Your Menstrual Cycle Is a Marker of Vibrant Health: Here’s Why

These days, we count down the days til our period is over. We dread that “time of the month.” But today, we want to flip that narrative. 

→ What if your period was more than just an annoying 5-7 day stretch every month that you had to “get through”? What if your monthly cycle held tangible, valuable, and revealing information about the internal state of your body?

What if your menstrual cycle was actually a vital sign for understanding your overall health + well-being? 

That’s exactly what we’re diving into today. We were thrilled to be able to talk with the leading expert on all things menstrual cycles and fertility – and the importance of an undisturbed, regular cycle. 

Lisa Hendrickson-Jack is the author of an incredible book on the power of your monthly cycle. It’s titled “The Fifth Vital Sign.” After years of research + piecing together information from heaps of sources and studies, Lisa came to an enlightening, life-changing conclusion.

When you understand your body’s cycles, you’re able to access and use this constant stream of information to your advantage. It enables you to tune into your body’s needs + live a healthier, more cyclical lifestyle.

Your period is your body’s fifth vital sign – and we’re going to show you why.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Vital Signs (+ Why Your Menstrual Cycle Should Be Included)

In traditional Western medicine, there are four vital signs of life (often called “vitals”). They provide critical data on someone’s overall health. It’s widely accepted and widely used. 

Your four vital signs include:

  1. Heart rate
  2. Body temperature
  3. Respiratory rate
  4. Blood pressure

These “signs” are used to monitor, treat, diagnose, and provide preventative care. They’re tried and trusted methods used throughout the world. But we agree with Lisa Hendrickson-Jack. There’s a fifth vital sign missing: your menstrual cycle.  

Her book, “The Fifth Vital Sign,” makes an excellent case for how your menstrual cycle as a vital sign opens up a world of new data points. So why, then, wouldn’t doctors embrace a vital sign innately linked to your health as a woman? Wouldn’t this be revolutionary?

We loved Lisa’s thoughts on why the medical system doesn’t often consider the menstrual cycle a vital sign, yet you’re always asked when your last cycle was. 

“It’s there, to a limited degree, in a certain context. In general practice, the doctors I’ve interviewed over the years are taught that a normal cycle is always 28 days. From there, they’re taught anything that goes wrong, put women on the pill or painkillers. So, literally every single possible thing that could go wrong: just put her on the pill.
 
Irregular cycles? Put her on the pill.
Painful periods? Put her on the pill. 
Everything: pill pill pill. 
 
They’re not taught that there’s a link between the menstrual cycle and health. They’re not trained in that way. So, if you ask, they’ll likely say it has nothing to do with that.
 
You could argue that the entire allopathic medical model is designed to suppress/reduce symptoms, not necessarily address the root cause. So it’s really a systemic problem.”
 

There are lots of reasons your menstrual cycle (and menstrual cycle symptoms) should be viewed as a vital sign of health. But before we dive in, we have some very important myths to dispel about periods.

Debunking Cultural Myths About Your Menstrual Cycle

Birth control culture has become the norm – and has given your menstrual cycle a pretty terrible reputation. So, there’s no shame if you find yourself nodding your head in agreement with any of these common assumptions about your menstrual cycle! 

These are some of the most common comments, rumors, and myths often circulating in the health world. When it comes to your menstrual cycle, you’ve probably heard one of these – or thought it yourself!

“Periods are annoying and have no point until you want to get pregnant.”

Many people assume you don’t need your period until you want to get pregnant. But if we know anything, we know the systems within our body are much more complex and intelligent. It’s all part of a larger design to sustain you. Lisa had a fascinating way of explaining this. 

“We’re taught the menstrual cycle is just about reproduction. But if that were true, then when a woman went on the pill, and the pill suppresses ovulation, it would only affect reproduction. 
 
The pill increases the risk of depression, libido, a variety of mood changes, and anxiety. It affects nutrient levels and how we process certain nutrients (which leads to nutrient deficiencies). It changes the way our body lays down bone structure/development and bone mass.” 
 

While birth control is a common way to avoid the symptoms + frustrations before potential pregnancy, there’s a sobering truth. Your menstrual cycle is part of a larger balance within your body, supporting hormone balance and regulation in many areas. It’s much more than just a reproductive function.

As Lisa pointed out, hormones have far-reaching effects like:

  • Gut barrier integrity
  • How our brain processes/functions
  • Supporting the balance of our microbiome
  • Protection from infection 
  • How we process nutrients
  • Partner attraction (yes, really!)

Hormones aren’t just about periods. They play a critical role in your general health + well-being. Your hormones also help with bodily functions like: 1

What Lisa proposes is to think of your menstrual cycle as a feedback system:

“When you think of your menstrual cycle as a vital sign, it gives you constant feedback. It’s doesn't mean that your menstrual cycle is causing these problems directly, but when certain things are going awry in your body, it’s going to affect your menstrual cycle. It’s very sensitive.” 
 

So yes, there is a very valid reason for having a period aside from the desire to get pregnant. 

You could also take another angle: We’re made to be cyclical beings! Think about it – cycles are everywhere around us. And as women, we have the unique distinction of a gender-specific cycle. The fact that it’s seldom accounted for in studies + data that guide our healthcare system is only more reason to give it the attention it deserves.

Cycles, whether seasonal, hormonal, or simply your daily circadian rhythm – help us live in deeper connection with the earth. And more importantly, in deeper connection with ourselves.   

“Periods are painful no matter what.” 

Despite the common narrative that periods are painful, periods actually shouldn’t be very painful – if at all. Lisa explains this subject in her book very simply.

“In a normal period, you should experience either no cramping or very mild cramping or discomfort.” 
 

Painful periods are a sign of inflammation or dysfunction in your body. If you experience more than mild cramping or discomfort, your body is probably trying to tell you something.

“Irregular periods are expected and normal.”

If your reproductive system is healthy and functioning correctly, you should have a normal, consistent period. In reality, there are very few – if any – exceptions. 

(Don’t worry, we’ll define a “regular period” coming up.)

Lisa points out in her book that you only experience a true menstrual cycle when you ovulate. And you can only ovulate with normal-functioning endocrine and reproductive systems. So, the absence of consistent ovulation (aka your period) is a signal (vital sign!) toward an underlying health problem. 

“My OBGYN/GYN said I don’t need to have a period.”

While many doctors reassure their patients that they don’t need a period, we can’t help but notice how odd their arguments are. Lisa brilliantly painted this in her book:2 

“Many healthcare practitioners don’t believe it’s physically necessary for women to have regular periods; they assume that women in hunter-gatherer societies had fewer menstrual cycles (possibly due to more frequent pregnancies, shorter life expectancies, and/or more frequent illness/famine) and argue that it would be beneficial for modern women to have fewer periods as well. 
 
However, since most modern women aren’t opting for a semicontinuous state of pregnancy, these practitioners are advocating for menstrual suppression – a practice involving the suppression of the menstrual cycle (and monthly withdrawal bleeding) through the continuous use of hormonal contraceptives. As this practice becomes more common, I can’t help but wonder why so many women are lining up to temporarily ‘cure’ their fertility.”
 

When we read this quote to Lisa, she laughed while remembering it. Her thoughts were still the same:

“If you’re saying evolutionarily I’m supposed to have all these babies, then the solution would be for me to be pregnant a lot – or to breastfeed and suppress ovulation. The solution wouldn’t be for me to take birth control a lot.”

→ So how did we end up here, with doctors telling us we don’t need a period? 

Good question! In our conversation, Lisa explained what she learned in her extensive research. 

When the pill was first invented, women didn’t have a “period,” so they were continuously without any kind of cycle. As a result, many of these women believed they were pregnant and got really upset + disturbed by not having a period. 

So, the doctors decided to incorporate a “pill period” to make them feel better. It was a synthetic bleed designed to mimic the menstrual cycle. The goal was for women to feel like the pill was more “natural” and be reassured. 

“Fast forward to today, people say things like “you don’t need a period,” but you don’t need a “PILL” period. Because that was never for a medical reason. The pill companies can say you never needed to have a [pill] period because it’s true. They did it so we all felt better about ourselves.” 

P.S. If you’re wondering about birth control with or without a “period,” here are Lisa’s thoughts: “You’re already in an altered state that’s not natural. The pill bleed is not the same as a period. So is it necessary? Probably not.”

“Birth control is the best way to fix issues with my cycle/hormones.”

As you know by now, birth control creates a “fake bleed.” So, if you go on birth control intending to “fix” your cycle, unfortunately, it’s only putting a bandaid on the issue. Suppressing ovulation and your production of natural hormones isn’t “treating” anything. 

While many women experience improvements taking birth control, unfortunately, it’s only a temporary fix that leaves them dependent on the pill. We know this because you’ll often find their hormones become irregular again the moment they stop taking birth control.

Lisa explained this with an analogy of owning a summer house and the pipes burst during the winter. Being on the pill is like shutting off the water instead of fixing the pipes. And when you turn the pipes back on the following summer… you get the idea. 

She went on to explain:

“So, if you have an extremely painful period, irregular cycles, or extreme PMS, it shuts off ovulation entirely. So, you often experience a reduction of symptoms. That’s just because you’re shutting down ovulation. 
 
But if you then come off the pill and have irregular cycles, nothing was fixed – nothing changed– you just shut down the symptom/issue. If you’re put on the pill instead of being encouraged to address the root issues, whatever issues you have, they just continue happening in the background. 
 
And then five, ten years later, when you come off the pill, potentially some of the issues are worse, AND you still have this issue to deal with that you never addressed.”
 

Birth control is a serious medication with real side effects – and should be treated that way. As “The Fifth Vital Sign” puts it, “Hormonal contraceptives are so ubiquitous that most women don’t even consider them a drug.” That’s precisely why this topic is so important.

Phew! We’ve debunked some of the most common myths that lead you to believe your period is merely an annoying inconvenience. Now, let’s talk about what a healthy, regular cycle might look like for you. 

How to Identify a Normal Menstrual Cycle 

There are normal, healthy (and reasonable) variations in every woman’s monthly menstrual cycle. Because of this, it’s worth asking: What does a “normal” menstrual cycle look like? 

There are three main things to observe to determine if your menstrual cycle is normal. 

  • Menstrual cycle length

The total length of your menstrual cycle will likely change throughout your life. It’s most inconsistent in length when it first starts and in perimenopause. 

    • An average cycle length is 24-35 days, with an average length of 29 days. 
    • Normal ovulation happens between days 10 and 23 – the average is day 15.
    • A normal luteal phase lasts 12-14 days, with an average of 13 days.
  • Blood amount

You can get a general sense of the blood amount by noting how many pads, tampons, or period panties you go through.

    • A normal period would have 25-80mL during the whole cycle. (A regular tampon or pad holds 5-8mL, and a super tampon or pad holds 8-10mL. A menstrual cup tends to hold an oz or 30mL.)
    • Anything higher than 80mL could be a sign of iron deficiency, fibroids, endometriosis, estrogen dominance issues, etc.

Lisa also made a significant point about “light” periods.

“We have to consider that there is such a thing as too light of a period. Often, we come from the perspective of “periods are bad.” We grew up in this culture where if you have a light period, it’s great. 
 
So it’s important to know if it’s much lighter, it’s not actually a good thing. 25mL is the equivalent of 5 regular tampons or a typical-size menstrual cup. So if you’re not bleeding that much in your whole period, you’re probably not making enough hormones.”
  • Menstrual Cycle Symptoms 

Mild PMS is normal, but it should not be debilitating. Of course, you can support most symptoms through a healthy lifestyle + choices. 

    • Cramping should be very light and not painful.
    • You may not experience cramping at all.

There are a lot of factors that can affect your menstrual cycle and menstrual cycle symptoms. Stress, lifestyle, diet, travel, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, toxins, and more can all contribute to how your cycle presents. However, significant variations in your cycle could indicate an underlying issue that needs your attention.

Luckily, your menstrual cycle is a vital sign. ;)

Your Menstrual Cycle as a Diagnostic Tool 

While there are normal variations within any woman’s cycle, there are some signs from your menstrual cycle that you shouldn’t ignore. We love how Lisa talks about this – she reminds us that our bodies can’t talk, so symptoms are the language of your body. 

“When you think of your menstrual cycle as the fifth vital sign of your health and fertility, you can appreciate that your cycle will respond in times of stress, illness, and a number of other situations… a certain degree of fluctuation is normal from cycle to cycle.” 

But before you’re able to identify any irregularities, you’ll need to know how to track your cycle. We found Lisa’s guidance so helpful. She talks about how to chart/track your cycles in her book. She uses three data points to confirm where you are in your cycle: 

  1. Cervical mucus patterns
  2. Basal body temperature
  3. Cervix position

*Tip: Her book is an excellent guide for learning how to track your cycles. And if you enjoy really nerding out with paper charting, check out her fertility awareness guide

Once you understand what a normal, expected cycle looks like for your body, disruptions can be a sign of underlying health issues. As a fifth vital sign, your menstrual cycle can alert you to issues like thyroid disorders, PCOS, hypothalamic amenorrhea, and more. (For example, severe PMS can be an indicator of imbalanced hormones during your luteal phase.)

We love Lisa’s down-to-earth advice: Use your cycle as a guide, but don’t let it control your life!

“When your cycles fall outside the normal range, your body isn’t “broken” – your cycle is simply giving you information about your fertility and your overall health. It’s your very own personalized early warning system. It’s your fifth vital sign in action.

So don’t overthink it. Lisa also points out that if something needs your attention, it will show up regularly in your cycles. 

While it may feel stressful at first, understanding what your unique cycle looks like provides a world of new information for your health. It’s well worth the investment + confidence you gain in your body’s ability to tell you what it needs. 

Embracing Your Menstrual Cycle = Living In Tune With Yourself

With a powerful wealth of information at your fingertips, your menstrual cycle is your fifth vital sign of thriving health + well-being. Making a deeper connection with yourself through charting, noticing, and embracing the cyclical patterns in your body is nothing short of profound.  

If you allow it, your monthly menstrual cycle will take you deeper within to rediscover the patterns and rhythms that guide you. Living in tune with your body’s cycle brings awareness and empowerment to advocate for your health – and embrace your fifth vital sign. 

XO



Sources:

  1. Lara Briden The Period Revolutionary | The Secret Powers of Ovulation (It’s Not Just to Make a Baby)  
  2. The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack | Page 4


 

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Despite the bad rep, your menstrual cycle is actually a necessary, helpful marker of health. Here’s why it should be considered the fifth vital sign. | Primally Pure Skincare

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