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Your Hormones and Your Cycle: A Period Explanation with Dr. Bala

June 17, 2024

Dr. Bala explaining menstrual cycle with hormone icons and cycle chart in the background.

Welcome to this enlightening episode of Functional Fertility, where Dr. Kalea Wattles chats with the renowned Dr. Saru Bala, a licensed naturopathic doctor specializing in women's hormonal health. In this episode, we delve into the complexities of the menstrual cycle, the pivotal role hormones play in menstrual health, and the impact of lifestyle choices. Dr. Bala also shares her expertise on common menstrual disorders and alternative treatments for hormonal imbalances. Join us as we explore these vital topics and provide practical insights to help you navigate your menstrual health journey.

Key Takeaways

  • The menstrual cycle is divided into distinct phases, each characterized by specific hormonal changes.
  • Estrogen and progesterone are the primary hormones regulating the menstrual cycle, but other hormones like testosterone also play a role.
  • Common menstrual disorders include PMS, heavy menstrual bleeding, and period pain, each with unique causes and treatments.
  • Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and stress significantly influence menstrual health.
  • Alternative treatments for hormonal imbalances include herbal remedies, dietary supplements, and lifestyle modifications.

Understanding the Menstrual Cycle

Knowing your body and menstrual cycle is so important and understanding your body’s hormonal fluctuations can empower you further in your health journey. This knowledge helps track ovulation, mood changes, and get a better understanding of potential hormonal issues. Being informed on these areas of your health can help improve women’s health management and change the narrative around menstruation.

Phases of the Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle is divided into four main phases: the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Each phase is characterized by specific hormonal changes and physiological events. Understanding these phases can help individuals better manage their menstrual health and recognize any abnormalities.

Hormonal Changes Throughout the Cycle

Hormonal fluctuations are a key aspect of the menstrual cycle. Estrogen and progesterone levels vary throughout the cycle, influencing everything from mood to physical symptoms. These hormonal changes are essential for the regulation of the menstrual cycle and reproductive health.

Common Symptoms and Their Causes

Common symptoms during the menstrual cycle include bloating, mood swings, and cramps. These symptoms are often caused by hormonal changes and can vary in intensity from person to person. Using period underwear can help manage some of these symptoms by providing comfort and protection.

Your period shouldn't be something you have to worry about – whether from pain, heaviness, irregular timing, or anything else. If you’re worrying about it and dreading it, that's not normal and you should reach out to someone to help you/work with! Just because you menstruate doesn't mean you're "cursed" with something, even though society would lead you to believe that. Our periods are a beautiful thing that happens due to SO many hormones and cascades of events in our body doing what they do best.

The Role of Hormones in Menstrual Health

Female doctor holding menstrual cycle diagram with hormone icons around it.

Estrogen and Progesterone

Estrogen and progesterone are the primary hormones involved in the menstrual cycle. Their primary functions include the production of oocytes for fertilization and the synthesis of key hormones, primarily estrogen and progesterone, which regulate the menstrual cycle. Estrogen helps in the thickening of the uterine lining, while progesterone stabilizes it, preparing the body for potential pregnancy. Imbalances in these hormones can lead to various menstrual disorders.

The Impact of Testosterone

Though commonly associated with males, testosterone also plays a crucial role in female health. It contributes to libido, bone strength, and the maintenance of muscle mass. Low levels of testosterone can lead to fatigue, mood swings, and decreased sexual desire. Conversely, high levels can cause symptoms like acne and excessive hair growth.

Other Hormones Involved

Several other hormones, including follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), are vital for a healthy menstrual cycle. FSH is responsible for the growth of ovarian follicles, while LH triggers ovulation. Additionally, hormones like prolactin and thyroid hormones also play significant roles. Understanding your body’s hormonal fluctuations can empower you further in your health journey. This knowledge helps track ovulation, mood changes, and get a better understanding of potential hormonal issues.

Common Menstrual Disorders

Female doctor holding a menstrual cycle chart, explaining common menstrual disorders and hormonal changes.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) encompasses a variety of symptoms that occur in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. These symptoms can range from mood swings and irritability to physical discomforts such as bloating and headaches. Understanding how you feel at different stages of the menstrual cycle is crucial for managing PMS effectively. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly the drop in estrogen and progesterone, are primary contributors to these symptoms.

Heavy Menstrual Bleeding

Heavy menstrual bleeding, also known as menorrhagia, is characterized by excessively heavy or prolonged menstrual periods. This condition can significantly impact a woman's quality of life, leading to anemia and severe fatigue. The causes of heavy menstrual bleeding can vary, including hormonal imbalances, uterine fibroids, and other underlying health conditions. Women experiencing this disorder often find relief through medical treatments or lifestyle changes, such as using period underwear for women to manage the flow more comfortably.

Period Pain and Cramps

Period pain and cramps, medically termed dysmenorrhea, are common complaints among menstruating women. These pains typically occur in the lower abdomen and can range from mild to severe. The pain is often caused by the release of prostaglandins, which trigger uterine contractions. For some, the discomfort is manageable with over-the-counter pain relief, while others may require more comprehensive treatment plans. Exploring physiological, psychological, and emotional changes during the menstrual cycle can provide insights into managing these symptoms more effectively.

The Influence of Lifestyle on Menstrual Health

Diet and Nutrition

Diet and nutrition play a crucial role in maintaining menstrual health. Consuming a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help regulate hormonal levels and alleviate common menstrual symptoms. Proper nutrition supports the body's natural hormonal balance, which is essential for a healthy menstrual cycle. Avoiding excessive sugar, caffeine, and processed foods can also reduce inflammation and discomfort during menstruation.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Regular exercise and physical activity are beneficial for overall health and can significantly impact menstrual health. Engaging in moderate exercise, such as walking, swimming, or yoga, can help reduce menstrual pain and improve mood. Exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood enhancers. However, it's important to avoid excessive or intense exercise, as it can lead to hormonal imbalances and irregular cycles.

Stress and Mental Health

Stress and mental health are closely linked to menstrual health. High stress levels can disrupt hormonal balance and lead to irregular periods, increased pain, and other menstrual issues. Practicing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness can help manage stress and improve menstrual health. Additionally, ensuring adequate sleep and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are essential for reducing stress and supporting overall well-being.

Incorporating these lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on menstrual health. For instance, many women have found relief by using the New York Times's Top pick Period underwear for women, which offers comfort and protection during menstruation. By focusing on diet, exercise, and stress management, women can take proactive steps to improve their menstrual health and overall quality of life.

Alternative Treatments for Hormonal Imbalances

Dr. Bala explaining the menstrual cycle with a hormone diagram in the background.

Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies have been used for centuries to manage hormonal imbalances. Common herbs such as Vitex (Chaste Tree Berry), Black Cohosh, and Maca Root are known to support hormonal health. Vitex is particularly effective in balancing progesterone levels, which can alleviate symptoms like irregular periods and PMS.

Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements can play a crucial role in managing hormonal imbalances. Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin D are essential nutrients that support hormone production and regulation. For instance, magnesium helps in reducing symptoms of PMS and menstrual cramps. It's important to consult a healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen.

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle modifications are fundamental in managing hormonal imbalances. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management techniques such as yoga and meditation can significantly impact hormonal health. Additionally, wearing period underwear can provide comfort and reduce stress during menstruation. 

The Impact of Birth Control on Menstrual Health

Types of Birth Control

Birth control methods vary widely, from hormonal options like the pill, patch, and IUD, to non-hormonal methods such as condoms and copper IUDs. Each type has its own set of benefits and potential side effects. Hormonal contraceptive medications are often used to regulate or suppress menstruation, a practice known as menstrual suppression. This can be beneficial for those with heavy or painful periods, but it may also come with its own set of challenges.

Short-term and Long-term Effects

In the short term, birth control can help manage symptoms like acne, heavy bleeding, and menstrual cramps. However, the long-term effects are still being studied. Some research suggests that hormonal birth control can impact gut health and nutrient absorption, leading to deficiencies in essential vitamins like B vitamins. Dr. Bala notes that while we haven't seen the full spectrum of long-term effects, there are concerns about its impact on the microbiome and overall gut health.

Alternatives to Birth Control

For those who find that birth control "just wasn't it for them," there are alternative solutions available. These can include lifestyle changes, dietary supplements, and other non-hormonal methods. Dr. Bala emphasizes the importance of offering a full spectrum of solutions for hormonal concerns, rather than relying solely on birth control. Additionally, options like period underwear can provide a non-invasive way to manage menstrual symptoms without the need for hormonal intervention.

The Connection Between Gut Health and Menstrual Health

Female doctor holding menstrual cycle diagram with gut health and hormone icons, illustrating the connection between them.

Gut Microbiome and Hormones

The gut microbiome plays a crucial role in regulating hormones, including those involved in the menstrual cycle. A healthy gut can help balance estrogen levels, reducing the risk of hormonal imbalances that can lead to menstrual disorders. Conversely, an unhealthy gut can exacerbate hormonal issues, leading to symptoms such as bloating, mood swings, and irregular periods.

Dietary Influences

Diet significantly impacts gut health and, by extension, menstrual health. Consuming a diet rich in fiber, probiotics, and prebiotics can support a healthy gut microbiome. Foods such as yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables are excellent choices. On the other hand, a diet high in processed foods and sugars can disrupt gut health and lead to hormonal imbalances.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Incorporating probiotics and prebiotics into one's diet can be beneficial for both gut and menstrual health. Probiotics, found in supplements and fermented foods, help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria. Prebiotics, found in foods like garlic, onions, and bananas, feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Together, they can help regulate hormones and alleviate menstrual symptoms.

For those experiencing menstrual discomfort, considering alternative menstrual products like period underwear can also provide relief and comfort.


In conclusion, understanding the intricate relationship between hormones and the menstrual cycle is crucial for women's health. Dr. Saru Bala's expertise in naturopathic medicine provides invaluable insights into managing period-related concerns, from PMS and heavy bleeding to hormonal imbalances. By focusing on natural and holistic approaches, Dr. Bala emphasizes the importance of addressing the root causes of hormonal issues rather than merely masking symptoms with conventional treatments like birth control. This episode underscores the significance of tracking menstrual health and considering factors such as gut health in the broader context of hormonal well-being. We hope this discussion empowers women to take charge of their health and seek comprehensive, individualized care.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered normal in terms of period pain, cramps, and bloating?

Period pain, cramps, and bloating can vary from person to person. Mild discomfort is normal, but severe pain might indicate underlying issues such as endometriosis or fibroids. It's important to consult a healthcare provider if you experience significant pain.

Why do some women experience worse PMS symptoms than others?

PMS symptoms can vary due to hormonal imbalances, lifestyle factors, and genetic predisposition. Factors such as diet, stress, and overall health can also influence the severity of PMS symptoms.

What are the main things women should track for their period?

Women should track the length of their cycle, the duration and flow of their period, any associated symptoms (like cramps or bloating), and any irregularities. Tracking can help in identifying patterns and potential issues.

What are the effects of birth control on women's health?

Birth control can have various effects on women's health, including regulating periods, reducing menstrual cramps, and managing acne. However, it may also have side effects such as weight gain, mood changes, and increased risk of blood clots. It's important to discuss with a healthcare provider to find the best option for you.

What are some tips for managing hormonal imbalances?

Managing hormonal imbalances can include lifestyle changes such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep. Herbal remedies and dietary supplements may also help, but it's essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment.

How is gut health connected to menstrual health?

Gut health plays a crucial role in hormonal balance. An unhealthy gut can lead to inflammation and hormonal imbalances, which can affect menstrual health. Probiotics, prebiotics, and a balanced diet can support gut health and, in turn, improve menstrual health.

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