Naturopath Nina Stephenson decodes the secrets of your cycle, and what you should and shouldn’t experience. Regular periods tell you that your hormones are balanced. The bleed itself is your womb’s way of detoxifying by shedding its lining each month. Contraceptive treatments suppress this natural process and aren’t recommended long term they contribute to an unhealthy thickening of the endometrium and excessive oestrogen, both of which are linked to endometriosis, fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and infertility.

Know your cycle

A normal cycle lasts 26-32 days. The bleed should last four to five days. Periods lasting for six days or more can lead to iron deficiency anaemia; shorter bleeds could signal a circulatory problem. The blood should be bright red; clotty, dark-coloured blood indicates stagnation: seek help from your natural health practitioner. The same goes for pain – if you’re reaching for painkillers every month, something is wrong! Follow this five-step plan for optimal menstrual health:
1. Move! Exercise is a key factor in avoiding period pain and low mood. Exercise stimulates blood circulation, preventing stagnation of the pelvic area, and using your leg muscles stimulates lymphatic flow (our body’s sewerage system that controls fluid balance), plus it stimulates release of mood-boosting serotonin and endorphins. Pick something that suits your interests – that way you’ll stick to it!
2. Rethink your diet If your bleed exceeds five days I wouldn’t recommend a vegetarian diet because the most bioavailable forms of iron and vitamin B12 come from lean red meat. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables of all colours and a couple of pieces of fruit daily to ensure you’re getting a full range of vitamins and minerals. Fresh fish, nuts and seeds (walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed) supply omega-3 fatty acids which lower prostaglandins – the inflammatory chemicals that worsens period pain.
3. Bs are best A deficiency in any or all of the eight B-group vitamins can cause PMS and other unpleasant menstrual-related symptoms. These vitamins are water-soluble, and although some are made by our own intestinal bacteria, most aren’t stored well in the body which means we need to consume them daily. Too much sugar, coffee, tannins from tea, nicotine and alcohol all affect their absorption. Each B-group vitamin has a specific role in the body – ranging from regulating glucose metabolism and blood sugar balance (a must for countering PMS-driven cravings), and supporting nervous function and energy production (preventing fatigue, irritability and moodiness) to boosting stomach acid production (easing constipation), synthesising the sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, regulating fluid balance (reducing bloating), and supporting the adrenal glands (combating stress). Good sources of B-group vitamins include: beef, liver, poultry, brewer’s yeast, nuts, oats, eggs, seeds, legumes, oily fish, nori seaweed, unhomogenised dairy milk and foods, dark green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, and avocadoes.
4. Relax with magnesium You need this ‘anti-stress’ mineral for muscle relaxation – it’s particularly helpful for preventing menstrual cramping – and energy production. Good sources include: green leafy vegetables, seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, and wholegrains.
5. Add supplemental insurance I love MediHerb’s Fe-Plex. It provides good levels of iron, vitamin B1, B2, B6, B9 and B12, plus herbs and co-factors that help absorption.
6. Get rubbed the right way A study from Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital found that period pain, fluid retention, and moodiness were eased by massage.

Nina Stephenson BHSc is a naturopath and nutritionist.