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31 Jul

What A Healthy Period Really Looks Like

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No cramping, no clotting, no spotting, no acne and no mood swings.

If I could compare my period to something, it would be as dry the Sahara Desert.

I was 18 years old and in agony when my gynecologist handed me a packet of birth control pills to address my insane cramping, heavy bleeding and acne. “I have horrible cramps,” I told the nurse who chuckled and said, “Haven’t we all,” before handing me a packet of Advil. I was told too many times that cramping was a part of being a woman and to accept the painful side effects. So I was given synthetic hormones to mask the symptoms—rather than addressing the route of my hormonal problems—and after being on the pill for three years, I no longer get my period at all: something else I have been told by doctors is “normal.”

“There is absolutely no reason you should suffer on your period.”

What the doctor didn’t tell me is that my unhealthy teenage diet could have actually been responsible for a lot of my symptoms.

Alisa Vitti, the founder of hormone center Flo Living, later explained to me that these insane cramps and nausea can be caused by a vasovagal, or stress, response provoked by prostaglandins—lipids that aid in recovery of tissue damage or infection. And if you are eating the wrong fats (like canola oil instead of olive oil), you might end up with too much prostaglandin, which can decrease relaxation while increasing cramps.

“There is absolutely no reason you should suffer on your period,” says Vitti, explaining that my cramps, heavy bleeding and acne are actually curable symptoms. “No matter what your period problem, it can be addressed with food changes.”

Despite the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists declaring a woman’s menstrual cycle to be a fifth vital sign (the committee opinion recommends that when evaluating the health of girls, clinicians must have “the ability to differentiate between normal and abnormal menstruation”), I was never told by my OB-GYN that my period was abnormal; that my cramping might mean my hormones were simply imbalanced. And I was certainly never told about potential long-term side effects of the pill, such as the depletion of necessary vitamins and nutrients like magnesium—which could explain the kidney stones I acquired last year.

Design by Perri Tomkiewicz
Design by Perri Tomkiewicz

The pill’s synthetic hormones also switch off the natural hormones our own endocrine system produces, while simultaneously putting ovaries in early retirement. Some say this might leave women at risk for infertility, though this has been disputed by other studies which conclude that any decline in fertility is temporary. However, Vitti notes that the brain develops hormonally into your twenties, which could jeopardize women who go on the pill in their teenage years, because they may never fully develop hormonally.

“No studies have been conducted on the safety of putting girls as young as 13 years old on synthetic hormones that stop the natural process of puberty in the brain,” says Vitti. “With idiopathic infertility on the rise, and no known cause, these are questions we should be asking. We should be thinking about addressing the root cause of hormone imbalance versus masking it with a pill. I know every time I ask women if they had known they could have had a natural alternative to the pill to resolve their issues, instead of having to tackle them later on with more difficulty, it’s always a resounding yes—they would never have taken the pill in the first place and pursued natural healing.”

If you want to go off the pill, Vitti recommends safety transitioning using the Birth Control Rehab Guide to ensure symptoms like cramping and heavy bleeding do not return. Because a healthy period is one that lasts for four to seven days, is bright red, with no cramping, acne or mood swings. Period.

Sunyoung Hong
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