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Women, You Have Options! Everything You Need to Know About Naturally Managing Your Menstrual Health

For generations, women with cycles have been excluded from research studies about their health, leading to misinformation, misdiagnoses and general stigma surrounding women’s health and menstruation. 

With the rise of social media, women are being introduced to new practices that can benefit their health and menstruation. Practices like cycle-syncing, a lifestyle choice that allows women to naturally regulate their feminine cycles through proper nutrition, before resorting to chemical medication. 

Studies show that most girls start their periods when they’re around 12, but they can start as early as eight – often accompanied by premenstrual symptoms (PMS). According to Healthline, as many as 85 per cent of menstruating people experience PMS, which has a wide variety of signs and symptoms, including mood swings, fatigue, irritability and depression.

Women are prescribed medication, often a form of oral contraceptive (birth control), to deviate their period symptoms. One form of contraceptive is hormonal birth control, which according to WebMD, uses synthetic hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone), which prevent ovulation. This means it prevents the natural hormonal decrease that causes PMS from occurring. However, according to a report by Winchester Hospital, these pills don’t come without a list of risks either. Potential complications can include blood clots, change in cholesterol levels, migraines and high blood pressure, among other things. So what other options are there to help alleviate PMS? Let’s take a look at cycle-syncing.

Cycle-syncing refers to adapting your nutrition, exercise routine and social calendar to the different phases of your monthly menstrual cycle. This is meant to give your body the varying vitamins, minerals and strength it needs throughout the month to help it perform efficiently at all times. The four phases of your monthly menstrual cycle are menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase – each one requiring different levels of nutrients. 

Nicole Bendayan, a Ryerson graduate, cycle-syncing nutritionist and a trained holistic nutritionist, first learned about cycle-syncing when she decided to come off birth control and understand her body on a deeper level. “When I was on birth control I had this recurring thought that ‘you don’t know yourself without synthetic hormones,’” adding that, “you don’t really know yourself.” 

According to Bendayan, the menstrual cycle follows a predictable pattern during every 28-34 day cycle and depending on where you are during your cycle, you need to support your body differently. “Your body has different abilities and different strengths and weaknesses at different points in your cycle,” she says, “it impacts your fitness level, but it also impacts your cognition and how you can perform at work.” By tailoring your lifestyle to your cycle, you can not only optimize your physical health, but can also improve your mental health and productivity. 

When referring to the benefits of cycle-syncing, she explains how the menstrual cycle affects women on a day-to-day basis, not only during the menstrual phase or when experiencing PMS. “That affects every part of our lives,” she says, “and the most significant benefit is the ability to connect to oneself.” Bendayan believes that having proper education about our bodies and understanding the cues they are giving us is how we are able to prepare for and prevent symptoms from developing and worsening over time. “Now I understand my body to the point where I can catch things really quickly and understand how to help it,” she says, “that’s really empowering.”

“PMS may be common, but it’s not normal,” is something Bendayan often reiterates on her Instagram and TikTok pages, explaining that PMS is your body’s way of telling you that something is out of balance. There are five different types of PMS

  • PMS-A: Anxiety (high estrogen, low progesterone) 
  • PMS-C: Cravings (high insulin during the first half of cycle) 
  • PMS-D: Depression (low estrogen, possible low serotonin) 
  • PMS-H: Hyper-hydration⠀
  • PMS-P: Pain (high pro-inflammatory prostaglandin activity)⠀

Each type can be significantly improved by following a natural protocol. You can manage different types of PMS with different exercises, nutrient consumption or water intake. 

Natural alternatives to medication, such as cycle-syncing aren’t always for everyone. Cassandra Earle, a fourth-year Ryerson journalism student and founder of @her_uterus, an Instagram blog, has tried a number of medications over the years to help with her endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), among other diagnoses. “I wanted to cling on to anything that might help me,” she says about her choice to stay on medication. 

When asked about her approach to natural remedies to help ease some of her symptoms, Earle expressed a concern she and her family had with implementing dietary restrictions and lifestyle changes on young girls. “We were worried about the implications that could have on my life as I got older,” she says, “I didn’t want to feel restricted or not be able to enjoy my life to the fullest at that age.” 

While modern medicine can be beneficial for many, the key concern is the lack of communication regarding its risks, side effects and how to support our bodies while on prescriptions. Earle was lucky to have a thorough understanding of the implications of taking birth control – but not everyone is aware of this at a young age.

“Most women that are going on birth control aren’t being told that there are other ways to heal,” says Benayan. “It’s the first line of defence, and I don’t think medication or pharmaceutical should ever be the first line of defence.” Bendayan believes that informing women about their options when it comes to managing symptoms and teaching them how to understand their bodies should be the first course of action. She expresses that further medication should be provided if other options are not sufficient or if the patient has willingly asked to take a medicated journey.

❤️ Related: The Importance of Mental Health Days
Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Negin Khodayari has always had a passion for all things culture and entertainment. Growing up she spent hours practicing her interviewing skills in the mirror of her bedroom, and fantasizing about one day having her own talk show. Today, Negin is a fourth-year journalism student at Ryerson University, working to make those dreams a reality.
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