This post is the first of a series of posts about our periods and other womanly issues that are related to our reproductive system. Men, you can stop here and wonder off for a while.
With dread or excitement, most of us get a visit every month from our periods. But how much do you know about your period?
We know what it means when we have one and when we don’t. We know that an egg is released. We know that at some point in the distant future we stop having them. But what is a “normal period?” How does one have a “happy” period? And is it normal to have pain and bloating?
What is a “normal” period?
Our monthly menstrual cycle is regulated mainly by two sex hormones – estrogen and progesterone. They ensure that our ovaries release an egg, the lining of our uterus is ready to house the egg, and breaks down the lining when the egg is not fertilized. There is a very delicate balance between when estrogen and progesterone levels at any given time. The estrogen-progesterone balance impacts our entire life from our PMS symptoms and menopause symptoms. I will discuss menopause in follow-up posts.
Our menstrual cycle is broken up into three phases – follicular, ovulatory, and luteal – that last for approximately 28 days, give or take a few days.
During the follicular phase (approximately 10-14 days), estrogen level is progressively rising to help mature the egg in the ovaries. At the peak of estrogen level, the egg is release. As soon as the matured egg is released from the follicle in the ovaries, the empty follicle starts making progesterone. While the egg is traveling in the fallopian tube to our uterus, progesterone is building up the lining to house the egg.
The ovulatory phase is only 36 hours long. It is a very small window to get pregnant! But sperm can live in the uterus for up to 7 days, waiting for that 36 hours window. This must be enough time when you consider that there are over 5 billion people in this planet.
The luteal phase is approximately 7 days long. When the egg is not fertilized, progesterone production goes down and your period begins shortly after. This cycle begins again and continues until we reach menopause.
The four categories of PMS
According to the alternative medicine books I am reading, when our hormones (particularly estrogen and progesterone) are balanced, we should only experience mild discomfort during our periods (aka. a “happy” period) instead of the cramping, bloating, moodiness, acne, and food cravings known as premenstrual symptom (PMS).
PMS falls into four different categories depending on the hormonal imbalance. But most women often experience 2 or 3 categories.
PMS Category 1: high estrogen, low progesterone
High estrogen and low progesterone’s main symptoms include anxiety, tension, irritability, and craving for sweets and carbohydrates. High estrogen can result in low serotonin levels which can cause depression. This occurs when the empty follicle in the ovaries do not produce enough progesterone. PMS category 1 is most common in women.
PMS Category 2: excessive aldosterone (a hormone produced by our adrenal glands)
Excessive aldosterone’s symptoms include water and sodium retention, bloating, breast pain, and weight gain.
PMS Category 3: low magnesium
Low magnesium’s symptoms include cravings for sweets, a racing heart, an increase in appetite, fatigue, headaches, mood swings, and fainting.
PMS Category 4: low estrogen, high progesterone
Low estrogen and high progesterone’s symptoms include sleep disturbances, lack of coordination, and loss of concentration, confusion, and depression. This is least common in women.
Why is high estrogen a problem?
Higher estrogen and low progesterone hormone levels produce multitude of health problems for women, both during our fertile years and afterward in menopause. As mentioned under PMS category 1, this hormone imbalance can result in lower serotonin levels in our bodies.
Serotonin is our brain’s version of an anti-depressant drug. As mentioned in Gender Matters when it comes to Sugar Addiction, low serotonin means we will have a hard time saying no to a cookie.
The pharmaceuticals solution to our depression from low serotonin level? Prozac and painkillers. More than 80% of the 12 million Americans on Prozac are women between 25 and 50 years old. A coincidence that so many women are on Prozac during their fertile years when it is likely for them to experience PMS? I think not.
Drugs prescribed for PMS do not correct the hormone imbalance
Historically, PMS is not recognized by the medical community as an actual physical problem. Doctors believe that it is all in our heads and prescribe antidepressants or other drugs that mask the problems of hormonal imbalance with possible side effects. Sadly that is still common practice today.
Until next time and thanks for stopping by.
Photo by: K?vanç Ni?.
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