Things I didn't Know About My Body

Working with Elara Care, I have taken time out to research about women’s health and understand the science behind it. Of course, as a woman myself I can feel everything that is being described, but why, what, and how they were happening were still very much a mystery.

Learning about the female body - female illustration

Health and well-being have always been of great interest to me. Growing up, my mom had a large influence on me - always ensuring I had a balanced diet, fresh meals, and physical exercise. She even got me into meditation, something I continue to this day. However, most of my understanding of health came from her experiences and knowledge. I never sought out to understand health on my own terms, particularly when it came to mental, hormonal, emotional, and psychological health.

After moving to the U.S, I learned about mental health and took steps to improve my own. Growing up in Japan and in an Indian household, mental health was never discussed or made aware of. I truly believed mental health was exclusively a conversation for people that needed to be hospitalised. Coming to the US, I was enlightened about holistic health and emotional well-being. I learned that stress in the amounts that I have dealt with was not normal and needed to be managed. It wasn’t enough to sleep off the stress or go watch TV to distract myself. I needed to tackle the roots of stress as opposed to finding ways to deal with its symptoms.

Working with Elara Care, I have taken time out to research about women’s health and understand the science behind it. Of course, as a woman myself I can feel everything that is being described, but why, what, and how they were happening were still very much a mystery. To add, I didn’t care to understand what was happening in my body. I found it tedious and unnecessary to understand our biological complex, side-effects of unhealthy habits, and the chemistry of hormones. I only cared about what pertained to me and that was learning what was healthy, so I could implement that in my lifestyle. Of course, my perspective on that has changed. By learning the specifics about my own body, I can create changes that are catered to me and optimise my health according to the conditions of my body. Learning about Elara Care taught me about women’s health and got me curious about my own hormonal health.

Prior to learning about women’s health, I had a few misconceptions. First, I believed that women had one cycle per month that lasted around 6-8 days, known as the menstrual cycle or more commonly,  the ‘period.’ In actuality, the ‘period’ is just one of four segments of a larger cycle, which typically lasts between 24-35 days given that the cycle is regular. Second, I believed that women were in fact more “hormonal” than men. I believed that the period brought a surge of hormones and the reason why I felt moodier and more irritable at this time. However, this turned out to be a common misconception. A lot of the labelling around women being more emotional than men is not necessarily true. According to research conducted by Umich, "There is little indication that ovarian hormones influence affective variability in women to a greater extent than the biopsychosocial factors that influence daily emotion in men.” The research further states that men and women’s hormones fluctuate on a daily-basis and to a “similar extent.” When it comes to hormonal differences between the sexes it has more to do with how we are systematically different and little to do with how they have different emotional effects on us.

From my research, I found that there are two main female sex hormones: Estrogen and Progesterone. They are both vital in women’s reproductive health. While I was aware of these hormones, especially from a fertility and sexuality point of view, I didn’t know their individual functions or that they fluctuated throughout the cycle, not just during menstruation. (You can learn more about the different hormones and phases of the menstrual cycle in depth in his article: The Menstrual Cycle - Phases, Hormones and Their Functions)

My main takeaway from learning about the different phases was that when Estrogen was high, energy levels, moods and motivation were also much higher. This usually happened during the late follicular phase. Knowing this, I would like to track my cycle so I can tackle the difficult tasks when I feel most motivated and create a more balanced lifestyle.

From my research, I also learned about a term known as PMDD - Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. While I knew about PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome), which include symptoms such as bloating and irritability that women experience weeks prior to their period, I didn’t know PMDD existed. For many months, I have complained about how periods took such a large toll on my mental health. Many times I would tell my friends that I would rather have the flu/COVID every month than to have my period, and how ridiculous it was for us to be expected to carry out our daily tasks. After reading about the symptoms of PMDD, I realised that I probably have this condition. Prior to my period, I would typically enter a depressive episode and feel extremely isolated. For the longest time, I felt that I was too sensitive and complained too much about my period, knowing that about roughly half the population goes through the same phase. However, learning about PMDD has become a large relief for me as a lot of the problems described resonated with me, and now I can properly address it with a professional. Even just knowing that PMDD is a real problem has made me feel less isolated and my feelings more valid. This information has been pivotal to understanding my health and how I can go about overcoming these issues.

In addition to some of the larger concepts that I learned through research, such as the four phases of the menstrual cycle, there are also some minor details that I have become aware of. One, I learned that our body gets warmer before the bleeding phase. Prior to my period, I notice mood change, breast swelling, cravings, and fatigue. This time around I observed how I also felt warmer and became more aware of these physical changes happening in my body. I also learned that in general women have higher immune systems than men. With recent events around COVID, it got me wondering whether women were more susceptible to COVID than men. Turns out that women are much more resistant to COVID than men (view study here)—although social and lifestyle factors also play a part in explaining these statistics.

I also learned that women have over 50 hormones— progesterone and Estrogen being the two most common ones. Additionally, hormones not only affect moods, sleep, sexuality, appetite, and skin condition, but also bone health. This came as a surprise to me as I believed bone health was exclusively determined by nutrition, physical activity, sleep, and genetics.

Given this information, I have come to learn that hormonal health is just as important as nutrition, sleep, and exercise, which we tend to give more importance to.

But how do we regulate our hormones when imbalances occur? Unlike nutrition, where we can almost immediately and naturally supplement vitamins through foods, hormonal health takes a lot more effort. When it comes to regulating hormones, all components influencing well-being are crucial. It is not as straightforward as nutrition and physical exercise. As a result, many opt for contraceptives, especially when hormonal imbalances cause irregular periods. However, they come with their own side effects including increase in cancer, stroke, and cardiovascular disease, making it unideal for many. Doctors have also recommended me to go on birth control, but I would rather go down the natural route. I still don’t know much about my individual hormonal health, but it’s something I would like to learn about. Now that I have become aware of topics such as PMDD and cycle syncing, I intend to see an expert to help me understand and treat my premenstrual problems while also tracking my cycle to optimise my productivity and well-being.