Why is the menstrual cycle important?

Woman wearing shirt reading "Femme" sits on hill, smiling.

Did you know that you can think of the menstrual cycle as one of the body’s vital signs? (The four primary, and more commonly known vital signs are body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate.)

Why call the menstrual cycle a vital sign?

Ovulation—the release of an egg from the ovary into the fallopian tube— is the main event of the menstrual cycle. This leads many to view the menstrual cycle as only being important for pregnancy. And if we aren’t trying to get pregnant, we will most likely view our cycle as unimportant.

However, numerous physicians and fertility professionals speak of the menstrual cycle as a vital sign. In other words, they say it is a crucial window into a woman’s overall health and well-being.

Why should we care about our cycle if we aren’t trying to get pregnant? Because the same hormones needed to mature an egg, and release it at ovulation, as well as build up and stabilize the uterine lining to maintain a pregnancy, are needed to grow and maintain other parts of the body. In other words—the hormones that drive the menstrual cycle also impact our overall health.

How do these hormones impact your health?

It would take a much longer article to share the full impact these hormones have on our health, but here are a few examples:

Estrogen, the hormone that grows the uterine lining, also contributes to

  • growth of bones
  • growth of breast tissue
  • stimulation of brain cells.

Progesterone, the hormone that stabilizes the uterine lining and prepares it for pregnancy, also

  • normalizes breast tissue
  • helps maintain bones
  • promotes sleep and relaxation.

In truth, the effects of estrogen and progesterone touch many systems in the body, often having a balancing effect on one another. Estrogen for instance, elevates blood sugar, while progesterone normalizes blood sugar.

Infographic depicting progesterone and estrogen on opposite sides of a balance scale. Arrows from scale point to both reproductive health and general health, indicating that the balance of these hormones impacts both general and reproductive health.

Can the menstrual cycle indicate health concerns?

In a committee opinion published in 2006, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists affirm the menstrual cycle as a vital sign of female health. In this report they endorse education about and observation of the menstrual cycle. They recommend it for the early identification of abnormal menstrual patterns. Early identification aids in early diagnosis of health conditions that, if untreated, would otherwise carry into adulthood.

If we have too slow a pulse, are breathing way too fast, or our blood pressure is through the roof—we’d seek medical help. The same should be true of our menstrual cycle. If our cycles are too long or too short, our cramps are debilitatingly painful, or it doesn’t look like we’re ovulating—we ought to seek medical support. And the best medical support will identify and treat the underlying cause of whatever menstrual abnormality or gynecological condition is discovered—rather than simply manage symptoms.

How do you know if your cycle is abnormal?

If abnormal cycles can indicate a health problem, how do we know if our menstrual cycle is “regular”? Having a 28-day cycle doesn’t necessarily mean all is well. By the same token, a cycle need not be the same length every time to be totally healthy.

Charting our biomarkers, like cervical fluid and basal body temperature (among others) clues us in to otherwise invisible hormonal activity. With a chart, we can see how phases of our cycle compare to what numerous years of scientific research on the menstrual cycle tells us is “normal.”

Observable biomarkers reveal for instance, if we are ovulating. If it appears we are not, cycle signs can point to possible underlying causes of anovulation. (Anovulation is the absence of ovulation).

In sum, the patterns of our cycle and the presence of ovulation indicate health, and our chart indicates these patterns. Therefore, our chart is a personal tool to facilitate individualized, restorative health care.

To learn about these biomarkers, the hormonal activity they point to, and how to chart, consider taking a FEMM class. Contact our instructor at [email protected] to sign up or learn more.

Infographic representing a fertility awareness chart as a window to show the hormonal balance that contributes to our general and reproductive health.