• Jacqui Niehaus

Your menstrual cycle is your fifth vital sign

Updated: Feb 9


Ladies are incredibly lucky to have a menstrual cycle since it acts like a ‘fifth vital sign’ – a sign that indicates the status of the body’s vital functions. When something is not right with your health, it often shows up in your cycle as either:


  • Delayed ovulation

  • Mid-cycle spotting

  • Abnormal cervical mucus patterns

  • Irregular periods

  • Amenorrhea (missing period)

  • Very heavy or clotty periods

  • Painful periods

  • Lack of sex drive

  • Other PMS symptoms such as pre-menstrual depression or anxiety, migraines, and tender breasts


Oftentimes, when you go to the doctor with these symptoms, a common approach is to simply prescribe the pill to ‘regulate’ your cycle. The problem is that this does not regulate your cycle but rather turns off ovulation and does nothing to address the underlying root cause. The pill also comes with a host of negative side effects. Suppressing ovulation prevents you from making natural progesterone, which is one of the most protective hormones in the body. Progesterone reduces inflammation, regulates immune function, supports thyroid function, promotes blood sugar balance, promotes sleep, and ensures a pain-free, regular period.


Hormonal birth control pills also deplete you of vital nutrients, including vitamin A, folate, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and magnesium [1]. This is why many women on hormonal birth control experience nutrient-deficiency symptoms such as brittle hair, soft nails, and slow healing. Hormonal birth control can also diminish your testosterone levels which results in low libido.


When a woman’s menstrual cycle is normal, estrogen is the dominant hormone for the first two weeks leading up to ovulation. In the second half of the cycle, you are supposed to be progesterone dominant, but many women are experiencing estrogen dominance over the entire course of their cycle. This can lead to cycle irregularities and feeling awful leading up to menstruation.


Estrogen dominance is incredibly common today. Due to high levels of stress, exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, poor diet and lifestyle, we are seeing more estrogen dominance than ever before. Improving estrogen balance is an important aspect of my coaching programs, and can be achieved through nutrition and lifestyle strategies such as:

  • Supporting your metabolism by ensuring sufficient caloric intake and eating a nutrient-dense diet

  • Balancing blood sugar through well-balanced meals and meal timing

  • Lowering your overall burden of stress

  • Addressing gut health to support a healthy microbiome


The root cause of hormonal imbalances often comes back to adrenal and thyroid health. Restoring optimal adrenal and thyroid function is at the foundation of healing. Our adrenals and thyroid require sufficient nutrients to function! Vitamin A, E, C, D, K, B-vitamins, copper, zinc, selenium, magnesium, potassium just to name a few. Working on increasing the nutrient density of your diet is a key part of healing your hormones at the root cause. Reducing stress is another key factor in restoring optimal adrenal and thyroid function. Evaluating what stressors are in your life and finding mechanisms to reduce them are vital in finding hormonal balance.


When you start nurturing your hormones through proper nutrition and lifestyle choices and make sure that you are ovulating monthly, you greatly reduce your risk of future health complications like diabetes [2], cardiovascular disease [3], osteoporosis [4], and cancer [5]. Ovulating on a consistent basis is one of the best ways for women to ensure long-term health. Instead of covering up your hormonal imbalance symptoms with synthetic hormones, see them as a tool to help you dig a little deeper and get to the root cause.


My coaching programs place a major focus on the health of your menstrual cycle. I always get my clients to track their basal body temperature (BBT) daily and chart their cycles so that we can look for any irregularities. With the right nutrition and lifestyle interventions, you can support a healthy balance of hormones throughout your cycle. Tracking and understanding your cycle allows you to take back control of your health and your life.


Further reading

Here are some great books I highly recommend every lady read to understand more about their menstrual cycle and how that relates to their overall health:

  • The fifth vital sign, by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack

  • Taking charge of your fertility, by Toni Weschler

  • Period repair manual, by Lara Briden



References


[1] M. Palmery, A. Saraceno, A. Vaiarelli, and G. Carlomagno, “Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements,” Eur. Rev. Med. Pharmacol. Sci., vol. 17, no. 13, 2013.

[2] C. G. Solomon et al., “Long or highly irregular menstrual cycles as a marker for risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus,” J. Am. Med. Assoc., vol. 286, no. 19, 2001, doi: 10.1001/jama.286.19.2421.

[3] C. G. Solomon et al., “Menstrual cycle irregularity and risk for future cardiovascular disease,” J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab., vol. 87, no. 5, 2002, doi: 10.1210/jcem.87.5.8471.

[4] A. C. Hergenroeder, “Bone mineralization, hypothalamic amenorrhea, and sex steroid therapy in female adolescents and young adults,” J. Pediatr., vol. 126, no. 5, 1995, doi: 10.1016/S0022-3476(95)70393-4.

[5] E. A. Whelan, D. P. Sandler, J. L. Root, K. R. Smith, and C. R. Weinberg, “Menstrual cycle patterns and risk of breast cancer,” Am. J. Epidemiol., vol. 140, no. 12, 1994, doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a117208.

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