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While eating healthy and exercising can certainly help, wellness extends beyond moving 60 minutes a day and eating your greens. In addition to good lifestyle choices, understanding simple signals our bodies are giving us can help improve overall health and wellness.
There’s a reason why doctors often whip out a thermometer and strap on the blood pressure arm band when you show up for a visit. They are checking vital signs for clues about what is working and what could be wrong. But for a woman, vital signs can extend beyond the normal check up. In fact, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology considers the menstrual cycle critical to overall female health -- as we like to call it, “the fifth vital sign”.
Vital signs are clinical measurements that indicate the status of the body’s vital functions. For a long time, there were only four vital signs: body temperature, blood pressure, pulse (heart rate), and breathing rate. These are signs that are checked with each doctor’s visit.
In addition to us, many doctors consider the female cycle to be the fifth vital sign. As we mentioned earlier, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) considers your period and menstrual cycle to be critical indicators of overall female health.
The ACOG claims monitoring a woman’s cycle from adolescence can help identify potential health problems that could put young women at risk. Since multiple body systems are impacted by a woman’s cycle, your general health could be at risk if it’s not functioning properly (AGOC Committee Opinion, 2015).
Hormones can give you powerful information about your general health. During your cycle, the balance of estrogen and progesterone is vital. Estrogen rises during the first half of your cycle, also called the follicular phase, and can be used to predict upcoming ovulation. Progesterone rises during the second half, or the luteal phase, and acts to confirm successful ovulation. The give and take of these two hormones has effects on other systems in the body, like the cardiovascular system and mammary glands.
For example, estrogen stimulates breast tissue growth while progesterone mediates the development of the mammary glands. When progesterone is deficient, estrogen’s effect on growth can become unbalanced -- this can lead women with a progesterone deficiency to be at increased risk for developing breast cancer.
Estrogen has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory and protective effects on the cardiovascular system and heart. Hormone replacement therapy during menopause can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Not much research has been done on the effects of progesterone for the cardiovascular system, but early studies suggest high levels can help prevent atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries) and encourage healthy cholesterol levels.
Furthermore, progesterone and estrogen help maintain healthy bone density. Progesterone helps bone-building, while estrogen slows bone loss. A progesterone deficiency can affect your body’s ability to build bone and has been correlated with bone loss.
The switch between estrogen and progesterone production happens at ovulation. Therefore, confirming successful ovulation can help you understand your menstrual cycle and hormonal health better.
The best way to monitor your cycle is by tracking it month-to-month and paying attention to your bleeding. However, to get a full picture of your cycle, you have to pay attention to not only menstruation, but the hormonal changes you experience throughout your entire cycle. As we’ve learned, hormonal health plays a vital role in your general health.
Testing your estrogen and progesterone hormone levels during your cycle can give you peace of mind to know they’re in balance and can perform the functions they’re meant to do. However, since this needs to be done via blood draws, it is not very convenient for women to do at home or realistic to expect that a woman complete this type of testing cycle after cycle.
The good news is that there are home test kits available to help you track your menstrual cycle. First, kits that measure LH (luteinizing hormone) are a way to predict ovulation and get a sense of what is happening in the first half of the cycle. A PdG (Pregnanediol Glucuronide) test kit can confirm ovulation, and can be an accurate way to ensure regular ovulation across cycles -- a sign of overall good health and well-being. Best yet, these kits don’t require blood samples or lab visits, just a quick urine sample and 5 minutes of your time a day. Testing for these hormones puts the power of your reproductive health -- and general health -- into your hands.
Proov can help you track PdG! PdG is a urine metabolite of progesterone and testing PdG tells you if you’ve successfully ovulated. This information gives you powerful knowledge about your menstrual cycle and your fifth vital sign. Proov is the only at-home PdG test kit cleared by the FDA to confirm successful ovulation. Proov puts valuable information about your health at your fingertips. So, what are you waiting for? Test your PdG levels today!