A lot of conversations I had during the pandemic involved bloody and forensic examinations of menstrual cycles, and what we saw as changes. Although the topic of pandemic periods has been widely discussed, very little data exists on how they were affected by the pandemic. This could be due to vaccines, chaos and uncertainty, or COVID-19.
There is a shortage of data on menstruation, as with other aspects of women’s health. The UK’s NHS doesn’t collect data about women’s periods centrally. Period tracker apps provide the most reliable and comprehensive data. Until now, there has not been any data that examines the effects of vaccines on periods.
There is conflicting evidence in the research on period changes and pandemic stress. A study published in the Journal of Women’s Health in September 2021 suggests that the pandemic had an effect on menstrual cycles. The study examined the periods of 210 women. It found an increase in irregularities in menstrual cycles during the COVID-19 epidemic’s early months.
A new study from Natural Cycles may shed light on the impact of stress caused by the pandemic. Natural Cycles is a fertility tracker app that is approved by FDA. The Food and Drug Administration is the US’s official source of contraception. It costs you PS49.99 per year in the UK.
Over 2 million people have registered on the app. They were joined by academics and doctors to study the impact of the pandemic upon menstrual cycles in more than 18,000 women.
They measured the following changes in cycle parameters in those women: anovulation (when an egg does not release, or ovulate, from a woman’s ovaries), abnormal cycle length and prolonged bleeding (menstruation).
The complete study was published in the journal PLOS ONE by the Public Library of Science. Its conclusion may surprise you: There were no clinically significant differences in cycle parameters between people’s cycles prior to and after the pandemic.
Natural Cycles’ medical expert Dr Jack Pearson explains that there are important caveats. He explains via Zoom from New York that “there is a shortage of data generally about menstruation.” “So it’s really important that we were able to gather this data. However, it’s important that you note that the majority of our users are professional women in middle class and may have been less affected by pandemic stress that other demographics.”
The real story about periods and stress related to the pandemic? Natural Cycles’ new research suggests that people can imagine the changes in their periods. Not quite. What’s the deal?
Natural Cycles’ data analyst Dr Brian Nguyen points out important differences in the app’s research and that published in the Journal of Women’s Health.
He explains that the study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, surveyed women about their stress levels and reported menstrual cycles changes between July and August 2020.
This method of recording information has a problem. Individuals who have a natural interest and believe they are experiencing changes will be more inclined to participate.
Dr Nguyen says that the study was mobile-based and collected data independently from women’s concerns regarding menstrual irregularities. “The [Natural Cycles] app is used by women to avoid pregnancy and provides daily data… Our primary goal was to determine if women experienced clinically significant changes that could warrant seeking treatment from a physician, rather than subjective changes.”
Natural Cycles compared the periods of people before and after the pandemic (Mar 2019-Sep 2020), to see if any changes took place.
Their data, which contained more than 200,000 cycles and more than 18,000 users, showed that menstruation lengths didn’t change much at the population level.
Dr Nguyen also notes that certain people experienced changes. This is important because while Natural Cycles research indicates that most people did not experience significant changes in their cycles, it does indicate that some people could have been affected by pandemic stress.
Dr Nguyen says that while nineteen and a quarter percent of people had more abnormal cycles, 20% had fewer. “So, while some people experienced more abnormalities during the pandemic they were not more than those who had abnormal cycles before.”
More research is required to understand how stress affects menstrual cycles. Heather Currie MBE, a gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a gynaecologist. She says that the notion of a normal period is problematic.
For example, some women experience heavy menstrual bleeding, severe PMS, and PMDD are all terms used to describe menorrhagia (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), and their normal cycle or level of discomfort won’t be replicated by another.
Dr Currie says that period are not biological. The same process of rising or falling progesterone and oestrogen, which stimulate the womb and then lead to the shedding of the liner (the period) happens to all who have a cycle, but not everyone is affected in the same manner.
Stress-related changes in menstrual cycles may be more common for women who have any of these conditions.
Dr Currie says that although PMS and heavy periods are not associated with abnormal hormone levels, they appear to be more sensitive than others to changes in progesterone or oestrogen.
The big question is: What makes these women more sensitive to stress and menstrual changes? This is a difficult question to answer. Some .studies .have suggested that it could be down to a genetic vulnerability to hormonal changes.
Herein lies the problem.
Dr Currie, despite Natural Cycles data, says that the bottom line is the same. “There’s very little research on this, but we’d welcome more to learn about any connections between stress and periods.”