We all know that our menstrual cycle has a substantial impact on us. We have all felt how all these "hormones"
dictate our mood. It is very annoyingly true, many hormones effect our mood and state of being.
Two of them, the main sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, operate and control our menstrual cycle.
Estrogen and progesterone
The first day of the menstrual cycle starts when our bleeding starts. The hormonal levels are low, and the womb is busy exfoliating the layers it has accumulated during the previous cycle.
After about a week a signal from our brain helps raise the estrogen levels. This process continues until about the 14th day of the cycle, after which the estrogen levels drop and the ovulation occurs. The egg is now released and awaits to be fertilized.
Whether the egg was fertilized or not, after the ovulation, progesterone levels rise and are dominate for the next two weeks, then drop again. The body is then quietly waiting for the next bleeding shedding layers with relief, and begin a new cycle again.
The rising estrogen levels during the first two weeks of the month, followed by its drop and the rise of progesterone in the next two weeks, influence our physical functioning throughout the month, effecting our mood, emotional and mental state. Our five senses react accordingly.
The powerful days before ovulation is when we and our senses are blossoming. Our hearing, sense of smell and vision are sharper. On these days, when estrogen levels are on their peak, we thrive, prosper, able to think more clearly and easily. Our memory is stronger, our hair is shining and so is our skin, and we excrete powerful pheromones, helping us to conquer the world and reach our goals.
Now is the time to schedule important meetings, job interviews, lecturing or public speaking, exciting dates...
It is wise to postpone or patiently wait until the days before you ovulate to do your writing chores or creative art work, since this is when you'll "feel the muse", are inspired and write or create with a natural flow.
Hearing: better during ovulation
Women in general have a more acute sense of hearing compared to men, and a number of studies showed that estrogen levels have a positive effect on our hearing abilities, meaning that on those days we hear even better. During the days before ovulation, the hearing threshold drops, meaning we can hear quieter and softer or lighter sound frequencies. However, on the days when we menstruate, when estrogen levels are very low, our ability to hear drop. This is exactly the time when we feel we need more peace and quiet, and enter our "cave". How clever is our body to provide us with an inner mechanism to enjoy the silence!
Smell: sharper during ovulation
Our smell abilities are also improved during the days before we ovulate. Some women can even conclude which state they are on their menstrual cycle from their heightened or more sensitive sense of smell. And just as the sense of smell is better during ovulation, it becomes less sensitive during menstruation. One specific study that was conducted in 1983 found that women of child baring age were more sensitive to the scent of musk compared to menopausal and post-menopausal women, meaning fertile women had a sharper sense of smell.
Vision: stronger during ovulation
Not surprisingly, our sense of vision is also stronger on these special days before and when we ovulate. A research done in 1978 and studied 21 women found that their vision was more acute during these days. On the other days of the month, though, their vision was similar to women who are on the pill, and therefore have a constant and unchanging hormonal levels throughout the month and are not ovulating.
We do need to mention another tiny research that was done on only 5 women in 1980 and technically contradicted the previous stated results. This research found a correlation between a better sense of vision and a rise in body temperature, which naturally rises only after our bodies finished ovulating, when progesterone levels are high.
During the days of menstruation, we feel a drop in our sensitivity to sound, smell, and vision compared to two weeks ago. On these days, we are more sensitive to pain and touch, crave sugars, fatty and carbohydrate-rich foods.
Sense of touch and sensors: a decline in pain threshold
Studies to measure pain looked into our reaction to touch, pain and sensory system and the effect hormonal changes have on those. These studies did not reach definitive conclusions. Not surprising, since the ability to measure and record pain is very subjective and every woman has a different pain threshold.
One study checked the reflex of the spinal cord (reflex arc) as a way to measure sensory abilities in 14 women, and found that the threshold dropped substantially during the days after ovulation and before menstruation, meaning - these women, or their spinal cord reflex, were more sensitive on the days before they bleed.
It may not shock you, that the same research, found that reaction to pain was also linked to our emotional and mental state. The more emotional these women felt, the more pain they felt too, and vice versa.
This research and a few others showed that, unfortunately, not only is the bleeding phase of the month more painful, our ability to stand and contain pain is lower. In simple words, not only are do we feel more pain when we bleed, compared with the rest of the month, we are also more sensitive to pain to begin with. Ugh.
If now we know that our pain threshold is lower during menstruation days, please keep in mind that this is definitely not the time to schedule an appointment at the beautician or waxing salon.
Now is the time to be gentle with ourselves, make less plans, be closer to home and prepare for to state of tuning in.
I believe a month which was more emotionally challenging to begin with, will end with a more challenging pain processing-process during menstruation. Attached here is a powerful way to emotionally process painful menstruation.
As for our reaction to touch, also called cutaneous sensitivity, only limited amounts of research was done on the matter. One of them, conducted in 1974, found that in the second half of the cycle, after we ovulate, women were more sensitive to touch, meaning they felt a softer touch.
That could explain why on these days we are less tolerant or forgiving to a touch that isn't exactly what we needed. During this stage, we are less tolerant in general, and unless things go exactly our way, we tend to wish to be left alone and enter our 'cave'. And if we or our environment doesn't encourage us to do so, is it any surprise that we have a challenging emotional time? That this emotional time will increase our already painful experiences, (as mentioned just in the previous paragraph)?
By the way, it turns out that women are more sensitive to touch than man in general.
Let's treat our sensitivities with understanding, compassion and inner kindness, and understand how to communicate our needs for changing levels of touch, or lack them of, and teach our partners as well.
Taste and appetite: a rise on the days before menstruation
No woman will be surprised to learn that many studies found a clear and sharp rise in calorie intake, especially of carbohydrates and fats, on the days before menstruation. Before ovulation, however, the calorie intake is much lower. These studies found a calorie intake rise of 61% during the second half of the month, with a preference to foods with "hedonistic" qualities (the usage of that word is in the source, not mine), as well as a tendency for "binging".
Maybe the body cleverly and instinctively knows that now is a special time where we need more energy to go through a powerful and exhausting process, and therefore hoards more to feed us with the energy we need to go through it.
Some of you, though, might be surprised that these studies did not find an association to how much we ate and our mood.
And what about the sense of taste? A research done in 1998 on 8 fertile women, found a clear link between higher levels of estrogen (=ovulation) and sensitivity to sweets, meaning, a higher desire to sweets when we ovulate. A link was also found between higher levels of progesterone (=second half of the month) to a desire for bitter tasting foods. Sounds weird, but who are we to challenge a scientific research. Men, however, had no tendency to prefer any type of flavor.
1. Farage MA, Osborn TW (2008) Cognitive, sensory, and emotional changes associated with the menstrual cycle: a review. Arch77 GynecolObstet 278, pp. 299-307
2. Shye, D, Jaffe, B (1991) Prevalence and correlates of peri-menstrual symptoms: a study of Israeli teenage girls. Journal of Adolescent Health 12, pp. 217-224.