What's a period good for anyway? Do you really need to have one if you don't want kids? What's the point of having to bleed every month?
I've noticed a lot of buzz in the media over the past few years about getting rid of periods completely. People argue that periods only cause pain and misery; that it's not natural to have so many periods when our ancestors are assumed to have had far fewer; that periods deprive us of valuable work and school time when we have to rest; that they lead to nutritional deficiencies; and that they even prevent women from gaining social and employment traction.
I see some truth to these arguments in the sense that they all highlight a big issue: we don't live in a world that respects and values menstruation, times of flux and flow, rest, renewal, and not producing anything. (I also contest the “our ancestors bled less” theory.)
But that's another topic for another time. Back to the matter at hand...
Do you really need to have a period?
I say YES, you do!
Let's get clear on a few points before I explain the benefits of menstruation.
First, a period is what you have when you are cycling naturally, that is, when you are not taking any method of hormonal birth control. The bleeding you see on the week break from the Pill, patch, or ring is not a true period, just a “withdrawal” bleed. What I'm talking about in this post only refers to real periods.
Second, your period is not just some random bout of bleeding that happens when your body wants to inconvenience you. A period is actually just one part of your whole cycle (a cycle means the time from one period to the next during which many hormonal and physical changes occur). It has rhyme and reason and it takes quite a lot of work for the body to make it happen.
Third, although your period seems like the most obvious event of your cycle, ovulation is actually the most important event of the cycle, and you won't have a period until you've ovulated. So having your period is proof that a whole bunch of intricate hormonal work happened, that you ovulated, and that there was no pregnancy, so your body released the lining of the uterus.
In short, periods are proof that you ovulated.
A better question would be, “Do we need to ovulate?” since without ovulation, we would not menstruate (there are a few types of bleeding you might have when no ovulation occurs but uterine lining builds up and sheds anyway. I'll write another post on that in the future).
Got it? Periods = ovulation= important.
Why is ovulation important? Ovulation (and therefore, periods) is so important because it is the main way that our bodies make the powerful hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Long thought of as crazy-making enemies, hormones are tremendously important not only for reproductive health reasons but for our overall mind-body health. Estrogen and progesterone have wide-reaching positive effects on every other system in the body.
When we don't ovulate (when we don't have a period), we don't make those hormones and we miss out on their beneficial and protective qualities.
Here's a quick list of some of the great things that they do for us.
Protects against breast cancer
Improves insulin sensitivity
Regulates libido and sexual response
Keeps bones strong
Protects against heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease
Prevents blood clots
Helps us sleep
Protects against breast cancer
Protects against ovarian cancer
Protects against endometrial cancer
Balances blood sugar levels
A few more benefits of periods:
They prevent too much iron from building up, which can cause heart, liver, and pancreatic problems
They may flush out harmful bacteria and toxins from the uterus and cervix
Our reproductive organs are meant to be in motion, not stagnating. If we shut off our periods those organs would just wither away. They want to be alive and active, just like all other systems and organs of the body. You wouldn't shut off your nasal system so you couldn't sneeze, nor your ability to cry, sweat, or have eyebrows. Although seemingly minor, you know instinctively that those body functions are somehow essential. Your period (your ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix) are just as essential.
Now consider the original question again: Do you need to have a period? You probably do, if you want the terrific benefits package it comes with!
I want to acknowledge that not everyone has easy periods. Some of us genuinely want to do away with our periods because they make us miss work, cause debilitating pain, last several days, and/or come with migraines and fatigue and plenty of other issues.
Please know that it is not normal or healthy to have those kinds of periods. We often assume that's just how periods are, but I promise you, periods are NOT meant to be awful. Difficult cycles likely represent an underlying condition that needs attention, whether it's poor diet, chronic stress, endometriosis, PCOS, excess estrogen, progesterone deficiency, etc.
I will write a post soon about healthy cycle guidelines, as well as a post for assessing and managing cycle difficulties.
I hope you learned something new from this Cycle Basics post, and please let me know your thoughts and what you'd like me to discuss next!