Let's Hear It for Hormones! Benefits of Your Menstrual Cycle
While sex hormones are often portrayed in the media as things that cause women (and men) grief, they actually serve vital functions to support health and wellness. Benefits of female sex hormones include the ability to get pregnant, give birth, and nurse babies. There are also many non-reproductive health benefits that are less well known and arguably just as important.
Menses historically has been portrayed as a “curse” upon women and a time of suffering. In reality, your period is an important health indicator that lets you know you are healthy (and probably fertile). Absent periods (amenorrhea) between menarche and menopause can may be an indication of health issues, such as excessively low body weight or illness related to hormonal imbalance. The U.S. government’s Women’s Health website shares that an irregular and/or painful period may be a sign of a serious health problem. While irregularities aren’t always triggered by major health problems, they are certainly worth monitoring and discussing with your doctor. You can think of your period as your body’s monthly health check-in!
The hormones your body produces over the course of your monthly cycle come with their own non-reproductive health benefits. Women have a lower risk of heart disease and strokes before menopause because of estrogen! Estrogen provides you with two weeks of “significantly reduced” blood pressure during your cycle. In her 2017 article, “Sex Hormones and Health,” medical scholar Georgina Casey explains that estrogen also helps repair heart tissue after heart attacks and maintains bone mass in adults. Additionally, iron is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and monthly bleeding sheds iron, thus providing further heart protection.
The symptoms of menopause suggest that estrogen also plays an important role in the regulation of body temperature, sleep cycles, central nervous system metabolism, and some neurons that impact “mood, motivation, affect and emotions,” as well as areas of the brain that deal with task management, learning, memory, processing information, and interpreting sensory input (Casey 2017).
Progesterone is a sex hormone which impacts anxiety levels, the production of nervous system cells in adults (neurogenesis), stress responses, the weakening and strengthening of connections between neurons (synaptic plasticity) and other important central nervous system functions (Casey 2017).
Testosterone is often considered a “male” hormone, but it is also a necessary sex hormone in females. Among sexual factors like libido, testosterone impacts heart health, mood, muscle tone, bone strength, and verbal memory.
It is easy to begrudge your hormones when you’re cramping, but remember all of the GOOD your hormones are doing. When you sleep well, accomplish many tasks, feel well, ace a test, look good, or have energy to tackle the day, it might not be solely because you are amazing (though you are), but also because your hormones have your back!. Here’s a tip of the hat to our hormones!
By: Sarah Hoyle-Katz