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Many women dread their monthly periods for obvious reasons, such as cramps, mood swings, acne and craving of comfort food at awkward hours.

While some of these complaints can be normal, others can be easily avoided.

Women’s health experts suggest that there are health benefits to getting monthly your period – with one prominent advantage being an indicator of your body’s functionality. By tracking your periods you can pick up when your body is functioning normally or when health changes are occurring.

Dr Peter De Jong, a gynaecologist and obstetrician at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, says a normal period should have the following characteristics:

It should occur monthly, lasting around three to seven days.

It should not have clots and on average a person should be using three tampons or pads daily, depending on how heavy the flow is.

Ideally the period shouldn’t be too painful.  De Jong explains that the blood flow and pain may differ depending on age. For young women who just started out, the period may be irregular and painful due to hormone fluctuations and imbalance throughout puberty.

Obesity may affect in your periods. Diets low in fibre and high in saturated fats can lead to poor nutrition and thus can negatively affect your period’s regularity and lead to painful menstrual periods. Bad foods may include takeaways, sugary drinks, refined foods such as pastries, cookies and cakes, and high energy foods such as white bread, potato chips and pizzas.

After the menopause stage women shouldn’t experience any bleeding. Pain and heavy bleeding may indicate an anomaly and this may need an investigation to check if there are abnormalities. If your periods become irregular or painful when previously not, it is also recommended you consult your doctor.

Investigation may include a pap smear. De Jong suggests that women get these done every two to three years and for high risk women – including those who smoke, are HIV positive or have many partners -once a year.

Other things that your periods may be revealing about your health may include the following:

Hormone imbalance problems. On average women should be having their periods every 21 to 35 days. A period outside this time frame this may indicate a hormonal imbalance.

Thyroid problems: Irregularity in your menstrual cycle can be a result of your thyroid not working properly. A poorly functioning thyroid may also result in the symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, and high cholesterol.

Weight problems: Women who are either underweight or overweight may have problems with the balance of hormones which can cause irregular periods. Overtraining and some extreme diets may also affect your periods, making them irregular. Some women’s periods may stop altogether which is an indication of a problem.

While bleeding after your periods or staining after your period can sometimes be normal for women who take birth control pills, but women who do not take birth control and still see prolonged bleeding after their period should consult their doctor.