Did you know, one in two women will struggle with their period health? Or that many symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause are in fact manageable?
Lara Briden needs little introduction as she is well known in the health and wellness world as the guru on all things related to women's hormonal health, periods, perimenopause and menopause, thanks to two of her bestselling books Period Repair Manual and Hormone Repair Manual.
With over 20 years experience working as a Naturopath in women's health, Lara has helped thousands of women improve their hormonal health with her simple and fresh approach.
We sat down with Lara to learn more about the signs we may experience with our cycle and what they could mean...
As a naturopathic doctor, you specialise in women’s health. Why are you so passionate about helping women with their health and hormones?
My passion for writing about women’s health came from my 25 years’ work with patients. Working with thousands of patients showed me how well natural treatments work for periods and hormones and made me really want to spread the word. Because fundamentally, women’s bodies and women’s hormones are not as mysterious or complicated as we’ve been led to believe. Instead, women’s bodies are logical responsive systems that know what to do when they’re given the right support.
What are the most common questions or concerns you hear from menstruating women? Or women who may not have a period but want to improve their menstrual health?
The most common problems I treat (and write about) are no periods, irregular periods, painful periods, heavy periods, and premenstrual mood symptoms.
What are the signs of a healthy period?
The main feature of a healthy menstrual cycle is ovulation, which is the release of an egg but is also how women make the hormones estradiol and progesterone. Progesterone is essential for healthy periods because it thins the uterine lining and so makes periods lighter and less painful. Unfortunately, it is also possible to have a bleed without having ovulated or made progesterone. That’s called an anovulatory cycle and is common with undereating, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and perimenopause.
In general, a healthy ovulatory cycle should look like:
- A bleed every 21 to 35 days for adult women, up to 45 days for teenagers.
- A bleed that is 2 to 7 days long.
- Losing no more than 80 mL (five tablespoons) of menstrual fluid over all the days of the bleed.
- No pain or discomfort.
- No premenstrual symptoms.
What are the signs of an unhealthy period? And when should you consult a doctor?
Check with your doctor if:
- You consistently have a period more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days if you’re an adult, or 45 days if you’re a teenager.
- You consistently bleed for more than seven days.
- You consistently lose more than 80 mL of menstrual fluid.
- You experience debilitating pain.
- You experience distressing premenstrual symptoms such as mood, migraines, or breast pain.
Unfortunately, in many cases, your doctor may prescribe the pill to “regulate your cycle.” It’s important to understand that although contraceptive drugs can fairly reliably suppress menstrual symptoms, they work by switching off ovulation and suppressing ovarian function. They cannot, therefore, “regulate” a menstrual cycle, but instead will produce a drug-induced bleed. The timing of that bleed depends only on the dosing schedule of the medication, and there’s actually no medical reason to bleed monthly on the combined pill.
For someone who wants to improve their menstrual health, are you able to provide 3 tips on how to have a healthier period?
- Figure out if and when you’re ovulating. You can do that by observing signs such as fertile mucus and a change in body temperature.
- If you’re not ovulating, then figure out why not. The most common reasons include undereating and PCOS. Then treat that.
- For period pain, try the simple strategy of a dairy-free diet and a zinc supplement.
Perimenopause is a significant shift that women also have to navigate through. What is your #1 piece of advice for women going through this shift?
Perimenopause is the two to ten years before the final period. The most common symptoms are heavy periods and neurological symptoms such as insomnia and a reduced ability to cope with stress. My #1 piece of advice is to know that symptoms are temporary! You’re not always going to be this way. For treatment ideas, see my perimenopause book Hormone Repair Manual.
By menopause (one year after the final period), most symptoms should have settled down.
When should perimenopausal women speak to a doctor?
If you’re going to have symptoms with the menopause transition, they’ll usually be during perimenopause which are the years before menopause, while you’re still having fairly regular periods. Speak to your doctor if you’re having heavy periods and/or distressing neurological symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disturbance, migraines, or night sweats.
For anyone going through perimenopause, are you able to provide 3 tips on how to navigate this change effectively?
- Quit alcohol.
- Move your body and take magnesium.
- Consider taking progesterone (Prometrium) on its own before adding estrogen.