicine or naturopathic doctors.

Even if the imaging results come back normal, don’t stop there. Look into comprehensive hormone panels, checking not just your reproductive hormones but also things like thyroid function, adrenal health, inflammation, and vitamin levels. Naturopathic medicine is all about looking at the body as a whole. With all the environmental stressors and toxins out there, it’s important to address these underlying factors, rather than accepting a standard treatment that doesn’t really fix anything and may even cause side effects further down the line.

The Impact of Stress on Our Cycles

Stress plays a significant role in our menstrual cycles, affecting women from all walks of life. High-performing women, busy moms, and those constantly on the go often neglect self-care, inadvertently impacting their hormonal balance.

However, it’s crucial to recognize that stress itself isn’t inherently bad; it’s how our bodies respond to it that matters. Each woman’s coping mechanisms differ, making it essential to find personalized stress management techniques, whether through breathing exercises, meditation, or other means.

Historically, the months of January and February often present challenging menstrual cycles for many women. This can be attributed to disruptions in routine, such as lack of sleep, travel, holiday stress, dietary changes, and increased consumption of sugary treats and alcohol. These external stressors affect our hormones, potentially leading to irregular or painful periods. Therefore, it’s vital to reflect on the preceding month’s events when experiencing menstrual irregularities, identifying potential stressors and their impact.

From a biological perspective, our reproductive system’s sensitivity to stress is profound. Its primary function is to facilitate successful pregnancies and ensure the optimal conditions for fetal development. That means when the body interprets stress, it may hinder the likelihood of conception to safeguard against unfavorable conditions for pregnancy. This delicate balance underscores why stress is a pivotal consideration in women’s reproductive health, and often serves as a barrier to healing. 

A Holistic Approach to Regulating Periods

Understanding our bodies and their signals is key to regulating menstrual cycles effectively. Tracking symptoms, including flow intensity and frequency, provides valuable insights into our menstrual health.

Fundamentally, prioritizing the foundations of health is crucial. This involves maintaining a balanced diet, minimizing processed foods, sugar, and alcohol consumption to reduce inflammation and hormonal imbalances. Exercise plays a vital role, but it’s not about high-intensity workouts; activities like walking, yoga, or strength training can support hormone metabolism without causing additional stress.

Sleep quality is often overlooked but essential. Monitoring sleep patterns with wearable devices can reveal sleep deficiencies, guiding adjustments in bedtime routines or prompting discussions with healthcare providers if needed.

Reducing exposure to toxins is another vital aspect of menstrual health. Many everyday products contain endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with hormone function. Apps like Environmental Working Group, Think Dirty, and Yuka help identify clean alternatives, supporting informed choices in personal care products.

By focusing on these four pillars—diet, exercise, sleep, and toxin reduction—women can take proactive steps to prioritize their hormonal health and overall well-being without significant financial investment. Simply becoming aware of daily habits and making informed choices can make a profound difference in menstrual regulation and long-term health.

Supporting Healthy Reproductive Cycles: Supplements and Self-Care Practices

Enhancing menstrual health often involves supplementing our routines with targeted nutrients and practices tailored to individual needs.

Vitamins like B complex, particularly methylated B vitamins, play a significant role in menstrual health by supporting hormone balance. Similarly, magnesium stands out for its effectiveness in easing menstrual pain and promoting overall well-being. Whether through supplements or relaxing Epsom salt baths, magnesium offers anti-inflammatory properties and mood support, addressing common menstrual discomforts.

Cruciferous vegetable-derived DIM (Diindolylmethane) supplements can complement menstrual health by aiding estrogen metabolism. Additionally, incorporating herbal teas like red raspberry leaf can provide further support, while dietary fiber ensures optimal bowel function, aiding in hormone metabolism and detoxification.

Addressing digestive health is crucial, as proper elimination facilitates the removal of excess hormones from the body. Ensuring regular bowel movements supports overall hormonal balance and menstrual health.

By incorporating these supplements and self-care practices into our routines, we can take proactive steps towards nurturing healthy reproductive cycles and achieving menstrual wellness.

Addressing Changes in Mood 

Managing mood fluctuations during the menstrual cycle involves a holistic approach, with diet playing a crucial role in mitigating PMS-related mood swings. Understanding the interplay between insulin and estrogen can guide dietary choices, as declining estrogen levels before menstruation can trigger sugar cravings. Opting for whole grains and fruits instead of sugary treats can help stabilize blood sugar levels and alleviate mood disturbances.

Supplements like magnesium and B vitamins offer additional support for mood regulation, contributing to overall emotional well-being. Prioritizing sleep around the menstrual cycle is equally essential, as fatigue commonly accompanies premenstrual symptoms.

Tracking menstrual cycles allows you to plan activities and self-care practices accordingly, honoring hormonal fluctuations and avoiding unnecessary stressors. By recognizing the importance of self-care during menstruation and adjusting expectations accordingly, you can better manage mood fluctuations and emotional eating tendencies.


As both a physician and a woman, I am convinced that our menstrual cycles serve as vital indicators of our overall well-being. In today’s fast-paced society, there’s an undeniable pressure to prioritize productivity over self-care. We’re constantly bombarded with messages glorifying the hustle culture, often at the expense of our health.

As women, we’re taught to prioritize the needs of others above our own, perpetuating a cycle of neglecting our basic needs. This societal conditioning contributes to lives where self-care takes a backseat, leading to imbalances in our physical and emotional health.

Instead of seeking quick fixes, it’s time to shift our focus towards nurturing ourselves and living more consciously on a day-to-day basis. By prioritizing self-care and honoring the messages our bodies send us through our menstrual cycles, we can reclaim our health and well-being. It’s time to break free from the cultural norms that prioritize productivity over self-preservation and embrace a more holistic approach to living.

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