Periods are commonly looked upon as a time of the month when women don’t feel their best, whether it be as a result of stomach cramps, acne, mood swings, or all of the above.
There are, however, huge health benefits to getting your period – it can act as a vital indicator as to whether your body is functioning normally, and can highlight changes in health that can be serious in extreme cases.
A study ran by Ovarian Cancer Trust found that 66% of 18-24 year-olds are too embarrassed to speak to their GP about their vagina. But it’s really important to tackle this issue from an early age and encourage young women to feel empowered about talking about their periods to a health professional.
So what can we learn about our health and bodies, just from our periods? Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy who is working with teen site betty explains: “regular periods are a positive indicator that your body is working as it should. For the most part we tend to use the monthly arrival as a measure of fertility but an irregular flow can be a sign of much more.”
Dr Webberley spoke about a few important health changes that your period can highlight:
1. A hormone imbalance
Women tend to menstruate every 21-35 days. If you do not have regular periods it could be a sign that your hormones are out of balance which can lead to the symptoms commonly associated with PMT, which can include headaches, mood swings, night sweats, fatigue and weight gain.
2. Issues with bone health
The natural balance between estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone ensure healthy bone production. If your periods become irregular, it could be a sign that your bone function is not working at full capacity.
3. Problems with your thyroid
Irregular periods can be a result of your thyroid not working properly. This can lead to fatigue, weight gain, depression, high cholesterol, and other symptoms.
4. Issues with your weight
If you’re either underweight or over weight, your balance of hormones may be affected, which can cause irregular periods. In some cases, particularly where stringent dieting or overtraining is a factor in weight loss, it can cause periods to stop altogether. Your period is therefore a good indicator of whether you are at a healthy weight.
5. Extreme stress
Adrenalin, commonly known as the fight or flight hormone, is released during times of extreme stress. Adrenalin can severely interrupt the body’s hormonal equilibrium to the extent where it can actually prevent conception. If your periods stop, it could mean you need to take some time out to de-stress and it’s affecting your general health.
6. Fertility problems
If you experience abnormally heavy periods, or menorrhagia, it can be a sign of an issue with your reproductive system. Mr Narendra Pisal, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology, explains that it can be a sign of uterine fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) or even some forms of cancer.
He says: “it is always a good idea to get things checked out with your GP or gynaecologist if you’re unsure. Bleeding during an average period is supposed to be around 80ml (less than half a cup), but a lot of women do have more bleeding than this. You can call your periods heavy, if you are passing lots of clots or having to constantly use double protection, changing protection more frequently than every four hours or if your periods are making you anaemic. If the bleeding is heavy as described above, or making you tired, exhausted and anaemic, you should see a doctor”.