Jennifer Aldoretta wrote this on November 5, 2015
We don’t typically think about our reproductive health as some hugely important thing that requires constant upkeep. For most of us, maintaining good reproductive health means going to the gynecologist once a year for a pap smear and trying not to contract an STI. Cardiovascular (heart) health, physical health, and mental health…now THOSE are important! But reproductive and hormone health? No way! Worrying about reproductive health is only for people who want to have babies ASAP, right?
Not so fast! I’m here to tell you that your reproductive health has a lot more bearing on your overall health and well-being than you probably realize. It may not be super intuitive, but in actuality, reproductive health is vitally important to maintaining good health.
Here are just a few of the many reasons why:
You’ve probably heard of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you haven’t, the name describes it pretty well: it’s a gastrointestinal disorder marked by pain, cramps, bloating, gas, food intolerance, and abnormal bowel movements. What you may not know is that 10-15 percent of the Western population is afflicted with IBS. What does this have to do with reproductive health, you might ask?
As it turns out, studies show that the severity of symptoms experienced by women who have IBS actually change throughout the menstrual cycle, leading researchers to believe that female sex hormones—estrogen and progesterone—play a huge role. Interestingly, women afflicted with IBS are especially prone to exacerbated symptoms during their periods.1
So minor changes that occur in your body throughout your menstrual cycle can help raise a red flag when something isn’t quite right.
Ever heard of the hormone called melatonin? If you’ve ever had issues with insomnia, you probably have. Melatonin is produced by the pea-sized pineal gland in your brain, and it’s responsible for regulating your body’s circadian rhythms…things like sleep, metabolism, and carcinogenesis (the formation of cancer).
Melatonin is a teensy molecule that’s distributed to many parts of your body via the bloodstream, including to your ovaries where it’s found in high concentrations.2 But, again, what does this have to do with reproductive health?
Melatonin is related to your reproductive health because the progesterone levels in the ovarian follicles (the fluid-filled sacs that contain your eggs) have a positive correlation with melatonin levels.
Did You Know? Progesterone is the female sex hormone responsible for, among other things, thickening and maintaining your uterine lining in the latter half of the menstrual cycle.
Researchers decided to try something: they gave melatonin treatments to women with luteal phase defects, which is linked to low progesterone and is a common cause of infertility. The treatment increased patient progesterone levels, with 64.3 percent seeing significant improvements. One study recruited women who had at least one failed IVF treatment and showed that pregnancy rates after melatonin treatment were nearly 20 percent (double that of the group that didn’t melatonin treatment)!2
My point: if you don’t have proper levels of melatonin in your body, your reproductive system will likely show signs. Since melatonin also helps regulate sleep, metabolism, and your body’s ability to prevent cancer, inadequate levels can throw these out of balance, as well.
Stress in your life can affect your reproductive health in many ways. Not only can it delay ovulation, but it can also stop it altogether.
Amenorrhea is a menstrual disorder characterized by a lack of menstruation for at least three months—this also means a lack of ovulation because if you’re ovulating, you will have a period. Amenorrhea can be caused by many things, but a common cause is when the hypothalamus (a section of your brain that produces many essential hormones) doesn’t produce enough of a specific hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone, or GnRH. This GnRH deficit halts ovarian function, stopping both ovulation and menstruation.
Interestingly, women with this type of amenorrhea have been found to have elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is released in response to stress by your adrenal glands (located on top of your kidneys). Studies have shown that using cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce stress levels restores menstruation in most cases.3
The takeaway? Stress can majorly mess with your reproductive health!
Autoimmune disorders (such as lupus and multiple sclerosis) are on the rise, with the NIH estimating more than 23.5 million cases in the United States alone. And a whopping 78 percent of those cases are in women. But why?
Did You Know? Women using Depo-Provera have been shown to have an increased risk of contracting STIs.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure why autoimmune disorders are more common in women, but they do know that the prevalence of autoimmunity in women shows that female sex hormones, particularly progesterone, help regulate immunity.4
So if your hormone levels are off, it can affect your body’s ability to fight disease and even your likelihood of developing autoimmunity.
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How much time does your doctor spend with you at your annual pelvic exam? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 15 minutes? A single trip to your gynecologist once a year simply isn’t enough to maintain good reproductive health, especially when so many systems in your body are linked to your reproductive system!
If you’re struggling with any number of reproductive disorders, hormonal contraceptives can be an appealing choice. While they do provide a seemingly simple way to eliminate various symptoms you may be experiencing, they don’t address the root of the problem…they mask it.
Hopefully it’s obvious by now that reproductive and hormone health are intricately tied to every system in your body. Health issues are increasingly being shown to manifest in the menstrual cycle, which means that it’s more important than ever to pay attention to what’s happening. If you struggle with any number of period problems — like cramps, acne, digestive issues, low libido, a heavy flow, or food cravings — poor hormonal health is likely the culprit. Luckily for you, we can help you heal these problems FOR GOOD with Period Reset, our super awesome 30-day program. Check it out »
If you truly want good reproductive health, listen to and work with your body!
Evidence for exacerbation of irritable bowel syndrome during menses. Whitehead WE, Cheskin LJ, Heller BR, Robinson JC, Crowell MD, Benjamin C, Schuster MM. Gastroenterology. 1990 Jun;98(6):1485–9.
Melatonin and Female Reproduction. Hiroshi Tamura, Akihisa Takasaki, Toshiaki Taketani, Manabu Tanabe, Lifa Lee, Isao Tamura, Ryo Maekawa, Hiromi Aasada, Yoshiaki Yamagata and Norihiro Sugino. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. Res. Vol. 40, No. 1:1–11, January 2014.
Neuroendocrine Control of Ovulation. Sarah Berga & Frederick Naftolin. Gynecological Endocrinology, 2012; 28(S(1)): 9–13.
Regulation of dendritic cells by female sex steroids: Relevance to immunity and autoimmunity. Grant C. Highes & Edward A. Clark. Autoimmunity, September 2007; 40(6): 470–481.