When it comes to your period, what’s normal?

I don’t know about you, but my girlfriends and I never really got into the nitty gritty details of our periods. Most of us don’t talk about how often we’re changing our tampon or how many clots we pass, which leaves many of us assuming that what we experience every month must be normal. But just because cramping and PMS are common, it doesn’t mean that they’re normal and you have to live with them. Periods don’t have to cramp your style (pun intended!) And while there is definitely some variation from woman to woman, here’s what’s “normal” when it comes to your period.

1. Your cycle length (aka how often you’re getting your period)

  • NORMAL: 21-35 days (most women assume their cycle is 28 days which is the standard cycle when you take the birth control pill but most women’s cycle isn’t exactly 28 days).
  • NOT NORMAL:
    • Less than 21 days: could be a sign of a cycle without ovulation, short follicular phase (aka time between your period starting and ovulation), progesterone deficiency, perimenopase, or stress.
    • More than 35 days: cycle without ovulation, long follicular phase, stress, recent illness, thyroid disease, PCOS (aka polycystic ovarian syndrome), high prolactin (hormone involved in milk production).

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 2. Your flow length (aka how long you bleed)

  • NORMAL: Most women bleed for 3-5 days (with days 1 and 2 being heaviest), including a day or two of light spotting as it finishes up.
  • NOT NORMAL:
    • Less than 3 days: can be a sign of estrogen deficiency (especially if flow is very light and pale pink).
    • More than 7 days: can a sign of high estrogen, endometriosis or fibroids.

 3. How much you bleed

  • NORMAL: You should lose about 50 mL of blood.
    • One soaked regular pad or tampon = 5 mL
    • One super tampon = 10 mL
    • 50 mL = 10 fully soaked regular tampons or 5 fully soaked super tampons over the span of your period
  •  NOT NORMAL:
    • Light period (aka less than 25 mL): can be a sign of PCOS, high stress, estrogen deficiency, or thyroid disease.
    • Heavy period (aka more than 80 mL):  can be a sign of a cycle without ovulation, excess estrogen, low progesterone, estrogen dominance, PCOS, thyroid disease, fibroids, endometriosis.

 4. What your blood looks like

  • NORMAL: menstrual fluid should be liquid, with no large clots. Your menstrual fluid should a reddish-brown colour.
  • NOT NORMAL:
    • Brown blood: is typically a sign of old blood that wasn’t shed during your last period
    • Large clots (bigger than the end of your thumb): can be a sign of high estrogen or estrogen dominance, endometriosis, or fibroids.

 5. PMS & Cramping

  • NORMAL: its common to feel a little congestion or cramping in your lowpexels-photo-735966er belly before your period, and to experience mild mood changes, fatigue and a desire to stay in and binge-watch Netflix.
  • NOT NORMAL: being a sugar-crazed carb monster, having swollen super-sensitive breasts, needing to wear a bigger pant size and flying off the handle at the slightest annoyance. PMS is often a sign of either high estrogen, low progesterone or both. Menstrual cramps that cause you to miss work or need pharmaceutical pain relief can be a sign of magnesium
    deficiency, inflammation, hormone imbalance, endometriosis or fibroids.

 6. Spotting

  • NORMAL: its normal to have light spotting on the day of ovulation (more common with low estrogen).
  • NOT NORMAL: Light bleeding before your periodcould be a sign of progesterone deficiency.

If you experience several symptoms that are “not normal” every month, check in with your family doctor or  naturopathic doctor to see if you might have a hormonal imbalance that requires some attention.

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A Healthy Balance: Omega 3 to 6 ratio

You’re likely familiar with Omega-3 fatty acids. They’re the heart healthy fats that are found in fish, flax seeds, and walnuts. Omega-3 fats are considered “essential fatty acids” because our body cannot produce them and they must therefore be consumed in the diet. The lesser known Omega-6 fatty acids are also considered essential fatty acids.

Omega-3 fats include ALA (found in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil), and EPA and DHA (found in fatty cold-water fish including salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines). The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are numerous and include: reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, mood enhancement, and helping with weight loss.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola) and animal proteins such a poultry, pork, and beef. Excessive amount of omega-6 fats, in particular, arachidonic acid, contributes to increased inflammation in the body. Most Canadians get high levels of omega-6 fats in their diet due to high consumption of meat and vegetable oils.

An ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids between 1:1 to 1:3, meaning that we should be getting close to equal amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fats. The average Canadian diet provides 15 to 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fats. This can result in an overabundance of omega-6 fats in the body which contributes to an pro-inflammatory state. Inflammation had been linked to a variety of health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

So what can you do to bring your omega fats back into balance?

  1. Limit your animal protein to one meal per day and watch portion sizes! Your protein should make up only 1/4 of your lunch and dinner plate.
  2. Increase your intake of plant based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
  3. Reduce your intake of vegetable oils including corn, canola, sunflower, and safflower. Increase your intake of flaxseed oil, olive oil, coconut oil (a healthy source of medium chain triglycerides!), avocado, and nuts and seeds.
  4. Include fatty cold water fish twice a week (salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines)
  5. Start taking a purified, high quality fish oil that provides at least 1000 mg of omega-3′s (or an algae based oil if you are vegetarian/vegan). Avoid the Omega 3-6-9 blends since you’re likely getting enough omega-6 fats already and you can get omega-9 fats from your diet.

Aim to get 6 teaspoons of healthy fats including a balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats to help lower inflammation and improve your overall health.