While we're all familiar with the struggles of periods in one way or another, there's no denying that every single one is totally unique, with each of us experiencing sightly different symptoms from one another.
Maybe you get super painful cramps, while your bff's main complaint is PMS. You may be all good with a Regular tampon, while your pal needs that Super Plus support (and probably a pad for good measure, too). You might get your period every 24 days, but your mate only sees hers every other month.
Whatever your experience, we asked Emma Cannon, a fertility and women’s health expert, to translate each symptom to reveal any potential clues to your overall mental and physical health.
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"I can tell a lot about a woman’s emotional and physical health from taking a detailed history and summary of the menstrual cycle," Emma says. "I can tell if hormone testing is required, what dietary changes would be appropriate and what other emotional or physical interventions to recommend.
According to Emma, helping a woman to engage in her cycle and the ebb and flow of symptoms can be very empowering.
For one, our menstrual cycle is the only outward sign we have our fertility. If we prevent or ignore our monthly bleed, we have zero indication of how fertile our bodies are. According to Emma, one of the biggest misconceptions is that if you have a period, you must be fertile. “It’s possible the egg may be of poor quality and not strong enough to produce a viable pregnancy, or that the fallopian tubes are damaged meaning a fertilised egg cannot travel to the correct place” she says.
So, here's what yours are trying to tell you...
IF YOU HAVE PMS
You've probable experienced some level of PMS at some point, but the emotional and physical symptoms can vary significantly in severity. Typical symptoms include acne, bloating, sore boobs, irritability and mood swings. "To me, PMS is a classic chicken and egg scenario," says Emma. "Did the PMS come about through hormonal changes, or did the emotional back drop cause the body and the hormones to function in an irregular pattern?"
"What is always present is some emotional involvement; either as the cause or as a result. In my practice this is very well treated with acupuncture which regulates the flow of energy (Qi) in the body. Addressing emotional issues can also be vital."
Emma stresses that diet and digestion are also contributing factors and changing them can make a big difference. "When the body functions optimally and our needs are met often the hormones will regulate by themselves."
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IF YOU HAVE HEAVY BLEEDING
Heavy bleeding can be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as fibroids but there are many other potential causes. "From my point of view it can be caused by too much heat in the body or a condition known as Stagnation of Blood. In clinic, we work with western medicine practitioners so that they address the medical condition and I will assess the underlying causes to prevent the problem from returning."
If you have heavy bleeding it is also important to see your GP or Gynecologist for further investigation and to make sure you are not anaemic.
IF YOU HAVE A SHORT PERIOD
"This may indicate that the lining of the womb did not build fully or that it did not shed fully," says Emma. To address both of these causes, Emma builds a treatment plan using a combination of acupuncture as well as dietary and lifestyle changes to help rebalance the hormones and promote optimal health.
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IF YOU HAVE A SHORT CYCLE (LESS THAN 28 DAYS)
According to Emma, shorter cycles can be an indication that the ovaries contain fewer eggs and that menopause may be approaching, after which natural conception can be more difficult. "However," she goes on to explain, "some women naturally have a shorter cycle. In clinic I try and lengthen the follicular phase (days 1-14), which is when the body produces hormones to stimulate egg production, by introducing dietary supplement and acupuncture in the hope that this will improve the overall egg quality."
IF YOU HAVE A LONG CYCLE (MORE THAN 28 DAYS)
"Longer cycles can be caused by a lack of regular ovulation," says Emma. "During a normal cycle, the fall of the hormone progesterone brings on the period. If a follicle does not mature and ovulate, progesterone is never released and the lining of the uterus continues to build in response to the hormone estrogen. Eventually, the lining gets so thick that it becomes unstable and eventually falls and the period arrives." Further investigation is needed in clinic to identify the functionality of ovaries and potential treatment options.