Clue's latest partnership, with Dr. Alexandra Alvergne of the University of Oxford, may produce some of the most intriguing menstruation science yet. Alvergne, a biological anthropologist, has been using Clue's data on menstruation and other elements of female health to perform two studies, and her preliminary findings, she tells Bustle, have been interesting in the extreme.
Alvergne has been looking at the link between menstruation, inflammation, and the immune system in women. Scientists have known for a while that there appears to be a relationship between immunity and menstruation; differing levels of estrogen and progesterone influence how well the body copes with infection, with the low-progesterone phase of the menstrual cycle, what's called the "luteal phase," being a particularly low point for immune response. So what happens to women's bodies over the course of a cycle when they have an infection?
One of Alvergne's studies aimed to answer whether infectious STD symptoms might be linked to pre-menstrual syndrome, or PMS. She examined a Clue survey of women with STDs to check how the women experienced periods, and if their experiences changed after diagnosis and treatment. The results aren't yet publicly available as they've been submitted for peer review, but she found that women who had STDs (who weren't using hormonal contraception, which can affect menstrual cycles) were much more likely than women without an STD to experience pre-menstrual cramps and headaches. The sample size was very small, at under 100 people, and only looked at two menstrual cycles, but it definitely presents some food for thought.
Her second study, though, is the one that might make waves when it's published. It's also still in peer review, but it's based around the theory that understanding menstruation is essential for understanding female health in general, because menstruating affects us in vitally important and unexplored ways. "Accumulating evidence suggests that in humans, the female immune response is modulated by the hormones governing the menstrual cycle in a way that enables the implantation of a healthy embryo," she explains. We already know that menstrual cycles affect a wide range of illnesses, as she tells Bustle; schizophrenia gets worse during periods, IBS is worse during ovulation, and asthma and diabetes worsen during the premenstrual phase, according to Alvergne. But there's a lot more work to do, and Alvergne proposes that apps like Clue have "unique potential" to help. "I need the research community to listen, now," Alvergne tells Bustle.
Asked to highlight the potential of this sort of cyclical focus on female health, Alvergne says chemotherapy might be one area of research. "Cancer studies never control for menstrual cycle phase," she says. It's completely unknown whether cancer treatments might be affected by what women are at in their cycle, and while the answer might be nothing, it could be a very big deal.