Essential Takeaways

  • Your menstrual cycle is a vital sign.
  • Menstrual cycles are important for health, not just fertility.
  • Twenty-eight days isn't necessarily the norm.

By Amanda Laird, Registered Holistic Nutritionist

Here’s what I remember learning about my period when I was in middle school: now you can have a baby, your cycle should be 28 days, there will be blood and there will also be pain. 

Read more: Understanding Cycle-Related Anxiety for More Peaceful Periods

But there’s a lot more to menstrual cycles and your period than just that. Here are four things you didn’t learn about your period in health class that you should know:

Your menstrual cycle is a vital sign 

Your cycle can tell you a lot about your body and health beyond just whether or not you’re pregnant. It’s a vital sign, which means it’s like your blood pressure, heart rate of pulse - an indication of your overall health and wellness. If you are in good health, your menstrual cycle will be regular and without a lot of pain or PMS symptoms. On the flipside, if you are unwell, your period will tell that story.

Menstrual cycles are important for health, not just fertility

While of course menstrual cycles are essential for reproduction, they are about more than just making babies. The hormones that are part of our menstrual cycle - particularly estrogen and progesterone - are essential for our overall health and wellness. Every single cell in your body has an estrogen receptor!. Hormones play a role in every body system and function, including sleep, appetite and even mood, just to name a few. Progesterone, the hormone your body makes through ovulation, is essential for your bone, breast, brain and heart health. Pretty great reasons to get your period, huh?

28 days isn’t necessarily the norm 

Many of us have been taught that a normal or healthy menstrual cycle is 28 days long. But that’s just the average length of a menstrual cycle. Your cycle -- that means the first day of your period to the first day of your next period -- can be anywhere from 21 to 35 days and still be in the range of normal. For adolescents under 21 it can be as long as 45 days and still be healthy! Your period, the days you bleed, can be anywhere from two to five days.

Period pain isn’t normal

Speaking of normal, despite the fact that it’s been normalized in our culture, period pain is anything but. If you are experiencing pain around menstruation it’s a signal that something is out of balance. There are lots of things you can do to help bring your body and hormones back into balance. Some of my favourites are Traditional Chinese Medicine -- after all Chinese practitioners have recognized the menstrual cycle as a vital sign for 2500 years now -- like herbs and acupuncture, pelvic floor physiotherapy and an anti-inflammatory diet. 

If you’ve made changes to your diet and lifestyle and are still experiencing pain it could be a sign of something more serious like endometriosis. Be sure to speak to your doctor right away. 

Once you start to see your menstrual cycle as a vital sign, it’s easy to recognize it for what it truly is -- just a bodily function! It might be a bit messy, but it’s definitely not gross and certainly nothing to be ashamed. When you change your diet, lifestyle and menstrual mindset you might even come to enjoy your menstrual cycle!

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Amanda Laird is a writer, Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ and host of the Heavy Flow Podcast – a feminist, body positive podcast about reproductive health and wellness (Elix co-founder, Dr. Nicole, was recently featured! Listen here). Amanda is the author of Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation, available wherever books are sold. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.


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This article was reviewed by Dr. Jessica Ritch.

Dr. Jessica Ritch is a board-certified and fellowship-trained minimally invasive gynecologist who specializes in the management of benign gynecologic conditions such as abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, fibroids, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. She completed residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, where she was selected as chief resident and received the prestigious AAGL Outstanding Resident in Minimally Invasive Gynecology award.

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