#101 guide to decoding your period
Last week, I was typing up a client’s report when something profound dawned on me. In my 30 odd of years living, not once did my girlfriends, sister, mother or aunt ever share with me what their periods look like. And if that’s the case with me – a self confessed hormone obsessed specialist – then what are the chances that other women have any idea of what a normal period looks like? Zilch. My thoughts precisely.
That’s when I had my ah-ha moment. Trawling through the hundreds of women I’ve spoken to in my clinic and the many details they’ve shared with me (not to mention their test results) I came up with the ultimate Period-Swatch card.
Yep, it’s a swatch card I created that helps you work out whether your periods are healthy or whether they’re showing possible signs and symptoms (i.e. tones) of hormonal imbalance. Of course, this is strictly anecdotal and should NOT be accepted as established science.
But let me tell you, as silly as it sounds, it’s been so spot on. I sent it to my closest girlfriends and within seconds we were exchanging our shades and what this could mean. It was brilliant. All of a sudden we opened up to one another and started to understand a little bit more about other women's menstruation. So naturally, I’ve been itching to share it with you to get you involved in the convo too.
But before I give you your own swatch card, here’s a rundown of the common tones I hear about and what they might mean.
This is the ideal we all want to aim for. In my experience a bright cranberry-like red suggests fertility, optimal hormone balance and a healthy period. The bright colour differs slightly from the bleed you might experience from a papercut (it’s got uterine tissue in there after all). It’s normal your period might start a little dark or pale, but the majority of your flow should be this vibrant red.
Why do I think it's healthy? The brighter tone suggests that this is fresh blood. What this tells me is that your endometrium possibly received healthy stimulus from estrogen production. Chances are your flow was on time. If your period came within about 25-34 days there’s a good chance your progesterone levels were just right too. This is where I aim for most of my clients to get to.
Old P. Red
This flow is a deeper tone of red. I often see this with suboptimal hormone health. The darker tones tend to reflect older blood. The longer blood sits, the darker the colour. While I wouldn’t be concerned if this is what you see at the start or tail end of your period, if most of your menstruation is a little muddy in colour this may suggest somethings not quite right. Perhaps your cycle is too long? Progesterone is the hormone that determines when your period starts. Low levels might lead to a sluggish flow resulting in a build-up of aged blood. The same can be said for very high levels too. If this is you, don't worry this is only a rough indication. However, if your cycles are longer than normal, you might want to discuss this with your doctor or a healthcare provider like myself to help you regulate your cycle.
High E2. Purple
E2 is scientific slang for estradiol, our most potent form of estrogen. Nope you’re not an alien if your menstrual flow is blue-ish. In fact, I hear of blue or purple tones most commonly when women complain of clotted bleeds. It’s normal to release some clots, but if your flow is always heavy and thick with a blue tinge, this might suggest you’ve got too much estrogen. It was spot on with my friend Emily, who just recently received her hormone test results showing elevated levels. Estrogen is the hormone that stimulates tissue growth. So if you’ve got too much, it's possible your uterine lining might grow too thick leading to heavier, clotted periods. Excess estrogen can overwhelm the progesterone you make too. Even if your tests show your progesterone levels are normal; I've seen countless women that still experience symptoms usually associated with low levels, precisely because E2 is too high.
Low Pro. Brown
Yes, you’ve guessed it. As the name suggests a really dark brown/black period could be a strong sign of infertility and low progesterone. If this is you, I wouldn’t be surprised if you experience very infrequent bleeds. This is what many of the women who have dark bleeds report back to me. In fact, if you’re 39+ years old, it’s possible you might even be peri-menopausal. Typically, my clients report this dark tone if they’re heading into menopause or if they’re on the Mirena or mini pill. I don't think it's a coincidence; it has everything to do with low levels of progesterone. Most of our progesterone is made through ovulation, which many hormonal contraceptives prevent. And as you now know, low levels of progesterone may prolong our cycles possibly resulting in old blood accumulating in our womb. The older the blood, the darker the colour. Remember? So if ovulation isn’t happening because you’re heading into menopause or you’re blocking it through your choice of hormonal contraceptive, then you may well have suboptimal levels of progesterone causing very dark and infrequent bleeds. While this isn't scientifically proven, I do have many one-to-one cases that fit the bill. In any case, very dark bleeds should be something discussed and investigated with your doctor or private healthcare professional.
Perhaps your periods are a reddish orange? If that’s the case you want to book yourself into your local clinic ASAP. Not to alarm you, but orange hues in your bleeds indicate possible infection. This can be bacterial or a sexually transmitted disease. You’ll also notice that your discharge throughout the month might have a brownish tinge and odour. This is something that's scientifically accepted. Regardless, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and get yourself checked.
Low E2 Pink
And finally, a pale pink. While many of us might rejoice at having an easy light bleed that resembles a pink rose, it’s actually a possible sign of hormonal imbalance. Feint periods may indicate low levels of estrogen. If you recall, estrogen is the hormone that stimulates endometrial growth. So if your period is very light and pale, it could suggest inadequate endometrial growth due to low estrogen production. Typically, I've heard this from women who were on calorie restricted and/or low fat diets or are excessive workout bunnies. And if you're on the pill, it's normal that your bleeds are lighter and pale pink. It's your natural period that may indicate low E2.
It goes without saying, if you're concerned about your hormone health visit your doctor. If you'd like natural methods to support your hormones seek out registered nutritional therapists, like myself, who specialise in hormone health.