Here’s How Your Period Gives Insight Into Your Hormonal Health, According To Experts


Black women are paying attention to their hormonal health, now more than ever before, because our livelihoods depend on it. In addition to going to our regularly scheduled primary care and OBGYN appointments, we are also becoming more diligent about our health matters at home. According to Dr. Kerry-Anne Perkins, our pelvis is jam-packed with secrets relating to our health, specifically hormonal health, as women. Our sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) are primarily produced in the pelvic organs; they are regulated through a complex and important communication system flowing from our brain down to our special organs (ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina). If we encounter disruptions or imbalances in our hormones, especially during our reproductive years between puberty and menopause, we will know it. “Most commonly, females may have irregular periods wherein their cycles are unpredictable. A normal, predictable cycle leaves us knowing exactly the date where our periods will show up or within a day of this,” she tells ESSENCE. 

Some additional signs include:

  • Pain: Having extreme cramping or pain during our cycle or leading up to it. Women should be able to work, play, and live generally during their periods without having to rely on excessive pain medications or alternative therapies like heating pads.  Sometimes, the problem could be PCOS, endometriosis, or even thyroid problems.
  • Abnormal bleeding: Having heavier bleeding than the normal 2-3 tablespoons per cycle can be a telltale sign of a hormone problem.  There are many reasons why a person may have heavier bleeding, but having fibroids, polyps, or ovulatory disorders may be linked with an underlying hormone problem.
  • Intermenstrual bleeding: This is where you may have bleeding in between your cycles, like during ovulation or at any other time outside of your normal period.
  • Extreme symptoms such as bloating, fatigue, acne, vaginal dryness, anxiety, depression, moodiness, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea are also linked with hormone imbalances

Perkins suggests that adopting holistic lifestyle habits can encourage a happy and healthy reproductive system regardless of your age or demographics or whether or not you have period problems at the moment. “Some of the simplest things that we can do are found right in our homes, such as eating protein (aiming for 25g with each meal) since most women do not eat enough, reducing the number of fragrances and chemicals that we are exposed to at home such as those in household cleaning products and toiletries, and drinking a minimum of two liters of water per day.  In addition to doing these things, weight training is very beneficial in helping with our periods and hormone health.  Aim to do 150 minutes of exercise per week with 2-3 days of strength training,” she suggests. 

According to Andrea Alexander, OBGYN, any time a woman has an excess of any symptoms immediately before or during her period, she should always question if she has a hormone imbalance. She believes our cycles should cause minimal discomfort regarding pain, blood loss, and irritability. If any symptoms are leading to significant changes in your quality of life, your sensors for hormonal imbalance should sound off. “Right before our cycles, our progesterone levels are quite high, leading to a slight increase in appetite, bloating, fatigue, and body temperatures. Anything similar to a ravenous appetite, bloating to the point where breathing and moving are uncomfortable, extreme fatigue levels or depression, high anxiety, or frequent and severe hot flushes can all be signals for abnormal progesterone to estrogen levels,” Alexander says.

During our periods, our estrogen levels fall, and we do have some blood loss, leading to mild cramping, breast tenderness, fatigue, headache, etc. If you are soaking through pads, experiencing pain to the point of limited mobility, having headaches for days on end, or experiencing extreme fatigue where you cannot perform your regular activities of daily living (cooking, cleaning, performing your hygiene routines, etc.), then you may have abnormally high estrogen levels. 

She suggests avoiding dairy and foods with hormone disrupters like red dye and soy products, as well as exercising to ensure average body fat percentages (~20-30%) is a MUST, as abnormally high amounts of fatty tissue can also make estrogen hormones, contributing to more hormone imbalances.  Increase your consumption of herbal teas like spearmint, chamomile, and raspberry leaf tea. 

Alexander suggests avoiding spicy and greasy foods as much as possible, especially the week before your cycle. Consuming more anti-inflammatory foods rich in antioxidants, like dark leafy green veggies and dark berries, can also help. 

According to Dr. Cassandra Simmons, Chief of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, a woman develops a period in response to hormones produced in the brain and ovaries. The normal period frequency is typically 21-35 days and can tell you how well those hormones from the brain and ovaries are in sync. If an imbalance occurs, one of the first signs may be a missed period or a change in the regularity of the periods that can result in changes in the ovulation process, affecting many aspects of a woman’s life, including fertility. Your periods may also be affected by hormones taken for birth control or pregnancy. It is important to speak to a gynecologist when there are concerns about hormones and changes in the period flow or frequency. “While many factors can impact the hormones involved with periods, lifestyle changes can sometimes make a difference. To help your body produce hormones, you need a balanced diet that includes protein- the building block of hormones. It is also important to maintain weight with a healthy exercise regimen. Sometimes a small amount of exercise goes a long way to help control conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is one of the more common hormonal imbalances that can affect women’s health at all reproductive ages. Managing stress and getting enough sleep are ways to support the balance of hormones such as cortisol, which can also impact weight and reproductive health,” she states.

It is important to remember that while lifestyle changes can positively affect a woman’s hormonal status when imbalances are suspected, a doctor should be consulted to perform a full evaluation and support your plans for a healthier lifestyle.

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