How Does the Seasonal Shift Affect Your Menstrual Cycle?

Seasonal changes affect a lot of things: your metabolism, mood, and even your periods. But who would’ve thought that period durations can change too?

It's time to pack away the swimsuits and pull out the sweaters. Whether or not you’re on the pumpkin spice bandwagon, seasonal changes can affect more than what’s in your closet or what’s on the menu.

When it comes to your period, you’ve probably learned by now that you should never get too comfortable with your cycle. Most of us will experience changes in the length of our cycle, fluctuations in flow and even changing PMS symptoms.

From stress to travel to synching up with your besties to the changing of seasons, a lot of factors can determine when you start your period.

Seasonal changes affect a lot of things: your metabolism, mood, and even your periods. But who would’ve thought that period durations can change too?

That’s right, not only do they hurt in different degrees during different seasons, they may also become longer and shorter with changing seasons.

Lifestyle changes during different seasons of the year are a chief factor in determining when you get your period, as well as how it affects you.

So, if notice that your periods are acute in the winter, then there’s actually a reason for that.

Summertime: and the living is easy

In the warmer, sunnier seasons of spring and summer, we tend to get more exposure to sunlight, which enables our bodies to produce more vitamin D and more dopamine, both of which are associated with positive moods and feelings of pleasure.

A study published in the journal Gynecol Endocrinol noted that sunshine, or lack thereof, can even change the length of your periods. In summer vs. winter, there was a trend toward increased FSH secretion, significantly larger ovarian follicle size, higher frequency of ovulation (97% vs. 71%) and a shorter menstrual cycle (by 0.9 days), the results of the study found.

Ovarian activity is greater in summer vs. winter in women living in a continental climate at temperate latitudes; [and] sunshine is a factor that influences the menstrual cycle.

Less sunlight can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by symptoms of depression—among them sadness, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, feelings of hopelessness, and craving and consuming more carbohydrates.

When it’s nice out, we also tend to spend more time outdoors and more time moving. Doctors report that women who exercise regularly and who have a higher level of fitness are less likely to suffer from a severe form of PMS, and are less likely to have heavy and irregular menstrual bleeding.

Colder may mean heavier

As humans, we generally tend to like the winter time less. It's cold, it's dark, you get sick more easily, and your mood seems to plummet along with the length of the days. And just in case all that wasn't bad enough, it seems the winter months can wreak havoc with your menstrual cycle, too. Oh, goody.

One paper published in 2011 discovered increased hormone secretion, increased the frequency of ovulation and shorter cycles by 0.9 days in the summer compared with winter.

This was also demonstrated in women who lived in warmer climates compared with those that lived in colder temperatures. And if you're the kind of person who suffers troublesome periods, any prolonging of the pain isn't what you want.

Doctors note that the average American puts on three to ten pounds in the winter months. The causes are many—we overeat at the holidays, we don’t get out and exercise as much, and so on. Some of us shed those pounds when the weather transitions again, but not everyone does.

While we can’t necessarily blame weight gain on the season, experts say there is a direct connection between weight gain and heaviness and length of cycle flow. How much of a gain will cause a noticeable difference differs from woman to woman, but there is a point at which an unhealthy body mass index (BMI) will affect any woman’s cycle.

Also, because the connections between seasonal changes and our cycles are indirect but related, experts suggest it’s possible that we simply have better tolerance for our cycles in months when we are enjoying ourselves more.

When you’re eating al fresco, wearing flowing clothes, and looking forward to vacation and travel, less severe symptoms may seem more manageable. When the days are shorter and your commute feels like a trip to the Arctic, symptoms like cramps and blemishes on your skin will definitely be getting more of your attention.

So, what may be one of the best ways to deal with your menstrual cycle changing with the seasons?

Maintain perspective. Remember the things that make you happy, whether it’s hot or cold, sunny or snowy. Doing so, along with exercise and time spent outdoors, however short, will help keep you balanced throughout the year. After all, it’s not the seasons that affect our cycles, but what the seasons mean for our lifestyles that creates change.

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