There’s been a lot of positive change in women’s health over the last several decades. But we still have a long way to go. One thing women can do to take charge of their health is to become familiar with their menstrual cycle. It’s more important than you might think— and has much more to do with health than deciding whether or not to have children.
Read to learn about some of the top menstruation myths to overcome, and what you can do if your period is making life seem unmanageable.
This article is based on the Fempower Health interview with Dr. Lara Briden, Your Period: What Your Doctor Never Told You.
Dispelling the Common Myths About Periods
Dr. Lara Briden, the author of Period Repair Manual, is a naturopathic doctor and period revolutionary. She’s helped thousands of women find relief for period problems such as PCOS, PMS, endometriosis, and perimenopause.
With more than 25 years of experience with women’s menstrual cycles, Dr. Briden has seen what works and what doesn’t. Here are the top myths that prevent women around the world from achieving better health and better periods.
The period is the “main event” of the menstrual cycle.
The biggest misconception about menstruation is that someone’s period is the main event of their cycle. Not true. Ovulation is the main event, which is when the ovaries release an egg and the body surges with hormones. This isn’t often discussed between doctors and patients or taught in sex ed classes.
While the actual period is noticeable and needs to be cared for, it’s an aftereffect of healthy ovulation. Ovulation itself contributes to many vital health components in women every month.
Learn more in this podcast episode with Dr Lara Briden and Dr Jerilynn Prior Why Ovulation is Critical for Women’s Overall Health.
If you don’t want to make babies, ovulation is irrelevant.
Why is ovulation the main event? It’s not only about conception, although that’s part of it. It all comes down to hormones.
The menstrual cycle is what manages hormone production in women. As women, we need all the hormones that ebb and flow throughout our menstrual cycle. The two main hormones, estrogen and progesterone, both have serious benefits to long-term health. Without them, our bodies can be prone to certain disorders and diseases.
Estrogen and progesterone are vital for:
Brain health and mood
Vitamin and mineral absorption
Reducing risks of disease after menopause
Dr. Briden explains it this way: “Ovulation during every menstrual cycle is like a deposit into the bank account of long-term health. It's building what's called a metabolic reserve… Both hormones are good for the heart, both hormones are good for the brain, and they affect the microbiome; the gut. They're beneficial for us, just as testosterone is beneficial for men.”
If you have period problems, taking the pill will solve them.
Another common myth women experience today is the socially-assumed solution to menstruation problems: the birth control pill.
Progesterone increases your risk of breast cancer.
There is concern that progesterone contributes to the risk of breast cancer. Progesterone that’s naturally produced in the body and progestins from the pill are not the same. Studies have found that progesterone lowers the risk of breast cancer while progestins increase the risk of breast cancer.
Periods and Birth Control
Since ovulation is so crucial for women’s health, understanding how birth control affects females’ natural hormonal cycles is important. Here are a few things to note.
Hormonal IUD: An intrauterine device (IUD) thins the uterine lining, and can lighten a woman’s periods by up to 90%. A hormonal IUD might be a better option for some women instead of the pill since it prevents pregnancy but does not routinely switch off ovulation. Learn about the pros and cons of hormonal IUDs here.
Contraceptive drugs: Oral contraceptives like the birth control pill can prevent pregnancy and lighten periods. However, these are often over-prescribed for menstrual issues instead of used as a final solution to severe pain. Some women experience minimal side effects of the pill, but others struggle with a variety of extreme effects that were originally unexpected. These include hair loss, mood problems, blood clots, and hormonal imbalances.
“The pill doesn’t regulate the menstrual cycle— it suppresses it. The pill works by shutting down the natural hormone production process and inducing basically chemical menopause. That doesn’t mean birth control is ‘bad’ or should be fully avoided. But women should at least be made aware so they can make informed decisions and have freedom of choice.” -Dr. Lara Briden
Read What Women Want and Need to Know About Hormonal Birth Control to learn more.
How Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle Evolve With Age
After a teenager first starts their period, the hormonal cycle takes time to fully mature. In early puberty, girls have estrogen but are still developing progesterone for a few years. Progesterone can take 1-2 years to start to kick in.
Interruption of this natural evolution of the menstrual cycle can happen if girls are put on the pill early on, which is common in teens who have heavy or irregular periods. This can and should be avoided as there are natural period relief methods that won’t interrupt the production of hormones. Young women’s hormones must learn what they’re supposed to do to regulate with age.
PMS, Period Pain, and Heavy Bleeding
One of the worst myths about menstruation is that period pain and major PMS are “normal”.
Wrong. Any time you have pelvic pain, heavy bleeding, or PMS symptoms that interrupt your life, it’s a sign something is not right.
A normal, regular period:
Lasts no longer than 6-7 days
Releases 15 to 25 mL of menses with regular flow
Releases up to 80 mLs with heavy flow
Causes mild cramping for a few days leading up to or after the period starts
Occurs every 28-34 days (with some variation during phases of stress or undereating)
Heavy periods can be a sign of hormone imbalance, menstrual disorders, or other health conditions. 1 in 10 women experiences endometriosis, which is when uterine tissue develops outside the uterus and causes intense pain or infertility. If you have concerns about your period, especially if it causes you unbearable pain, see a medical professional.
Learn Your Period Naturally
If you want to learn about your body, encourage healthy hormone production, and advocate for your overall health, here are some more resources.
Read Lara Briden’s book, Period Repair Manual
Listen to expert interviews about the menstrual cycle on Fempower Health
Learn about endometriosis
Browse the menstrual cycle resources from Fempower Health
If you found this information useful, share it with someone you know. Follow @FempowerHealth on social media to stay up to date on the latest news, research, and insights all about women’s health today.