The word is out—not every woman who charts her cycle is immediately concerned about her fertility. As more news surfaces of the increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide among women who use hormonal birth control (e.g., the Pill, the patch, the ring, IUDs), there is more interest in fertility awareness-based methods, or FABMs, for overall wellness, in addition to achieving or avoiding pregnancy.
Because the systems in our bodies are connected, observing patterns in our biomarkers such as basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and hormone levels in urine samples reveals a whole lot more than whether your body is capable of conception on any given day. For some of us, every cycle brings an emotional roller coaster involving anxiety, irritability, and sadness. But being aware of the phases of your cycle can offer insight into emotional premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms—and even side effect–free relief when followed up with the right treatment. When Dr. Thomas Hilgers, OB-GYN and pioneer in the world of charting, used his methods to treat women with PMS and premenstrual dysphoric dysfunction (PMDD), 95.2 percent of patients reported moderate to marked improvement, compared with 43 percent of patients who used Prozac instead.
We asked Alana Newman, trained instructor in the Billings Ovulation Method, a FABM that looks at the quality of cervical mucus and changes in the sensation it produces, how charting a woman’s cycle can lead to better management of PMS. Her answers might surprise you.
01. You may identify a nutrient deficiency.
Newman recalls a recent situation in which a client discovered an abnormal pattern in her chart. When she took the results to a recommended doctor, he found a severe vitamin D deficiency. Within a few months of supplementing and instituting an anti-inflammatory diet, Newman says that “she lost twenty pounds and says that her energy levels and mood have never been better.”
Research published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing shows, “Effective detection and treatment of inadequate vitamin D levels in persons with depression and other mental disorders may be an easy and cost-effective therapy, which could improve patients’ long-term health outcomes as well as their quality of life.” Charting is an accessible means of recognizing such a deficiency.
02. You may find motivation for a needed lifestyle change.
Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) can often help regulate longer and heavier cycles and mitigate the less-than-pleasant symptoms that can come along with them, as in the previous case. When you’re charting, you can see the fruits of your efforts on a daily basis. Newman says, “Every day, a woman’s body chemistry is different than the day before.” Patterns in charting can reflect stress, trauma, and changes in medication, as well as improvements in nutrition and activity.
In addition, supplementing with certain vitamins at distinct points in your cycle (usually just after ovulation) can help decrease the effects of PMS. Your provider can help determine which dosage and timing is right for you, based on when your chart shows you ovulate.
03. You may notice a hormonal imbalance.
When we say “charting,” we mean more than marking the first and last days of your period on a calendar. A woman’s cycle is broken up into a series of phases, which include menstrual, follicular (aka ovulation), and luteal, all of which are orchestrated by hormonal fluctuations. Detecting a pattern of abnormality in any of these phases—even in what seems to be a regular-length cycle—may be a clue to a hormonal issue, often related to progesterone, which can be prescribed as a supplement.
“Paying attention to and charting your cervical fluid and vaginal bleeding can be essential data collection,” Newman says. Dr. Marguerite Duane, a board-certified family physician and co-founder of FACTS, the Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science, calls this data “the fifth vital sign,” which can lead to treating health issues that affect more than the reproductive system. Good news for your mental health!
Some women come to FABMs to get pregnant. Others want to ease dramatic symptoms that come with menstruation. Many find that solving one problem through charting leads to alleviating other seemingly unrelated issues as well. Essential to the process is the guidance of a trained instructor, who wants the same thing you do—a healthy, happy, hormonally balanced daily life.