Jessica Ellis
November 29, 2015 7:41 am

Even if your mother told you that menstruation is a beautiful and natural process, by the time you hit your mid-teens, you probably realized that periods are so, so much more. That time of the month is basically always messy and annoying to deal with, and unfortunately it seems like science has been content to leave it at that. We know this, because a new study by Dr. Hilary Critchley and Jaqueline Maybin of the University of Edinburgh has drawn the conclusion that research knows almost nothing about human menstruation and its effect on women’s health.

For most of us, our periods can be more or less ignored once we get the hang of dealing with them. But for women who suffer from period-related problems, such as the 20-30% of women who have heavy bleeding, Dr. Critchley told LiveScience.com simply, “We don’t have sufficient medical treatments to offer them.”

So what do we know for sure? Well, according to Dr. Critchely and a handful of other researchers, we know that humans aren’t the only animals that menstruate- apes, some bats, and the tiny elephant shrew all join us in our monthly reminder of womanhood. We also know that menstruation happens because a drop in the hormone progesterone causes the uterine lining to shed, and then rebuild itself, even though many other species simply absorb the lining instead. According to Yale researcher Deena Emara, there’s also a correlation between menstruation and species where a fetus buries itself fully into the womb.

However, that’s about where knowledge ends. Among the questions Dr Critcheley raises are why some women with heavy menstrual bleeding also have uterine fibroids while others don’t, why the endometrium doesn’t scar after repeatedly shedding and re-growing, and if the immune processes that set off menstruation could help us better understand auto-immune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

As to why there’s so few answers about human menstruation, Dr. Critcheley pointed out it’s just not a popular subject for study, even though it’s hugely important to female health. “It’s so crucial for the reproduction of our species. But it’s not a popular topic to study. There’s a big to-do around talking about problems that people don’t see.”

Anthropologist Kathryn Clancy, speaking to the BBC , also brought up that there’s been some very bad science and a constant influx of taboos associated with the subject. In the 1930s, a physician named Bela Schick announced that women even exude toxins during menstruation that cause flowers to wilt and beer to go flat. “There was this idea at this time that women are just awful and disgusting, the problem is that they tried to keep saying this all the way to the 70s.”

So 40 years of potential research that could have greatly helped women lost to misogyny and period-taboos. Let’s hope great scientists like Dr. Critcheley and Deena Emara stay on the frontier of this subject so we can finally understand what’s going on down there!

(Image via Shutterstock)

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