Menstrual cup with flowers inside on a pink background

Not clued up on your cycle? It’s time to talk periods

We have around 500 periods in our lifetime, so why don’t we talk about them more? We’ve gathered little-known insights from experts to ‘pad’ out your knowledge.

Menstrual cup with flowers on a pink wall

Menstrual Cups, IRL

Haven’t managed to get a pack of your go-to tampons? Spending your days at home could be the perfect time to practise using a menstrual cup. Meg Wilson, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at London Gynaecology, notes the benefits: ‘There aren’t any hygiene risks associated with using a menstrual cup, if used correctly. They are reusable, more “green’’ and cheaper [than tampons or pads].’ Remember what it was like when you first used a tampon? Well, menstrual cups take practice, too. There is a knack to inserting one – fold it up (there are many ways to do this, we recommend looking it up online and trying out various methods), then insert it in the vaginal opening. Once it is fully inside, let it unfold or ‘pop’ open. You’ll know if it is inserted correctly if you feel resistance when you pull on the stem. If the stem sits outside your body, remove the cup and trim it. When it comes to emptying the cup, simply pour the contents away then rinse it with water before reinserting. If there’s no sink at hand, you can use bottled water.

Otherwise, OrganiCup sells OrganiWipes, £4.49. Want to stick with tampons and towels? Try organic cotton TOTM Applicator Tampons, from £3.20, or Superdrug LUNA Organic Normal Ultra Towels, £3.99. Crafted from renewable plant-based material, each towel is wrapped in a chemical-free, vegan-friendly bio-film.

Period Poop

During periods, pooping can be a pain. ‘Oestrogen and progesterone can impact your digestion, causing pain and constipation,’ says Dr Carles Catlla, assisted reproduction specialist from Institut Marquès. Constipated? ‘Focus on eating natural fibre sources, such as vegetables and wholegrains, to bulk up your stool and stimulate your intestines,’ says Dr Catlla. Got diarrhoea? ‘This is due to the increase in hormones that relax the intestines – drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Foods high in lactose, sugar or caffeine can make symptoms worse, so avoid if possible.’

Feed Your Flow

If you’re veggie or vegan, your diet could be affecting your period. Some find their periods are better on a plant-based diet, ‘others find it makes their periods worse or more irregular,’ says Dr Catlla. ‘This is likely to be because plant-based diets often replace meat with carbohydrates, which can have a negative impact on hormones, causing increased inflammation and bloating.’

Women who don’t eat meat ‘are at a greater risk of developing iron deficiency, as plant-based substitutes contain lower levels of iron than meat,’ says Dr Catlla. Couple that with a heavier period and you are ‘at greater risk of iron deficiency anaemia,’ he adds. A lack of iron can lead to a low immune system, while symptoms of anaemia include fatigue, insomnia, headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath. Catlla recommends taking an iron supplement, but notes it won’t correct the underlying cause of excess bleeding. See your GP if you’re concerned.

If you’re not vegetarian or vegan but still suffer from painful or heavy periods, Laura Southern, nutritional therapist at London Gynaecology, suggests, ‘looking to anti-inflammatory foods in the run-up and during your period, such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado and olives.’

The M Word

It might seem far off, but it’s worth finding out your family history of menopause. ‘Studies have shown that the timing of menopause is almost entirely governed by genetic factors,’ says Dr Shirin Lakhani, health expert at Elite Aesthetics, ‘so by looking at the other females in your family, you can get an idea of when your periods might start to become erratic or stop.’

Before this is the perimenopause. ‘Your ovaries start to produce fewer hormones and egg supplies start to dwindle,’ says Dr Larisa Corda, gynaecologist and fertility expert. ‘It can last from a few months to 10 years and usually starts around the late 40s.’ Symptoms range from hot flushes and fatigue to mood swings and a low sex drive.

 

Words: Amy Lawrenson. Photos: Stocksy