Menstruation myths have been passing down from generation to generation, popularizing many misconceptions about our natural bodily process – which are designed to restrict our behavior.
But to make the world a better place in which women can bleed safely, we must draw a red line between facts and fiction. Read on to find out some of the persistent myths on periods – and learn the scientific truth that debunks them.
Myth #1: Food cravings are purely hormonal.
Do you often reach for a choccy bar or salty snack at that time of the month? Actually, half of American women report craves for chocolate, with half of those having them at the start of their period.
But scientists say we shouldn’t blame those cravings on the pre-menstruation hormone fluctuations. A 2009 University of Pennsylvania study, comparing menstruating and post-menopausal women, shows just 13 percent difference in their hunger for chocolate – which means, many women still feel it even after their period has stopped. Scientists conclude the difference is clearly not considerable enough to blame our menstrual cravings on hormones.
Myth #2: During your period, you lose a lot of blood.
We know it might feel as if you‘re shedding pints of blood when menstruating. The truth is, most women lose from 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood during their menses. Even those who experience heavy bleeding (a.k.a. menorrhagia), still let go of only 4 tablespoons of blood.
However, if you usually need to replace another super-absorbent pad each hour, or wear two pads at once, you should definitely consult your doctor. Other reasons to worry include menstruating for longer than seven days, or displaying signs of anemia (fatigue, frequent headaches, high heart rates, etc.)
These may mean hormonal imbalance, polyps or other uterine lining issues. If you continue to bleed heavily every month, see your gynecologist for a checkup at the earliest.
Myth #3: Your period stops when you get in the water.
While a popular belief says you can’t swim on your red days (especially in the ocean, as folklore claims your period blood can attract sharks), another popular misconception is your flow ceases completely when you’re in the water. Both have nothing to do with reality.
Physicians explain it’s the pressure of water that makes your period blood stay inside – it doesn’t stop your flow at all. As you get out of the swimming pool or bathtub, it will continue immediately. This natural law of gravity works also when you’re out in the ocean (and there’s no scientific evidence to confirm sharks can sense your period). Thanks to this law, menstrual blood is not flowing while we’re in the water. Still, if you’re going to a pool party, be sure to have your menstrual cup.
Myth #4: Through monthly bleeding, your body cleanses itself.
Why on earth would your reproductive system need a purge? Even your digestive system doesn’t! However, gynecologists report many of their patients have inherited from their grandma a belief that menstruation is “the body’s natural way of cleansing itself each month”.
Your doctor will explain to you the process of menstruating is similar to when we donate our worn-out clothes to charity. During a monthly cycle, your uterus grows tissue for potentially accepting a fetus. In case of null fertilization, your body makes the hormone levels change to get rid of that extra tissue. Apparently, this has nothing to do with washing out any sort of “dirt” from your body.
Myth #5: A normal menstrual cycle is 28 days.
Actually, our monthly cycle – from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period – varies from 21 days to 35 days in adults and 21 to 45 days in teens, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports.
The “28 days” standard is only average! Since not all women’s bodies are the same, their cycles also differ. In an individual woman, they may also fluctuate, depending on the environment, stressors, emotions, diet, medication, or hormonal shifts.
And even if your cycle is 28 days, it doesn’t mean it will always stay so. We recommend tracking your timing every month. A regular monthly cycle marks high levels of health. If it gets off the track – you bleed between periods, miss one, or notice a variation greater than five days – tell your doctor about it. Any of these symptoms could signal hormonal or other issues, which may affect your reproductive health.