Tips for Easing the Blues: If you are suffering from a depression that is prolonged or seriously interfering with your life, you should seek professional counseling and care. However, if your depressed state is due to a mild case of the blues, you can take several rhythm-related steps to brighten your mood:Chapter Five
- Keep as regular a daily routine as possible.
- Make sure you get a full, restful night's sleep. This means keeping a regular bedtime and sleeping for as long as you need (see chapter 3).
- Get outside in the sunshine as often as possible at least fifteen minutes each day.
- Use special high-spectrum lights for your indoor lighting wherever possible.
- Minimize the desynchronizing effect of stress on your body's rhythms by practicing relaxation and other stress- reducing techniques.
Your Sexual CyclesNever the time and the place
And the loved one all together!
Never the Time and the Place
During the first few months of using the method, Karen was so busy watching for the signs of fertility that she didn't notice another, less obvious, change that was also part of her cycle. Around the fifth month, the pattern became so clear that she couldn't ignore it. It had to do with her sexual desire. She found, to her great annoyance, that she wanted to make love most at the very time of the month when it was forbidden!
Women like Karen who use the natural family planning * method of birth control (NFP) * often complain that they feel most like having sex at the time of the month when they are at greatest risk of becoming pregnant. In the past, sex researchers might have explained this increased desire as just another example of absence or abstinence making the heart grow fonder. Today, however, scientists recognize that an increase in sexual desire during the fertile period of a woman's menstrual cycle is biological rather than psychological. It is yet another example of a biological rhythm.
We have other sexual rhythms as well, rhythms that influence not only how we feel about sex, but also how we feel about all aspects of our lives. This chapter will take a look at these rhythms and show their impact on our work, play, lovemaking, and even on our susceptibility to illness.
Surprisingly, less research has been done in the area of sexual rhythms than in other areas of chronobiology, but scientists are beginning to uncover some fascinating clues to the rhythmic mysteries of sex. BOX:
Your Sexual Cycles: A QuizI'M IN LOVE.
If you answered yes to these questions, you may already be in tune with some of your natural sexual cycles.
- Do you feel sexier in the morning than at night?
- Do you feel sexier in autumn than in spring?
- For women only: Do you feel sexiest at the midpoint of your menstrual cycle?
- For men only: Do you notice that your beard grows more rapidly around the same time each month?
IT MUST BE -- FALL?
If we are to believe poets and songwriters, spring is the time for love and sex. Nature tells us something different, however. Our sexiest season is fall, not spring. Testosterone levels in both men and women reach their yearly peak in late summer and fall. Testosterone is one of the androgens, or so-called male hormones, that have a direct effect on sexual behavior. They are present in women as well as in men, although in smaller quantities.
It's no surprise, then, that most babies are born in summer and early fall about nine months after the autumn peak in testosterone. Nature may have intended it this way to ensure that the weather and food supply would be amenable to delivering and nourishing a newborn baby.
Social customs can throw these natural seasonal birth rhythms askew, however. In predominantly Catholic countries, for example, where couples are encouraged to abstain from sex during Lent, births tend to peak in early winter about nine months after the Easter season.
So, be on the alert in fall. It appears to be a particularly easy time of the year to get swept into a passionate romance – a romance you may later, under the influence of winter's "cooler" rhythms, regret.
A Time to Be Born If you are pregnant, plan for a middle-of-the-night trip to the hospital. As any midwife, obstetrician or chronobiologist will tell you: More babies are born at night than during the day. Around 20 percent more, to be precise. Why? It may be that nature wants us to have our babies under the cover of darkness to protect us from animal predators.YOUR DAILY AND WEEKLY LIBIDO Besides their seasonal peaks and valleys, androgens fluctuate with some regularity every twenty-four hours. Generally, androgen levels are highest between 8:00 A.M. and 12:00 noon, and lowest between 6:00 P.M. and midnight.
The most common birthing hour is between 3:00 A.M. and 4:00 A.M., and the least common one is exactly twelve hours later, between 3:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. Late afternoon is the peak time, however, for stillbirths. Scientists are not sure why.
You're also most likely to feel those first labor pains at night. Don't rue your luck, however, if your labor begins around midnight, for nighttime labor tends to be shorter than daytime labor!
Does that mean that we practice more sex in the morning? Not really. Studies have shown that our most active time for sexual activity is not morning, but the more convenient evening hours specifically, 10:00 P.M. That may be a good time to fit in lovemaking, but it's a poor one as far as our androgens are concerned.
The time slot second in popularity is 7:00 A.M. But, again, this probably reflects convenience (many couples are still in bed together at that hour) rather than the result of surging hormones.
Social habits seem to play an even stronger role in weekly sexual rhythms. People who work a regular Monday-through-Friday week have sex most frequently on Saturday and Sunday (with Sunday morning being particularly popular). People whose work week differs from this norm tend to increase their sexual behavior on other days-generally the days they are not working. From this, it seems likely that social customs rather than biology determine these weekly rhythms.
THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE
The most obvious and most studied of the reproductive rhythms is the menstrual cycle. It is also second only to the sleep cycle (perhaps) in its influence on women and, indirectly, on the men who live with women.
The menstrual cycle has been enveloped in myth and mystery for centuries. Menstruating women have been blamed for everything from making crops wither in the field to souring wines. Ironically, menstrual blood has been attributed with a variety of beneficial properties: Primitive societies have used it to protect men against battle wounds, to put out fires, and to treat headaches, epilepsy, and other illnesses.
Today, most of the myths about the menstrual cycle have been discarded, but much of the mystery remains. The menstrual cycle is one of the most intricate cycles of the human body and, for many women, one of the most important in terms of their everyday physical and mental health.
For example, where a woman is in her monthly menstrual cycle may affect whether:
- she feels optimistic or pessimistic about life
- she desires sex or could just as well do without it
- she wins or loses in a sports event
- she fights off or succumbs to a viral infection
ONCE A MONTH — OR THEREABOUTS
The activity of the monthly menstrual cycle is centered around the tiny sacs of eggs, known as follicles, that are found in the ovaries. A woman has hundreds of thousands of these follicles, but each month only one grows and develops to the point where it releases its egg. Occasionally although rarely more than one follicle is released and fertilized, and twins, triplets, quadruplets, or even quintuplets may be born as a result.
Some women can actually feel the egg being released deep within the womb. It is a sensation known as mittelschmerz German for "middle pain," because it occurs at the midpoint of the cycle and is characterized by a temporary aching or cramping in the abdomen.
After the egg breaks from the ovary (ovulation), it is drawn into a nearby fallopian tube and then makes the three-day journey to the uterus, a distance of about four inches. During this trip, the egg may be fertilized if sperm reach the egg and one sperm penetrates it. In fact, the lining of the uterus (endometrium) begins to thicken immediately after ovulation in preparation for receiving and nourishing the fertilized egg. Usually, however, the egg is not fertilized by the time it reaches the uterus. It either disintegrates or is passed out of the body. When a fertilized egg is not received, the built-up lining of the uterus sheds and is expelled a process known as menstruation.
This cycle is repeated about once a month, from puberty to menopause about 400 times in an average woman's lifetime. The average length of the cycle is 29.5 days, but that is only an average. It is quite normal for women to have a cycle ranging anywhere from 15 to 45 days. And, for some women, normal means a cycle length that changes every month. In addition, most women's cycles get shorter as they age, from an average cycle length of 35 days during the teen years to 28 days by the midthirties. Length of menstruation also varies among women, from 2 to 8 days.
A variety of factors can shorten your cycle from month to month, including crash diets, stress, and excessive exercise. (See list on page 108.) But it is the first part of the cycle or the time before the egg is released from the ovary that usually is compressed. The time between the release of the egg and the beginning of the menstrual flow is almost always fourteen days. The exception is when the length of the cycle is disrupted by excessive exercise; then, the second half of the cycle appears to shorten.
Why fourteen days? Scientists have no answer, but chronobiologists believe it is somehow tied in with those seven-day rhythms that are so much a part of our biological makeup and whose source remains a mystery to us.
What Can Delay or Shorten Your Menstrual Cycle? Your menstrual cycle can lengthen or shorten or even stop-for a variety of reasons. The most common ones are listed here. Always contact your physician if you notice a pronounced change in your cycle; it may be a sign of a serious health problem.A TALE OF FOUR HORMONES
- Crash dieting
- Prolonged use of oral contraceptives
- Excessive exercise
- Emotional stress
- Climate and time zone changes
- Tranquilizers containing chlorpromazine or meprobamate, such as Equanil, Miltown, or Thorazine
- Heavy marijuana use
- Chronic iron deficiency
- A major operation
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Pituitary tumors (small, benign tumors on the pituitary gland in the brain)
Behind the scenes, directing the monthly menstrual cycle and, to a great extent, how you feel and look are four sex hormones. Two are produced in the pituitary gland beneath the brain; two in the ovary itself.
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). As its name suggests, this hormone, whose source is the pituitary gland, stimulates ovarian follicles to grow.
Estrogen. This hormone is produced by specialized cells within the developing follicles. Once released into the bloodstream, estrogen builds up the lining of the uterus in anticipation of a fertilized egg. It also thins the mucus in the cervix (the narrow outer end of the uterus) to make it easier for sperm to reach and fertilize the egg.
Luteinizing hormone (LH). Produced in the pituitary gland, this hormone triggers the egg to break from the follicle. It also causes the broken follicle to grow new cells that produce another hormone, progesterone.
Progesterone. This hormone causes the lining of the uterus to secrete protein-rich substances to help nourish the egg, if it is fertilized. It also helps thicken the cervical mucus after the egg has passed through the fallopian tube to make it more difficult for sperm to enter the uterus.
The rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone seem to be responsible for the shifting physical and psychological sensations experienced monthly by many women. When estrogen is in command (generally during the first half of the menstrual cycle), women tend to feel better both physically and emotionally more self-assured and less irritable. When progesterone is on the rise (generally during the second half of the menstrual cycle), women tend to have more negative feelings, such as low self-esteem, impatience, and lethargy. They also experience more physical ailments, such as headaches, swollen ankles, and muscle fatigue.
These shifts are tendencies that are not experienced by every woman every month. The intensity of the changes also varies from woman to woman and from month to month for each woman.
The Four Phases of Menstruation The menstrual cycle, like the moon, has four phases. Here we describe briefly some of the major events of each phase during an average 29.5-day cycle, which, by the way, is also the length of the lunar cycle! Phase 1: Menstruation (Days 1 5)HOW TO COPE WITH PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME
Phase 2: Preovulatory (Days 6 14)
- Estrogen and progesterone reach their monthly lows, causing the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to shed.
- Bleeding begins and may last from two to eight days.
- Selected egg follicles deep within the ovaries double in size.
- Toward the end of this phase, estrogen levels begin to rise. * Mood: Tension of the premenstrual phase (see Phase 4) may go away, but feelings of depression may linger until estrogen levels begin to rise.
Phase 3: Ovulation (Day 14)
- Estrogen continues to rise, reaching peak on day twelve or thirteen.
- Developing follicles move toward the surface of the ovary.
- The endometrium begins to thicken.
- Glands in the cervix create more mucus; during this phase, the mucus becomes thinner and more elastic to make it easier for sperm to enter the uterus. * Mood: Feelings of self-confidence predominate.
Phase 4: Premenstrual (Days 15 29)
- Estrogen levels drop precipitously.
- Immediately after the drop in estrogen, one of the follicles ruptures and releases its egg.
- A sharp, cramplike pain called mittelschmerz (middle pain) may be felt as the egg is released; sometimes bleeding occurs.
- The cervix moves to a position high in the vaginal cavity; the opening to the cervix widens. * Mood: Positive feelings peak.
*The moods described represent general tendencies; they are not experienced by all women.
- Within twenty-four to forty-eight hours after ovulation, body temperature rises about one-half to one degree and stays there for several days.
- Cervical mucus becomes thicker and pastier.
- The empty follicle (called a corpus luteum) stops secreting estrogen and begins to secrete progesterone, which reaches its highest levels around day twenty-two.
- The progesterone causes the cells of the uterine lining to secrete protein-rich substances to nourish the released egg.
- Breasts may swell and become tender.
- Endometrium becomes thicker. * Mood: Feelings of anxiety, irritability, helplessness, and depression build.
Rebecca could always tell when her period was coming. Her breasts would hurt during the first few minutes of her daily run something that never happened at other times of the month. Her complexion would lose its middle-of-the-month healthy glow and appear duller and more mottled; often a pimple or two would erupt on her forehead or chin. Her mood would also change. She would become anxious about her work and short-tempered with her children and husband. She would also get down on herself during this time of the month, complaining to herself and to her husband that she was physically unattractive and a failure at her job although, in truth, she was very attractive and had a successful career.
Still, Rebecca came to dread the five or six days that preceded her period. Each month, when those days arrived, all she wanted to do was withdraw from the world and sleep and eat (her two favorite premenstrual activities). Fortunately, a friend recommended a self-awareness course on the menstrual cycle, offered through a local hospital. Rebecca signed up and learned that, by making a few changes in her lifestyle, she could greatly ease her premenstrual blues.
Although the changes experienced by women during their menstrual cycles can be positive as well as negative (see Cycles Change list on page 120), most attention seems to have been focused on the more undesirable psychological and physical symptoms associated with the final, premenstrual phase of the cycle. Known collectively as premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, these symptoms include such things as headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and irritability. In the past, PMS has been cited as evidence that women are incapable of holding important jobs or public office. It should be pointed out, however, that only about 5 to 10 percent of menstruating women suffer symptoms severe enough to cause them to miss work or be unable to perform their regular work assignments. The vast majority of women cope competently with premenstrual complaints. Some women actually welcome the feel- ings of enhanced creativity that often precede their periods and have learned how to channel those feelings into highly creative and productive work.
Many women, however, would like to change how they feel before their periods even if it's a relatively mild change, such as feeling less bloated or tired. If you are one of these women, there are several actions you can take to minimize or eliminate the discomfort of PMS.
Watch what you eat during the two weeks prior to your period. Studies suggest that changes in your hormones make it more difficult for your body to process carbohydrates right before your period. So, try to avoid sugary junk foods, since your body is more likely at this time of the month to overreact to the sugar and clear too much of it from the blood. The result: low blood sugar and physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and shakiness.
Cutting down on junk food isn't always easy, since a craving for sweets is, for many women, one of the most persistent premenstrual symptoms. Try stocking up on fresh fruit and getting rid of any candy bars or cookies you may have around when you know your period is on its way. Then, when the craving hits, you won't be so easily tempted. Eating smaller, but more frequent, meals during the premenstrual phase can also help lessen sugar cravings by keeping your blood sugar level steadier. For a lean and healthy body, however, be sure that those meals are low in fat.
Cut back on salt. It increases the body's ability to retain fluid. During the premenstrual phase, the body has more difficulty eliminating fluid. Scientists are not sure why this happens, but some believe it is related to the drop in progesterone that occurs immediately before menstruation begins. Not only does excess fluid cause premenstrual swelling symptoms, such as weight gain, breast tenderness, and abdominal bloating, but the fluid also gathers in brain tissue, resulting in mood swings.
Cutting back on salt means more than just tossing away the salt shaker. Most of the salt we eat is hidden in processed foods, including cheese, sandwich meats, canned vegetables, soups, and breakfast cereals. The food we buy at fast food restaurants is also heavily salted. Read food labels carefully; look at the amount of sodium listed.
Increase the amount of water you drink. Water is an excellent diuretic and will help rid your body of excess fluid.
Take selected vitamins. Some women find daily dosages of calcium (500 mg), magnesium (250 mg), and vitamin B6 (less than 250 mg) helpful in reducing the emotional symptoms of PMS, such as depression, irritability, and anxiety. A caveat: Always take B6 as part of a B-complex vitamin, because too much of one B vitamin can cause a depletion in the body of the others.
Avoid alcohol. During the premenstrual phase, many women have a lower tolerance of alcohol. One glass of wine may have the same effect as three glasses at another time of the month. Also, because alcohol is a depressant, it may intensify the negative thoughts or feelings that are so often a part of PMS.
Scientists are not sure why women have a lower tolerance of alcohol before their periods, but they believe it may be tied to the monthly rhythms of estrogen.
Avoid caffeine. Like alcohol, caffeine can aggravate many of the emotional symptoms of PMS. Be aware that caffeine is found in chocolate, soft drinks, and many over-the-counter medications, as well as in tea and coffee. (For a list of over-the-counter medications containing caffeine, see page 184.)
Do not take tranquilizers. They can intensify the depression and other psychological symptoms that are part of PMS.
In general, take care of yourself Listen to your body. If you need more sleep, get it. If you feel less inclined to be with people, excuse yourself from social commitments and arrange for time alone. Rest, relax, and be good to yourself! And remember: This, too, shall pass.
IF SELF-HELP MEASURES DON'T HELP
Sometimes, self-help measures don't work for women who suffer from more disruptive forms of PMS. If this is true for you, you should discuss medical treatments for PMS with your physician. These treatments include progesterone injections, birth control pills, and antidepressant medications. All have side effects, so you should attempt such treatment only under the supervision of your physician.
Before you begin treatment, however, you should be aware that no treatment has been found to be the definitive cure for PMS. Progesterone treatments are particularly controversial; recent research has cast doubt on their effectiveness. Indeed, in a 1979 British study of the effectiveness of progesterone on PMS -- one of the few studies that was double-blind, or conducted so that neither the researchers nor the subjects knew which treatment was which a placebo was shown to be just as effective as progesterone in relieving premenstrual symptoms.
When Your Period Is Most Likely to Start Your menstrual period is most likely to begin in the morning, between 4:00 A.M. and noon. It is least likely to start in the evening. This may have to do with the daily rise and fall of hormones, or it may simply be that you tend to notice any period that starts during the night only after you get up in the morning.CHARTING YOUR MONTHLY CYCLE
Each woman has a unique rhythm to her menstrual cycle. By charting your cycle for three or four months, you will begin to recognize the highs and lows of your monthly rhythm--the days when you feel like going out and conquering the world and the days when you prefer to curl up in front of the fire with only a good book for company.
Charting is a simple process and requires only a small amount of time. Here's how to go about it:
Use either a monthly calendar with large daily squares or make a calendar using large pieces of paper.
Select ten physical or psychological changes that you wish to keep track of from the list on page 120 and write them on the calendar page. Give each one a letter symbol: I for irritability; BT for breast tenderness, etc. Try to include at least two positive changes.
Each day, record any noticeable changes on your chart. If you miss a day, leave the square blank; don't go back and try to fill in blank spaces. If you don't notice any changes on a particular day, simply write "no change."
If a symptom is very strong on a particular day, circle the letter symbol on the calendar.
Use a star to indicate the first day of your period and, if you wish, another star to indicate when the period stops. During your period, you may also wish to indicate the pattern of your bleeding: heavy, moderate, or light.
You may also keep track of your weight during the month by writing it down in each daily block. Be sure to weigh yourself at the same time each day.
Keep charting for at least three months. The longer you chart, the clearer will be the pattern that emerges. Many women find that knowing a pattern exists is enough to help them live more comfortably with their monthly ups and downs. They realize that their symptoms are not "in their heads" at all, but a natural part of their monthly cycle.
What One Woman Learned from Her Chart About halfway through her twenties, Joan began to suffer fairly strong PMS symptoms tension, fatigue, sleepiness, anxiety, and, most worrisome to her, deep depression. She recognized almost at once that the symptoms were related to her monthly cycle and decided to look for ways she could change her lifestyle to make the week before her period more bearable.MEN HAVE CYCLES, TOO
So she began to chart her cycle. She also began experimenting with changes in her diet to see if food could ease the symptoms. Nothing seemed to work. Then, after almost a year and a half of charting, she noticed a pattern: The symptoms were worse during the winter months.
Joan lived in a northern city where sunlight was scarce in the winter. Maybe, she told herself, the lack of light was contributing to her PMS. As an experiment, she started going to a tanning booth for just fifteen minutes a week. Within two months, her symptoms had all but disappeared! She also noticed that her periods were more regular.
Joan's self-treatment might not work for everyone. Indeed, many health care specialists warn about the serious health consequences of overexposure to ultraviolet rays. Also, Joan's PMS symptoms seemed to be compounded by seasonal depression (see chapter 4) a problem most other PMS sufferers do not share. But her efforts at tracking her cycle illustrate how charting and finding patterns in your cycle can help you take action against the PMS blues.
Although little research has been done on the topic, men have monthly cycles, too. As far back as the seventeenth century, the Italian scientist Sanctorius weighed men daily over long periods of time and discovered that men underwent a monthly weight change of about one or two pounds. More recently, a Danish endocrinologist kept daily records of hormones excreted in his urine. When analyzed, those records showed that his hormones rose and fell in roughly a thirty-day rhythm. Interestingly, beard growth also shows a rhythm of approximately thirty days; in other words, the amount of beard a man grows daily increases and decreases in a monthly cycle.
In 1929, a researcher carefully followed the moods of seventeen men and showed that men, like women, have emotional cycles of about a month to six weeks in length. According to the researcher's findings, men tend to be more apathetic and indifferent during the low period of their emotional cycles and more likely to magnify small problems into big ones. During the high period of their cycles, men have more energy, a greater sense of well-being, lower body weight, and less need for sleep.
In the early 1970s, Ms. magazine reported that a Japanese bus and taxi company used this knowledge of male monthly cycles to reduce accidents involving its vehicles. After charting the cycles of each of its drivers, the company rearranged routes and schedules to best match the men's low and high periods. The result: After two years, the company experienced a one-third drop in its accident rate.
Men, like women, may benefit from following the Japanese company's example and charting their individual monthly rhythms. Use the chart and Cycle Changes list on page 120. If you are married or living with a woman, both of you may find it interesting and helpful to chart your cycles together to see if they are in or out of sync with each other.
Cycle Changes Here is a sampling of the physical and psychological sensations that may vary in intensity at different phases of your monthly menstrual cycle. When charting your cycle, you may wish to expand this list to include additional physical or emotional changes:SHORTER MALE CYCLES
Enjoying being with people
Anxiety/Feelings of doom
Swollen ankles or hands
Bloating and edema
Increased athletic performance
Decreased athletic performance
Loss of appetite
Reluctance to exercise
Cravings (for alcohol, salt, or sugar)
More accident prone
In addition to its monthly rhythm, beard growth has a second – and weaker weekly rhythm in men. Beards tend to grow the most on Sunday and the least on Wednesday although the difference is not great enough for most men to notice. Because beard growth seems to be triggered by testosterone levels (which rise during sexual activity), this weekly increase and decrease in beard growth may be the result of increased sexual activity on the weekend.
One of the most perplexing and shorter male cycles involves the rise and fall in sperm count. A man's total sperm count peaks every two to five days; for most men, the peak comes every three or four days (which is also, by the way, the same rhythm exhibited by male rabbits). What causes the sperm count to rise and fall in such a rhythm or how it affects sexuality is still being explored.
HOW YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE AFFECTS YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH
Your susceptibility to illness changes throughout your monthly cycle. For example, a woman in the middle third of her cycle is dramatically more susceptible to colds. In one study, 77 percent of women exposed to cold viruses during the middle of their cycles developed colds, compared to 29 percent of other women. Estrogen may be the cause. It thins the cervical mucus in the middle of the cycle to encourage sperm to reach the ovulating egg. In the process, it may also be thinning the mucus produced by the membranes of the nose, and thus be giving cold germs easier access to the body. Cold germs usually invade the body through either the nose or eyes.
When the cold and flu seasons hit, therefore, you should probably take extra preventive precautions during the middle of your menstrual cycle, when you are most susceptible. Try to avoid touching your face with your hands. Wash your hands frequently, especially if you've just been in the same room with someone who has a cold. Also, avoid using the cold sufferer's towels, washcloths, and face soaps.
Despite the increased susceptibility to colds at the time of ovulation, a woman's immunity to other ailments is usually strong- est during this phase of the cycle and at its weakest right before and during menstruation. So, the second half of a woman's cycle is when other ailments are most likely to strike.
Asthma attacks, for example, are more severe immediately before and during the menstrual period. Scientists believe the severity of the attacks may be the result of the fluid that builds up in the body at that time, which causes the lining of the airways to swell, making it more difficult to breathe. Doctors recommend that you reduce your salt intake before your periods to keep fluid buildup to a minimum. You may also want to consult your physician about increasing your medication at this time of each month.
Herpes sores are also more likely to appear around menstruation. In fact, the timing of the sores during menstruation is so common that one clinical form of the disease is called herpes menstrualis.
Getting ill isn't the worst thing that is more likely to happen to you during the second half of your cycle. You have a greater chance of dying then, too! In one study, researchers looked at the post-mortem coroners' reports of 102 women, age eighteen to forty-six, who had died of various causes. Much to the researchers' amazement, they discovered that only 13 of the women had died during the first half of their cycles; the other 89 died between ovulation and menstruation.
A closer look at the coroners' reports showed an even more startling fact: 60 of the 89 women who had died during the second half of their cycles did so during days seventeen to twenty-three.
Granted, the study cannot be considered representative of all deaths, because coroners usually deal with suicide and accident victims- and several studies indicate that suicides and accidents are more prevalent during the premenstrual phase, when women tend to be more depressed. Indeed, 50 percent of the deaths in this study were due to those causes; the figure for the general population is closer to 5 percent.
Still, the fact remains that nearly all the deaths not just suicides and accidents--occurred during the last half of the menstrual cycle. This is a startling finding, and one that needs to be explored further. It may be that one day women will be advised to schedule elective surgery during the first half of their monthly cycles.
When an Illness Is Most Likely to Strike The following medical illnesses and conditions are most likely to occur during a particular phase of the monthly menstrual cycle:HOW YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE
Colds and flu
Tetany (muscle spasms)
Inflammation of the pancreas
Peptic ulcer attacks
No one knows just how--or if a woman's intellectual abilities are affected by her monthly menstrual cycle. Some studies have shown that a woman's reaction time is slowest just prior to menstruation; other studies have refuted this finding. A few studies have also shown that women score lowest on intelligence tests during menstruation; but those results may reflect the physical discomfort of menstruation (known as dysmenorrhea) rather than a true change in intellectual abilities.
Most studies seem to indicate that a woman's intellectual skills are not significantly affected by the hormonal fluctuations of her menstrual cycle.
Still, it may be wise to try, if possible, to schedule any major job- or school-related tests on nonmenstruating days. You should do this for two reasons. First: Menstrual aches and pains may keep you from performing your best. Second: Studies have shown that some women perceive themselves as doing poorly on tests during this time of the month and such perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Of course, most tests can't be scheduled at your convenience. If you must take a test or perform some other intellectual feat during menstruation, don't panic. Rather, take these simple steps to ease the discomfort of menstruation:
Get some exercise in the days preceding the test. Exercise will help rid the body of excess water, ease the flow of blood, and relieve the constipation that often accompanies menstruation.
Get enough rest. Often, women who are menstruating need extra sleep.
Take aspirin for painful cramps (assuming you are not allergic to aspirin). If the cramps are particularly severe, ask your doctor about several anticramp prescription drugs now on the market. You should also have the doctor examine you to make sure the cramps are not the result of a more serious underlying condition, such as endometriosis (an abnormal growth of uterine tissue) or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
HOW YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE AFFECTS YOUR ATHLETIC ABILITIES
If you were to enter an athletic event during your menstrual period, do you think your performance in the event would be better or worse than it would be at some other time of the month?
Was your answer "worse"? Well, think again. Although you, like many other women, may believe you perform more poorly at sports or athletics during your period, you may actually perform better.
Here's what some of the studies show:
When female competitors at the 1930 World Track and Field Championships were asked how their menstrual cycle affected their performance, 29 percent said their performance improved while they were menstruating.
Twenty-two years later, at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, another group of top female athletes was asked the same question. Again, 20 percent reported an improved performance during menstruation.
More recently, researchers tested a group of competitive teen-age swimmers through several menstrual cycles. All recorded their fastest practice times during menstruation.
Some studies do indicate a deterioration of strength, hand steadiness, and balance around the menstrual period particularly on the first day of flow. But just how much of an effect this has on overall sports performance is not clear.
The best way to keep your athletic performance steady throughout the month is to keep in shape. Women who exercise regularly complain less about their periods than those who do not. But, it's not for the reasons you think. Although exercise can shorten your periods and decrease the flow of blood, it does not appear to lessen the discomfort of dysmenorrhea – or, for that matter, of PMS. A recent survey of 420 women by researchers at the Melpomene Institute for Women's Health Research revealed that exercise has no effect on menstrual cramps, mood swings, or monthly changes in appetite.
Why, then, do women who are physically active complain less about their periods? No one knows for sure, but it may be simply that they are more used to discomfort and thus better able to tolerate it. It also may be that, because these women tend to be in excellent health, their bodies are better able to handle the strain – and occasional pain of menstruation.
How Exercise Can Affect Your Monthly Cycle Many female athletes report that their menstrual periods stop or become infrequent when their training gets into high gear. The reason? Intense exercise over a long period of time appears to alter the balance of hormones within the body in such a way that ovulation seldom or never occurs. And, of course, without ovulation, menstruation does not occur.HOW YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE AFFECTS YOUR WEIGHT
Some female athletes are more likely to have their periods stop than others. Here's a look at the high-risk groups:
It's not known what effect the absence of menstruation (known as amenorrhea) has on a female athlete's long-range health. In the short term, of course, it causes infertility.
- Very lean women specifically those with less than 20 percent body fat
- Women who weigh less than 115 pounds
- Women who lose more than 15 percent of their total body weight after beginning an exercise program
- Women who regularly consume fewer than 1,500 calories per day
- Women who are vegetarians probably because they consume much less fat in their diets than nonvegetarians
Amenorrhea is reversible, often by simply gaining a few pounds or lowering the number of miles you run, swim, or cycle each week. Always consult first with your doctor to make sure the change in your cycle does not have a more serious cause. Also, be sure to apprize your doctor that you are physically active; otherwise, he or she may overlook this as a cause of amenorrhea, and you may find yourself receiving unnecessary hormone treatments.
As many women know, stepping on the bathroom scale during the days preceding menstruation can be a depressing experience. Most women will register a weight gain of three to five pounds during the premenstrual phase of their cycle. It's important to remember, however, that this weight gain is only temporary, caused by the excess fluid retention so common during that time of the cycle. The extra weight is usually quickly shed once menstruation begins.
Of course, you can gain permanent weight during the premenstrual phase if you give in to cravings you may have for sugary or fatty foods. And many women do give in to those cravings, consuming an average of 500 extra calories each day during the ten days before their periods! Fortunately, your basal metabolic rate (the minimum amount of energy you need to keep your body working) is at its highest right before menstruation, and a higher metabolic rate means that you burn calories more easily. That, however, does not mean that you can wolf down a pint of chocolate ice cream and not expect itto find its way to your thighs. We're talking about burning only a very few extra calories!
If you are thinking about going on a diet, the best time to do it is right after your period. Many women find that their desire for sweets is noticeably reduced during the preovulatory phase of their menstrual cycle. Obviously, the worst time to start a diet is right before your period, when your craving for food will be strongest. In fact, you are five times more likely to quit your diet at this time of your cycle.
HOW YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE AFFECTS YOUR SKIN
Premenstrual flare-ups of acne occur in half of women who are already prone to breaking out. Experts believe these flare-ups are linked to the premenstrual rise of progesterone, which activates the oil-producing glands of the skin and causes blackheads and pimples to form. On the other hand, estrogen, which dominates the first half of the menstrual cycle, inhibits oil production. Your skin will generally look its clearest, therefore, just prior to ovulation. This may also account for the clear-skinned glow of pregnant women, for they have higher levels of estrogen in their system than nonpregnant women. Many women taking high-estrogen oral contraceptives also report that their skin clears up once they are on the Pill.
You can minimize premenstrual acne by taking special care of your skin during the two weeks prior to your period. Wash your face with soap at least three times a day. Pat it dry gently with a soft towel; don't rub or scrub. Remove excess oil with cotton swabs dabbed in alcohol or apply a lotion containing benzoyl peroxide, an antibacterial agent that dries and protects the skin against excess oiliness. Use a water-based or oil-free makeup foundation instead of an oil-based one that can clog pores.
During the first .two days of your period, you should also take extra precautions to protect your skin from the sun, since at this time of your cycle, your skin is especially sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays and can burn more easily. Either stay out of direct sunlight (especially if you have fair skin) or use a sunscreen lotion or cream, preferably one that contains the chemical PABA or benzophenone, or both.
A Special Note to Women on the Pill Women who take birth control pills have less pronounced monthly ups and downs than women who use other methods of birth control. This is because birth control pills prevent ovulation, usually by providing a steady dose of estrogen that is too high to allow an egg to mature. If you are on the Pill, you can probably expect shorter and lighter periods, fewer problems with acne, and less severe shifts in mood.HOW YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE AFFECTS YOUR SEXUAL DESIRES
Of course, you may experience other discomforting symptoms, such as breast tenderness and weight gain (all month, not just before menstruation), skin rashes, and an increase in vaginal discharge. Birth control pills have also been linked to high blood pressure, depression, skin cancer, and other illnesses. These complications are rare, however.
Still, the Pill is a good example of how changing a natural rhythm can create serious health consequences and why we need to treat our rhythms with respect.
Women usually feel their sexiest at midcycle, or right around ovulation. This makes sense from a biological perspective: Having women most receptive to sex at the time they are most likely to become pregnant helps ensure continuation of the species.
Scientists are not sure what causes this increased sexual libido at midcycle, but they believe it may be related to a monthly peaking of androgens.
According to one study, women increase their sexual desire and activity by 25 percent during a three-day period around ovulation. This is not true, however, of women who are taking birth control pills and who, therefore, are not ovulating. In fact, during the time they would normally ovulate, they actually experience a decreased desire for sex, although researchers are not sure why.
Not only is a woman more likely to want sex at ovulation, but she is also likely to enjoy it more as well. One study revealed that women are two to six times more likely to have an orgasm at midcycle. Contributing to this heightened enjoyment of sex is the fact that a woman's senses taste, touch, smell, and hearing are more acute and sensitive at ovulation. Interestingly, a woman's skin is more sensitive to touch at this time of the month (although less sensitive to pain), further encouraging the woman's receptivity to sex.
A woman's sense of smell is particularly strong at ovulation. In fact, only women who are ovulating are able to smell certain artificial musklike odors odors that may mimic the natural odors, or pheromones, emitted by men. This ability to smell these odors only during ovulation may play a role in triggering a woman's increased sex drive.
Some sex researchers have reported that women have a second stretch of days during their monthly cycle when they tend to be more sexually active right before menstruation. This peak may be caused by the sudden drop in progesterone that immediately precedes menstruation. It is believed that high levels of progesterone suppress female libido; when the levels fall, therefore, desire rises.
HOW BEING AROUND WOMEN AFFECTS YOUR CYCLE
As sisters and roommates have often discovered, living with another woman or group of women can eventually result in everyone menstruating at around the same time of the month. This has been called the "dormitory effect," because the first formal study of the phenomenon was conducted among a group of college students living in a dormitory. Generally, it seems to take about three or four months for menstrual cycles to become synchronized. For example, the cycles of seven female lifeguards involved in one study were far apart when the women began working together at the start of the summer, but fell within four days of each other three months later.
Scientists are not sure what causes menstrual synchrony, but they believe it may be a female pheromone that in some unknown way triggers changes in the menstrual cycles of other women. At least one study backs up this theory. In the study, perspiration was taken from one donor woman and rubbed on the upper lips of five other women. Six control women had their lips rubbed with plain alcohol. The menstrual cycles of all the women were then followed. The cycles of those who received the perspiration shifted toward the donor's menstrual cycle. The control group showed no such shift.
HOW BEING AROUND MEN AFFECTS YOUR CYCLE
Some research suggests that if you are regularly having sex with a man (at least once a week), your menstrual cycle will tend to be shorter and more regular than it would be if you were celibate.
Again, pheromones this time, male ones may be the cause, since research has revealed that women who work in the manufacturing of natural and synthetic musks substances related to testosterone, the most dominant sex hormone in males also have shorter and more regular cycles than other women.
Tips for Living with Your Sexual Rhythms Sexual rhythms can be subtle. Here is a summary of tips for ensuring that these rhythms enhance rather than interfere with your life.* Natural Family Planning (NFP) may not morally be used with the contraceptive mentality as this is the moral equivalent of using any other method to avoid pregnancy. While there may be grave motivations in which NFP can be used –other methods may never morally be used– NFP may never be used as a method of avoidance of pregnancy for selfish reasons. (This reference is added by this web site monitor.) Chapter Six
- Chart your monthly cycles. Be aware of your peaks and valleys in terms of physical and emotional well-being, and try to schedule your activities accordingly.
- As noted, you may feel sexier in the morning. Take advantage of this possible increase in sexual libido by scheduling more lovemaking with your partner before you get out of bed in the morning.
- Be cautious if you fall in love in late summer or fall. The irresistible attraction you feel at that time of the year may not be love at all, but rather a seasonal peaking of sexual desire.
- For women only: If you do not want to become pregnant and you are not using birth control or are using natural family planning,* be aware that the time of the month when you most desire sex may very well be the time when you are most likely to become pregnant.
Keeping a Healthy Beat –
Rhythms and Medicine
Healing is a matter of time...
Kay was a wreck. It was a week before Thanksgiving and her asthma, which had hit with a vengeance in mid-August and been getting steadily worse, was now so bad she could hardly stand it.
The same thing had happened last Thanksgiving, except then it had culminated in an early morning attack so severe that her frantic roommate had dialed 911 and screamed for help. Within minutes, a rescue squad had arrived and rushed Kay to the hospital. The doctors later told her that the attack could have killed her. So this year she had been extra careful about taking her medicine. As a result, the attacks weren't as bad, but they still were difficult.
Kay thought back to the sudden asthma attacks of her childhood, attacks that often meant a few days in a hospital bed under a dear plastic oxygen tent. She remembered the moist, easy-to-breathe air that was cooled by ice packed in a container near her head. She remembered being frightened by the distorted images of her parents as she looked at them through the soft plastic walls of the tent.
Then it struck her. She had almost always been hospitalized in the fall. Kay had long been aware that the attacks usually came late at night or early in the morning, but she'd never thought of her asthma as having a seasonal rhythm as well.
Author's Web Source: http://www.trosch.org/ide/sex-cycl.htm