Sunday, April 14, 2024

‘Being ‘Hormonal’ Is Beautiful’: Period Pain, Hormones and Sexist Cycles: We Need to Re-Think Ovary Care

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Period pain is the worst – but it could be telling you something more than just it’s time to run out for more tampons. Have you checked in with your ovaries lately?

When was the last time you thought about your ovaries? Not in the cute ‘omg there’s an adorable child in a cute animal-themed onesie that could make me want to want a kid STAT’ kind of way?

I mean, like you think about your heart. Or your lungs. Or your skin.

But those little things that yes, can be the bane of your life come shark week, need a little more thought. And yet, they can be responsible for crippling pain, horrendous mood swings and even depressive states when they are not cared for.

So why are the ovaries taking a back seat when they could be the secret key to a more fulfilling life? Normalisation of female pain, inadequate hormone education and underwhelming support of the menstrual cycle in a male-structured society all play into why we’re not looking after our ovaries as we should, says Rochelle Marreiros, founder of Seed Cycle Blend.

“To talk about ovary care we must first understand the difference between our ‘period’ (ikura (Māori) or menstruation) and ‘the menstrual cycle’,” she says. “Our period is the monthly bleed or shedding of the uterine lining. This is just one phase or part of the menstrual cycle, which is a series of biological phases and energetic seasons spanning across 26-35 days.

“Biologically the menstrual cycle has two cycles within it – the cycle of the ovaries and the cycle of the uterus which happens simultaneously. The ovaries are growing mature eggs (the follicular phase), releasing them (ovulation) and dissolving the sac that the egg burst from inside your ovary (the luteal phase). Then these activities trigger what happens in the uterus – the thickening of the uterus lining with nutrients to support the possible implantation of a fertilised egg, or the shedding of this lining if no conception has occurred (our period).”

Rochelle, a certified nutrition coach who created the natural seed blend to help regulate hormones, thinks – and this will come as no surprise to you if you’re my generation and our period chat at school consisted of one deeply awkward lesson where some random lady dipped a tampon into a glass of water and the practically threw a month’s supply of pads at us before shuttling us out of the classroom door – that we have a fundamental lack of knowledge when it comes to dealing with our periods.

Like, for example, did you know that the period is the not most important event of the menstrual cycle, it’s actually ovulation?

“Ovulation stimulates progesterone production in the ovaries which impacts not only the reproductive system, but the central nervous system including all important sedative and calming properties. It also impacts our metabolism, weight gain, temperature regulation, skin appearance and health, bone health and even influences our cardiovascular system. It is such a vital hormone that we need in our reproductive years and not just for the menstrual cycle, but so we can be strong moving into perimenopause and menopause,” she says.

So what does the normalisation of female pain have to do with our lack of importance of information about ovary care? What do we even mean by this? Anyone could share the stories they have been told or seen about ‘expecting pain’ as they enter their menstruating years. Even our mothers, sisters or friends would confidently state that we will get excruciating cramps.

“And it’s no one’s fault, you don’t know what you don’t know,” says Rochelle. “Although these painful symptoms may be very common (which is a problem in itself), it is far from normal. Pain is a sign of hormonal imbalance. It is your body communicating with you the only way it knows how. This may be the reason why the menstrual cycle is officially considered by the American Academy of Paediatrics to be your fifth vital sign. So just like a temperature spike or shortness in breath should cause alarm – so too should your excruciating cramps and uncontrollable mood swings. It’s this old expectation that shuts off any desire to seek help or discover that this narrative that normalises menstrual suffering is so out of touch with modern science and simple biology. This age-old narrative is what ‘Ovary Care’ is competing with. And it will take time – but all good things do.”

Hormones are the chemical messengers that instruct parts of the body to do stuff – important stuff. Without them our body would not know how to function. And yet, Rochelle says, hormone education is not considered a fundamental part of our school curriculum.

“Imagine if we knew what was happening on a hormonal level during our menstrual cycle, and how those fluctuations correlated to their productivity, energy and arousal levels. We all would have felt less guilt for lacking energy at certain times of the month equipped with understanding and self-compassion. Without hormone education we are stealing a whole world of empowerment from the females in our society. Ovary care can create a curiosity and kindness towards our bodies instead of loathing it as we fluctuate through our monthly cycle.

“Once you see a graph of male hormone fluctuations compared with female hormone fluctuations over a 28-day cycle, you start to understand why the 9-5, 7 days a week works so well for males and not so well for females long term. Male testosterone rises in the morning and slowly declines in the afternoon/evening. Every. Single. Day. Females have different hormone fluctuations every day of their 28-day cycle. Not to mention our uterus contracts and bleeds for 4-6 of those days.

“Of course, ovary care isn’t important if we are trying to fit into the male hormone structure of society. If anything, we have tried to cover up that we menstruate, or have different emotions at different times of our cycle or God forbid we are seen to be less productive for a few days before our period – we could risk our job.

“The current society does not know how to fully support menstruating. Maybe it looks like menstrual leave, or the ability to reshuffle administrative tasks to our late luteal phase or maybe it’s just talking about the difference of male and female hormones and how we can support each other in the workplace without shame or blame. It’s why I created Seed Cycle Blend – your ovaries’ best friend. It’s designed to give hormones what they need, when they need it and is also a ritual to help build a relationship with your cycle and make ovary care just as important as skincare, gut health, brain and heart heath.

“‘Being Hormonal’ is beautiful, it’s healthy, it’s fertile. Without hormones, we die. Plain and simple.”

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