Ovulation, menstruation, and our monthly cycle can tell us a lot about our fertility, or infertility, as well as our overall health.
When we understand the normal physiology (the way our body works and why it does what it does) we can begin to tap into the incredible benefits that come from working with our hormones, rather than against them.
Many think that a normal, healthy, cycle is measured by the presence of a bleed every 28 days, but this simply isn’t the truth.
I have even heard it argued that “women no longer need their menstrual cycles” and that “it’s just an unnecessary inconvenience in this day and age”.
However, once we truly begin to understand hormones, the female cycle, and our body, then it’s quickly obvious that saying that is just as absurd as saying something like, “men no longer need testosterone”; which is also simply not true.
As a holistic chiropractor whose passion lies in fertility and preconception work, I believe it’s incredibly helpful and important for families to understand the normal physiology of a healthy cycle, as well as, the benefits that go along with such.
Regardless of whether or not you are trying to conceive, these are all things that pertain to our overall wellbeing and health- now and for decades to come.
There are three events in a healthy, normal, female cycle.
The most important event in our cycle is ovulation, not menstruation.
Therefore, a cycle without ovulation can’t be a healthy, normal, cycle because it’s missing the main event.
Unlike the bleed which can be triggered by multiple things, and occur for numerous reasons, to varying degrees, ovulation either happens or it doesn’t; there is no such thing as kind of ovulating, or ovulating a little bit.
Even conception aside, regular ovulation is extremely beneficial to us as women and is a sign of health; that we are eating enough food (specifically carbs) and that we are not under too much stress.
When we ovulate we receive a monthly dose of the hormone progesterone which builds bone and a metabolic reserve to carry us through the decades following menopause.
Research has shown that regular ovulation during our premenopausal years can help prevent osteoporosis, breast cancer, and heart disease.
This is why it is so important that we ovulate during our reproductive decades and not shut down ovulation and our normal cycles with hormonal birth control methods, such as the pill.
Birth control pills override our body’s own hormones and are really good at masking symptoms that may tell us when things aren’t working as they should be.
We often think (myself included- I was on the pill for years before I learned what I now know) that because we’re still bleeding while on hormonal birth control, then we’re still having our menstrual cycle.
However a bleed while on hormonal birth control is not a true period, rather it’s just a withdrawal bleed, as it essentially bypasses 2/3 of our cycle: ovulation and the luteal phase.
It is important to understand that it’s our cycle that is beneficial, not the bleed. The bleed, or a pregnancy, is just merely an outcome of our cycle.
There are around 120 different risks and side effects associated with synthetic hormonal birth control estrogen and progestin (not the same as progesterone) combos.
Some of these risks include cancers of the reproductive organs, breast cancer, diabetes, asthma, thyroid imbalance, immune dysfunction, blood clots, depression, low libido, hair loss, and weight gain.
Often we hear that the “newer, low dose, high progestin pill actually lowers the risk of breast cancer”, however this is only part of the truth. Yes, it has a lower risk in comparison to its high estrogen pill counterpart, but both still increase the risk of breast cancer by 60% and 70% respectively verses not being on them, and unfortunately the low dose actually carries an increased risk of blood clots in addition.
When we’re on the pill or hormonal birth control we don’t ovulate, have a luteal phase, form a corpus luteum, or produce progesterone.
This means we’re not having a cycle while on the pill and are therefore not only increasing our risks and side effects, but we’re also missing out on all the protective benefits from having a cycle.
Like I mentioned above, a proper menstrual cycle is based around the ovulatory event.
As mentioned above, a healthy, normal, cycle begins with the follicular phase (which lasts 7-21 days), is then followed by ovulation, the main event, (which occurs in 1 day), and then immediately following ovulation is the 14 day luteal phase.
Therefore a healthy, completely normal cycle can last anywhere from 21-35 days depending on how long your personal follicular phase is.
In order to determine the length of your cycle begin counting from your 1st day of heavy bleeding. This is day 1 of your cycle. Light spotting is not part of your current cycle, but rather left over from your previous cycle.
Continue counting until your next first day of heavy bleeding the following month. That is the length of your cycle for that month. I recommend tracking this over several months so that you can get a baseline for what your current average cycle length is. This is my favorite app for tracking this.
A normal bleed should last 2-7 days and you should lose no more than 80ml of menstrual fluid total over all the days of your period.
You can track this using a menstrual cup which I love and highly recommend. There are many- my personal favorite is the Diva Cup.
Occasional anovulatory cycles (cycles where you don’t ovulate) are normal from time to time, but not all the time. There are ways we can test whether or not you are ovulating, however I’ve listed 3 signs, below, that you may not be.
3 Signs of an Anovulatory Cycle are:
Remember bleeds while on hormonal birth control or “the pill” are not real cycles. These forms of birth control are anovulatory drugs and they suppress our body’s estradiol and progesterone production, essentially flatlining our hormones like what happens in menopause.
There are various issues that can affect our cycles. Two of the most common that both present with absent, irregular cycles and polycystic ovaries are:
I hope this helped bring a bit more light to your understanding of your incredible female cycle and maybe answered a few of your questions. Although this article may seem robust it still only scratches the surface of all there is to know about fertility and preconception.
Please remember that the content above and on this site is intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide or replace any individual medical advice and/or treatment from your personal physician. Please consult your doctor or qualified healthcare practitioner for individual and specific questions and concerns.