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  • The period goes by many names:

  • that time of the month, the Crimson Tide, Shark week, just to name a few.

  • It gets a lot of attention in health class, and it must be said, the period has gotten a pretty bad rap

  • but these days, more people are cluing into the entire menstrual cycle, rather than just that most visible part of it.

  • Because as it turns out, there's a lot to discover and to celebrate.

  • Just before we dive in, when we're talking about the menstrual cycle we're not just talking about women. Because people of all gender identities have periods,

  • so that's why I'll be using terms like 'people who menstruate' rather than just 'women'.

  • Periods may often be seen as an inconvenience. Like we discussed in our last episode, those without a menstrual cycle have long been considered

  • the health 'norm', while those of us with a menstrual cycle have to like compensate for it, as if it's a weakness we have to work around.

  • But that is changing. Take the U.S. Women's soccer team, for example.

  • They partially attributed their 2019 World Cup win to training programs that were tailored around each player's menstrual cycle.

  • Cycle tracking apps are more popular than ever, and back in 2018 the FDA even approved one for contraceptive use.

  • We know that paying attention to your menstrual cycle can help you do things like prep for your period,

  • improve your chances of gettingor not gettingpregnant, or just help you better understand what your body may be trying to tell you.

  • So your menstrual cycle is a key indicator of health. And getting to understand it and being aware of it and changes

  • allows you to discuss it as well as share anything that's atypical with a provider, if needed be.

  • But before we can talk about how you might be able to use this info to like 'hack' your menstrual cycle...what is it, exactly?

  • The menstrual cycle's essential job is to prep the body for pregnancy.

  • It starts on the first day of your period, and lasts until the first day of your next period. The average cycle lasts about 28 days,

  • but everyone is different, and one person's cycle will change over the course of their lifetime.

  • Cycles that regularly fall anywhere between 21 to 40 days are normal too. And by tracking the details of our cycle,

  • people who menstruate can better understand what is normal, or not normal, for our bodies.

  • Now, what actually happens between one period and another is a wicked exciting roller coaster that involves the ovaries, the uterus, the brain,

  • the circulatory system, and lots of hormones.

  • Estrogen and progesterone are the two you've probably heard the most about, and they're produced by the ovaries.

  • We've also got the follicle-stimulating hormone, or FSH, and luteinizing hormone, or LH, both of which are made by the pituitary gland.

  • All of these hormones are interacting with each other to prep the body for pregnancy once per menstrual cycle, which is a lot of hard work.

  • You know, we have this sort of symphony, if we want to think of it that way of different instruments, and different hormones come in signaling different things to do:

  • shed the lining, release an egg, start building the lining.

  • There are four phases of the menstrual cycle: menstruation, aka the period, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.

  • And it all starts on that first day of menstruation, which is also when the follicular phase begins.

  • During this time, estrogen and progesterone levels are low and the uterus is shedding its lining, resulting in bleeding that typically lasts between 2 to 7 days.

  • Oh, and also comes with those frustrating symptoms like back pain and cramping.

  • And after your period ends, the follicular phase continues.

  • Right smack in the middle of your brain is the hypothalamus, which sends out gonadotropin-releasing hormone every 60-120 minutes,

  • depending on what point you're at in your cycle. This causes the pituitary gland to make FSH, revving up follicle growth in the ovaries.

  • And a follicle is a fluid-filled sac that's surrounding an undeveloped egg. It's kind of like a nice padded envelope that saysFRAGILE: HANDLE WITH CARE”.

  • As the follicular phase winds down, FSH levels fall, and usually just one dominant follicle-wrapped egg is 'chosen' to continue developing.

  • I did not know this, but those of us with ovaries are actually born with millions of eggs, and we're losing a couple thousand of those

  • every month throughout our lifetime as a way to make sure only the healthiest eggs remain available.

  • Meanwhile, we have had an estrogen buildup during that phase which has created a nice lining within the uterus.

  • Around day 14 of the cycle, estrogen levels are at their peak, causing the release of more LH.

  • And this tells the mature follicle that it's go-time.The follicle starts talking to the fallopian tube, and the fallopian tube

  • scooches closer to surround the follicle, until the follicle goesBLOOP, kind of like a bubble bursting, releases the egg into the abdominal cavity.

  • And then, the fallopian tube actually like reaches out with its fingerlike tips and scoops up the egg.

  • And that's ovulation for you! Some people might experience a little twinge or cramp on one of their sides as the follicle bursts during an ovulation.

  • And after it's big debut, your egg hangs around in your fallopian tube, just poking around for about 12 to 24 hours

  • to see if any sperm are gonna join the party, so if one isn't already waiting, it better hurry up.

  • At my advanced age of 28 I did not know that eggs get fertilized in the fallopian tubes, so you learn something new every day.

  • And if an egg and a sperm do happen to meet in that little window of opportunity, they'll fuse

  • and they'll make their way down the fallopian tube towards the uterus, dividing into a multi-celled clump as they go.

  • And that's just the first half of the process. Remember that follicle that released the star of our show, the egg?

  • It actually still has some work to do as we move into the luteal phase.

  • That burst follicle temporarily becomes a gland that produces progesterone, which is what sparks what happens next.

  • It's all comin' together.

  • The progesterone from that follicle is what thickens the lining of the uterus, producing all that good, comfy blood and tissue

  • that would keep a fetus happy if a sperm would happen to fertilize an egg and they implant in the uterus.

  • But if pregnancy doesn't occur, the levels of estrogen and progesterone drop sharply, triggering menstruation,

  • the beginning where we started, that shedding of that uterine lining, and the cycle begins all over again.

  • If that sounds like a lot, it's because it is. I've been having my period for like, 13 years now, and every month I'm like...we're doing this again?!

  • We just did this, like, last monthoh, right.

  • Now the luteal phase is when premenstrual syndrome, aka PMS, comes into the picture.

  • Cramping, back aches, headaches, nausea, fatigue, sore boobs, mood swings, acne breakouts, super fun stuff, said no one, ever.

  • But PMS and periods do affect everyone differently, and hopefully, as the research community learns more about all these complex dynamics

  • that make the menstrual cycle go 'round, we can understand why there's so much variability and what we might be able to do

  • about symptoms that can really disrupt peoples' lives.

  • There's actually been an explosion of exciting research into things like how brain function changes throughout the menstrual cycle,

  • and what that means for your health and your lifestyle at different points in your cycle.

  • People are looking more into the links between irregular periods and heightened risk of developing certain diseases.

  • And as more people track their cycles through apps, some of that data is being put to use.

  • Harvard University, the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, and Apple released initial results from a study involving 10,000 people;

  • 6,141 of whom tracked their period symptoms.

  • This long-term study hopes to uncover new information about menstrual symptoms across all kinds of demographics,

  • and ideally, also break down some of the stigma that still surrounds periods, while we're at it.

  • One really important challenge in this ara is that sex education, which can include topics like puberty, STIs, contraception,

  • is still, shall we say, not the best. In the U.S. for example, federal oversight of sex education is extremely limited, and that means that

  • different states can exclude certain subjects. And only some states even require the material to be medically accurate.

  • I mean, I went to high school in rural Virginia. They didn't teach us how to put a tampon in, much less tell us that seeing clumps of tissue in your period is normal

  • which it is, by the way and could've saved me a teenage freak out or five if they had some comprehensive, medically relevant information, my goodness!

  • And it's a question of priorites, whether it's in education, whether it's in our pop culture,

  • whether there are songs written about it, like there, how many songs are there written about menstruation?

  • I mean at least half the population experiences it. So it's not prioritized culturally, it could be.

  • And that's just it. Hopefully a more open conversation about periods and the menstrual cycle as a whole will inspire more research and

  • better answers to all of the questions we still have about them.

  • And on a more individual level, connecting with exactly what's happening in your body as you ride out that menstrual cycle

  • can help you make decisions about your everyday and long-term health

  • like what contraception to use, what impacts other medications may be having on your body, and more.

  • Thanks so much for watching Seeker's new series Body Language. I hope you've enjoyed this video.

  • And if there's another women's health topic you want us to cover, leave us a comment. I'll see you next time!

The period goes by many names:

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Your Menstrual Cycle Is More Than Just Your Period

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    Summer posted on 2021/07/06
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