Open Site Navigation

OMG really?!

Ever wondered what is normal and what is not?

As women, we are fortunate enough that we natter a lot more with our friends than our partners may feel comfortable doing. But have you ever wondered what is actually normal? Your friend might have a similar problem to you which can feel comforting that you aren’t the only one, but is it actually normal? And what even is normal?

We are of course all unique, so you could argue that there is no normal, however, there are certain points that I hear all the time in clinic that are common, but not normal, or healthy for the body. So I thought I would collate them into one handy post of my most frequently asked questions, common myth busting answers or the biggest “OMG” moments my clients get in clinic.

You should pass a stool at least once a day, easily without forcing it

Poo is a subject that makes a lot of us a little squeamish and is probably (unless you are me!) not the topic you would discuss freely with your girlfriends over a coffee.

The gut and liver work closely together as a major detoxification route in the body. Toxins, hormones and other substances get detoxified by the liver before being dumped into the gut to be eliminated via our stool. This is one reason why it is really important to pass a stool at least once a day. Because you are literally pooping out the trash.

Not only should you pass a stool at least once a day, it should be easy (and without the help of your morning coffee!). You shouldn’t have to strain, push or will your body to release. It should be an easy, swift experience. A sign of a healthy stool is mid-brown, smooth and sausage shaped, without lots of cracks. If this isn’t you, this is your number one priority to get this sorted.

Constipation is classified by a difficulty passing a stool, feeling incomplete or unsatisfied after passing a stool or not passing a stool regularly (at least 3 days in a week). It can be a huge contributing factor in bloating, gut cramping and gut distention. It is also the first place I would start when looking at rebalancing hormones because used hormones are again excreted via the gut. You want to ‘use’ then ‘lose’ your hormones.

Gut testing can be incredibly helpful to understand what is happening in the gut and address any imbalances. However, there are still lots of things you can do to help encourage a bowel movement. Making sure you are adequately hydrated, getting in some daily movement and upping your fibre intake is a great place to start. Just a quick note on fibre, for some people increasing fibre can actually worsen their constipation, this is where gut testing would come in to understand what gut bacteria are present and in what quantities. If this is you - get in touch!

PMS, heavy and/or painful periods are normal

You could review your period as your monthly health report card. A monthly check to see how your health is generally as really our period should be something that comes and goes without too much discomfort or change in how we feel.

I find it incredibly disheartening to hear almost every woman who suffers with difficult periods or PMS say “it is just part of being a woman”. Whilst it is incredibly common, it isn’t normal, and isn’t something we have to put up with, just because we are a woman.

It isn’t normal to have to go on the birth contraceptive pill to fix your periods (more on this coming up). It isn’t normal to experience heavy bleeding. It isn’t normal to have to take a day off work because the cramping is so bad. It isn’t normal to have to take a couple of Ibruprofen to get you through the first couple of days of your period.

Your period should arrive smoothly, regularly and without symptoms. The dream right?! If this isn’t you, then I encourage you to become your own detective. Start tracking your cycle and playing attention to what symptoms you have and when in your cycle. I would also encourage you to reach out and get some help and consider getting your hormones tested to understand exactly what is going on.

Your TSH blood levels are normal so your thyroid function is normal

Thyroid hormones are produced in a cascade starting off with thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) in the hypothalamus (a part of the brain), which stimulates thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the pituitary gland (another part of the brain). This then stimulates the release of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) from the thyroid gland. TSH, T4 and T3 can all be tested easily in blood but often it is just TSH that is tested to understand what is happening with the thyroid (and T4 if you are lucky).

Knowing what your TSH levels are is not enough to establish how well the thyroid is functioning. T4 and T3 are the two active hormones in the thyroid gland. T4 has a very weak action, whereas T3 is very potent. I like to use the analogy of T4 is like putting your foot on the accelerator and T3 is like putting your foot to the floor. T3 is what really revs up our metabolism.

So if you have had your TSH levels tested and been told everything is normal, unfortunately you don’t actually have enough information to make that call. Understanding what your TSH levels are is important because that gives you information of what is happening between the pituitary and the thyroid. It doesn’t tell you anything about what is happening on a cellular level and what your levels of T4 and T3 are.

I also want to question what normal is? GP’s typically use a reference range for TSH anywhere between 0.27mU/L and 4.2mU/L. This reference range was originally based on scientific research from people with thyroid dysfunction, so the reference range wasn’t defined based on what a healthy person's levels should be, but instead what a person with thyroid dysfunction should be. This resulted in the reference ranges being set far too wide and whilst this has been noted by many researchers, scientists and specialists since, unfortunately the reference ranges haven’t been updated across the board. For reference, I would like TSH to be between 1mU/L and 2mU/L for optimal function.

If you have had your thyroid tested and have been told it is normal and within the reference range but still feel like something is off, question it. Get a copy of your blood test results. Check what has been tested? Are you within the optimal reference range?

Don’t take being told it is normal and everything is fine if you feel differently.

The birth control pill fixes hormones imbalance

I think I would struggle to find a woman born in the last 50 years or so that hasn’t taken some form of birth control, not just for contraception. I was first prescribed the hormone contraceptive pill at age 15 as I had irregular and heavy periods. I hadn’t even had sex but that was the only option I was given to sort out my periods and I know I am not the only one.

It is often a misconception that birth control fixes our hormones, because for some women, when starting birth control, symptoms can go away, so it feels like they are fixed. However, it isn’t ‘fixing’ anything, it is just masking the symptoms instead. Birth control suppresses the natural production of our hormones so you no longer cycle. However, as production is suppressed, you don’t get the other benefits from oestrogen and progesterone important for mood, bone and muscle health, metabolism and thyroid function. It is also poorly explained that the hormones you are taking for birth control aren't the same as your own hormones, they are synthetic versions which don’t provide the other benefits.

I think it is also important to mention that a period whilst on birth control, is not actually a period, it is a withdrawal bleed. You also don’t always ovulate whilst on birth control.

I want to make it clear I am not against the hormone contraceptive pill and believe that everyone should make their own choice about what is right for them. In some instances, when you suffer from a debilitating issue such as endometriosis, then birth control might be necessary (there are lots of natural options for this too!).

However I do believe strongly that it should be clearly explained that going on the hormone contraceptive pill is only preventing pregnancy. It is not fixing anything with your period and may cause you difficulty later on when you want to come off birth control e.g. to get pregnant. There are many other natural solutions to help with PMS, heavy or painful periods.

It is normal to be tired as we age

Hands up if you think it is normal to have less energy as you age? I’m speaking to all my peri and menopausal ladies here. I hear so often that “maybe it is just my age and I am getting older, maybe that is just how it is now”. But I am here to tell you that you don’t need to settle for less.

It is normal for our energy to decline as we age and we can’t expect to necessarily have the same energy that we had as a child. As we age, muscles can lose strength and become less flexible, as well as a reduction in the amount of blood pumped around the body, both which can contribute to lower energy supplies in the body.

However, whilst we can expect a slight reduction, that doesn’t mean that we should be tired, exhausted and feel like we are dragging ourselves through the day.

Hormones can contribute greatly to our energy levels, as well as our diet, how much sleep we’ve had, stress levels, inflammation in the body, hydration levels, what our metabolism is like, gut bacteria - the list goes on! If you aren’t satisfied with your energy, you don’t have to live with it as you age, it is possible to feel better than you maybe did during the previous decade.

Bloating is not just from what we eat

If you suffer from bloating, I can pretty much guarantee you have racked your brain as to which foods are causing it. Maybe you have found some culprits, but I bet it doesn’t always happen and sometimes, for some reason things are better or worse than you expected.

Certain foods can cause bloating and some generally do in all of us. Things like artificial sweeteners can’t be broken down by the body so the gut bacteria ferment them creating gas. Other foods depending on your gut function, bacteria, and genetics can cause more bloating in some than in others.

But if it feels like you can never quite work out which food to cut out from your diet, maybe you need to consider other factors.

The biggest factor in bloating I see is not breaking down the food well enough. It looks a little like this. You don’t have time for lunch because you are so busy, so you grab something quickly at your desk whilst you work. You are focused on replying to emails, bent over leaning into the screen and before you know it your lunch is gone without much memory as to what it was or what it tasted like. About 30 minutes later your trousers feel tight and uncomfortable and you sneakily undo your top bottom under the table.

Our digestive system is set up with many different tools and techniques to help breakdown our food in order for us to digest and absorb the nutrients we need to survive. Our teeth, saliva, stomach acid, digestive enzymes, bile, muscular contractions amongst other things all play into breaking down the food into small particles to be absorbed or excreted. If this doesn’t happen appropriately or in the right place in the digestive tract, our gut bacteria can get a hold of the undigested food and start to ferment it. This is when bloating, cramping and general gas can come into play.

Chewing, being present when eating, eating slowly and mindfully, and sitting upright at a table without distractions are the best things you can do to help reduce bloating and other gut symptoms. I’ll add not eating in a stressful manner, maybe answering an email in frustration or after a difficult conversation to that list also. These things give our digestive system a fighting chance at breaking down the food appropriately which then reduces what our gut bacteria have to ferment reducing gas and reducing your bloating. So it might not be about a certain food, but instead how you are eating generally.


Recent Posts

See All