It seems like from the time we are very young women are affected in some way by the monthly cycle. For young girls it is through our older sisters, cousins, aunts, and female relatives where we see the effects of menstruation, in how they change their day to day, moods, and how they interact with us as children.

In adolescence we look forward to the growth into womanhood. We think that menstruation will be a sign showing we’re becoming adults, even though we don’t understand the hormones and moodiness which we later learn will plague us through one week out of the month– not to mention the uncomfortable cramps, struggling with being at school when you don’t feel good, and not being able adequately process and deal with the all the changes happening in our suddenly strange little bodies.

Once we’ve passed the mile marker into adulthood, we spend the rest of our time trying to figure out how to get rid of menses, contain it, control it, or otherwise manipulate this very natural part of our lives until menopause…which is an entirely different post.

What we don’t learn about our periods is learning to track and pay attention to what your cycle is doing; naturally, this is your first clue as to what’s happening with your health. Furthermore, it’ll give you great insight into your own moods, feelings, energy levels, and the power of really knowing and understanding your menstrual cycle. This gives you the power to use the information to enhance your life, instead of believing it is a burden.

Here are five things you may not have known about your cycle and how they can relate to your health.

1) Notice the Flow

Just keeping an eye on your monthly flow can help you determine changes happening in your body. Is it lighter? Heavier? Did you have to use more protection or less? Are you suddenly bleeding more than usual?

Granted, it may seem like you’re losing a lot of blood during your cycle, but, on average, women only shed about a cup from the uterine lining. It’s not unusual to have a few days of heavy flow. With that said, increased heavy flow for 5 days or more can cause anemia, polyps, or endometriosis, some very serious health issues.

On the other side of this, if you continually experience extremely light periods (without birth control) you could be suffering from poor nutrition, extreme stress, or it could be an indicator of an auto-immune disorder or other health issue.

2) Notice the color

Ideally, you’re period will start with a bright cranberry color. However, if your cycle starts with brown, dried up looking blood this is old blood which didn’t get shed last cycle. This can be a symptom of low-progesterone. On the flip side, if it’s heavy bleeding with almost a dark purple look to it, this could be s symptom of too much estrogen in the body. An easy check. Does your period resemble frozen blueberries (too much estrogen), strawberry jam (too little estrogen) or cranberry (healthy).

3) Notice the texture

If you suddenly notice dark or liver colored clots and clumps in your period, where you normally don’t, it may be time to pay attention to what’s happening with your body. There are a lot of things in the body which an affect menstrual flow. Heavy, dark clots could possibly indicate an iron deficiency, a vitamin deficiency such as C or K. Painful menses with clots could indicate endometriosis, fibroids, or cysts.

4) Notice PMS symptoms

As a young woman you may have been taught PMS is a natural part of having your monthly cycle, but the truth is, PMS isn’t something women should struggle with. Your first instinct might be to reach for painkillers, but pay attention first to what’s happening and how often.

PMS can happen anytime between ovulation and menses and can be a source of real emotional and physical suffering for many women. Symptoms can including mood swings, bloating, headaches, and fatigue. Not to mention cravings.

Making some changes to your food/drink during this time will help. Look for foods high in magnesium, calcium, and B vitamins. Extreme PMS can be a symptom of emotional imbalance, which can lead to other health issues.

5) Notice the frequency

Of course if you’re not on birth control and suddenly miss your period, the first thing you want to check is if you’re pregnant. If that’s a big no, then, keep in mind the absence or frequency of your cycle can tell you a lot about your health. The absence of your cycle can be called secondary amenorrhea, when it happens for six months or more. Furthermore, this is often seen in obese women, or incredibly lean women (less than 13% body fat). Excessive exercise for long periods of time can cause this also. If none of those factors fit, then keep in mind it could be an over-active thyroid or even a brain tumor.

On the flip side, super short cycles—bleeding more than once in a 28 day cycle—can indicate a possibly sluggish thyroid. If you’re cycle is three days or less, then it could indicate a shortage of estrogen in the body.

Whatever may be happening with your cycle, keep in mind, your monthly flux can be a very strong indicator of your health. Instead of hating your cycle, use it to keep yourself in the best health ever.

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