7 Things Your Body Does While You're On Your Period That You May Not Realize
Mind-numbing cramps. Excessive bloating. Uncontrollable bathroom habits. Explosive acne. No, this isn't your worst nightmare — it's your period! (Same thing.) There are certain symptoms and side effects we've come to expect during that special week of the month, but there are also things you may not realize your body is doing while you're on your period. The chemicals in your body are a-changin' and sometimes it feels like your hormones don't know what hit them. As a result, every aspect of your life is affected, from your sleep to your appetite to your sex drive to, say, how utterly annoyed you get at the sound of your boyfriend clipping his fingernails.
No, seriously. Why does it make that sound?
So much of our monthly cycles remains a mystery to science. Throw in the fact that our periods change as we grow older, and you have the makings for quite the riddle. This is most displeasing considering our periods leave us a blubbering, irritated, cramp-y mess. We deserve answers!
You know the drill — you're tired, you know you're on edge, and if you're especially unlucky, you may be prone to burst into tears if someone so much as looks at you the wrong way. But did you know your body is also doing these seven things?
1. It's Releasing A Hormone Called Prostaglandin
When you're on your period, your body releases a chemical called prostaglandins, explains Everyday Health. It's a name so many of us are unfamiliar with, and yet it's at the root of a few common period symptoms. You know how your cramps sometimes come in contractions? That's the prostaglandins. They make it so the uterus contracts.
Guess what? This chemical causes the same thing to happen to your intestines, which explains why you might experience diarrhea or constipation — or both (yay!) — while you're menstruating.
Periods are fun!
2. It Retains Water, Which Can Lead To Changes In Your Voice
You're likely already aware water retention during your period makes you feel like a flotation device, but did you know it also is the reason behind the voice change you might experience? A 2011 study published in PLOS ONE says when you first start your period, water retention causes a high fluid content in your throat membranes. This means you might have a deeper and more hoarse voice. (Rest assured as you move through your period and lose this fluid, your voice will go back to normal.)
3. Your Body Is Struggling To Fight Pain
You ever notice how when you're on your period and you stub your toe, it kind of feels like you were hit by a truck? There's a reason for that. In a study from Oxford researchers shared in ScienceDaily, they found women with painful periods were more sensitive to hot pads that had been applied to their bodies. MRI scans revealed changes in activity in the parts of the brain associated with pain response, in a manner similar to people who suffer from chronic pain conditions. These women also had less cortisol, which is related to your body's response to stress.
In other words, when you're on your period, your body simply isn't prepared to function in the way it needs to in order to effectively fight even mild pain.
4. It Might Be Over-Producing Yeast Or Bacteria
Want to know how to make your period worse? Throw in a yeast infection! If you're plagued by Hell's itch during that time of the month, there's a reason why; your vaginal PH can change based on your cycle, explains a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, which in turn can affect discharge and vaginal tissue.
Panty liners that don't breathe, heavy pads, and suffocating underwear (what I like to call my "period panties") can all make things worse, says Lunette. So basically, the stuff you need for your period could also be the stuff making your vagina itch with mad fury. Joy! If you can stick with a menstrual cup, that's likely your safest bet.
5. The Pain May Affect Your Ability To Process Things As Quickly
Have you heard the term "period brain"? It might be more accurately called "pain brain". One study published in the journal Pain and discussed in Medical Daily found period pain reduced women's overall performance when completing tests designed to measure attention span, the ability to choose between competing tasks, and the ability to switch their attention from one task to another. They were slower and less accurate, suggesting period pain could legitimately make it more difficult to complete normal daily tasks and responsibilities. (Ibuprofen is your friend.)
6. Your Body Can Detect Smells Better Than Normal
Don't forget why menstruation happens in the first place: at its most evolutionary level, it's so we can procreate. So, during menstruation, our bodies make it easier for us to get pregnant. This means we're better able to sniff out musk and pheromones, and therefore possibly other scents as well. Doctoral student in psychology Jessica McNeil tells Scientific American, "I believe these variations in olfactory sensitivity are closely tied to the functions of the reproductive system, where the capacity to identify certain odors increases at times when procreation is more likely." While more research is needed, some studies have indeed found women on their periods are more sensitive to odors.
7. It's Producing Anticoagulants
Typically, your period arrives as a liquid, and there's a reason for that. Anticoagulants! When your uterine lining sheds, your body makes anticoagulants that break your period down so it's not as thick. What happens when this doesn't work the way it ideally should, though? Blood clots. That's what happens. They look disgusting and evil, but they're quite normal. If you have an especially heavy flow, your poor little anticoagulants might not be able to keep up and do their job. Thus, we have blood clots.