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The period: the days of the woman

28.06.21 4 min. read

Once a month, a part of our body renews itself. To prepare for a new menstrual cycle, our uterus sheds some of its lining. This shedding means we spend nearly a quarter of our “childbearing” years bleeding.

And for many of us, symptoms like cramps, cravings or dizziness are common. As young women, we’re often told that our period is simply a nuisance that we have to learn to put up with.

As late as 1963, women could find the following instructions in the information leaflet for tampons: "If you fail to treat menstruation like any other time of the month and instead withdraw for a few days with feigned maladies, then you are taking advantage of your husband's good will. After all, he married a full-time – not a part-time – wife. You should therefore be energetic, perky and cheerful every day."

From our perspective, this reads like a (very) bad joke – but even today, plenty of negative perceptions regarding our period persist. Yet menstruation is not a disease; it’s a natural process in our bodies. And strictly speaking, none of us would be here if it weren't for menstruation.

So what if we could simply accept the fact that our monthly cycle is a phase our bodies go through, just like the cycle of four seasons all of nature goes through each year? Maybe then we’d start listening more closely to our bodies, show them more appreciation and get more deeply in touch with them. 

From dizziness to food cravings – when can symptoms appear?

Symptoms are likely to pop up primarily during the second phase of our cycle, the so-called luteal phase, which begins with ovulation and ends with the first day of menstrual bleeding. Estrogen levels are relatively low during this phase, which is dominated by the actions of the hormone progesterone. The concentration of both hormones reaches its low point once menstrual bleeding begins and gradually rises again. Cramps and discomfort are most intense in the days leading up to and through the first few days of the period, but generally improve from then on.

What physical symptoms might you experience?

Period pain is particularly common among young women, who can be suffer rather intense spasms. Roughly a quarter of women suffer pain severe enough to require medication or find themselves unable to continue with their normal routine.[1]. Dizziness is also not uncommon, especially just before and during menstruation [2].  

The hormonal changes going on inside also affect our skin. This is because they can stimulate sebum production during the second half of the cycle and in the days before menstruation [3]. Our skin then tends to be oilier and more prone to pimples, especially on the chin or along the jawline.

We can also have food cravings during the luteal phase. This can involve an intense desire for carbohydrates [4] and sweets [5], but also for fats or proteins [6]. Progesterone – a hormone that shows up during pregnancy and which can boost our appetite – may be what drives these cravings. A temporary weight gain in the second phase of the cycle is therefore also possible.

How periods can affect our minds

In the days before or during the onset of menstrual flow, we can suffer from mood swings, which is rather common. Our particularly low level of estrogen at this point can result in us being more easily irritated and feeling restless [7].

Unfortunately, dismissive comments like “she just has her period” fail to appreciate the more positive aspects of what's going on. Why not take the opportunity to acknowledge this as a period of heightened sensitivity in which we can feel much more intensely the things we need and those that do us no good? Our instincts are sharpened during this time – and isn’t that immensely valuable?

Mood swings are often associated with the days approaching and during the onset of menstruation. Low estrogen levels, which may make us more readily irritable and restless, might be the culprit here [7].

When should you see a doctor?

Repeated flare-ups of symptoms during the second half of the menstrual cycle and in the days leading up to the onset of menstrual bleeding are referred to as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Assuming our symptoms are not too severe, listening to our bodies and doing something good for ourselves can be a good way to get relief.  

But there are things we shouldn’t simply endure and accept: If you suffer intense symptoms during your period, it’s best to seek medical advice from a physician. Severe PMS symptoms, as well as diseases such as endometriosis or PMDS (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) can have a profound impact on your well-being.   

A hug for the soul

Provided the symptoms we have with our period are mild, and we have the opportunity to listen to our bodies, we can welcome it as a phase in which we connect with our inner strength and the miraculous processes going on in our bodies.

And don’t forget, especially during our period: What’s good for your body is good for your soul – and vice versa. No matter what this looks like for you – whether you like to do some yoga, watch a few episodes of your favourite show, or take a little time-out for some good conversation with friends – a hug can be just what you need on a rough day. You can get hugs from a loved one, but also from The Hug, with organic hemp extract and St. John's wort. Go ahead, treat yourself to a little massage with the cream and show your body that extra bit of love and gratitude.

Sources:

[1] Prevalence of menstrual pain in young women: what is dysmenorrhea?https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392715/

[2] Gynecologic disorders and menstrual cycle lightheadedness in postural tachycardia syndrome
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3413773/

[3] Perimenstrual Flare of Adult Acne
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4142818/

[4] Menstrual cycle and appetite control: implications for weight regulation
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9221991

[5] Food Cravings, Depression, and Premenstrual Problems
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.494.6627

[6] Food intake changes across the menstrual cycle: A preliminary study
https://www.pzp.umed.wroc.pl/pdf/2020/10/1/5.pdf

[7] The relationship between premenstrual syndrome and anger https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6500841/

[8] Mood and the Menstrual Cycle: A Review of Prospective Data Studies
http://einsteinlab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/7-Mood-and-the-menstrual-cycle.pdf]

[9] Positive symptoms of PMS
https://helloclue.com/articles/cycle-a-z/positive-symptoms-pms

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