Even if you’ve had your period for years, chances are high you’re still not exactly clear on all the ins and outs of your cycle. In fact, doctors point out that many women, regardless of age, are guilty of believing old wive’s tale and fables about menstruation. But why do these falsities proliferate across generations? Internist Dr. Cara Pensabene, MD, explains that much of it has to do with the fact that normal vaginal bleeding is still taboo in many cultures, and how society steers away from open discussion on matters of sexual and reproductive health.
Of course, biting your tongue won’t help you understand your cycle and how it impacts your fertility, nonetheless your overall health and happiness. Worse, blindly believing the word on the street can lead you to make important decisions based on myths — not facts. That’s why we asked top medical experts to share some of the common period myths it’s time to unsubscribe to, ASAP. And while some on this list are pretty harmless, others have more of an impact.
Myth: Period blood is dirty
Some people think menstruation is the body’s way of cleaning itself, a misconception that leads to its shameful social stigma. During your cycle, a thick lining is formed in your uterus to prepare for potential pregnancy; if you do not get pregnant, the lining starts to shed roughly 14 days later. This flow is composed of cells from the uterine lining and blood from arteries in the uterus. So while the composition of period blood differs slightly from blood elsewhere on the body, it’s certainly not dirty.
Myth: Being late is a cause for concern
We’ve all been there: Your period is a few days late and you’re worried you might be pregnant. The truth is that it’s not uncommon for periods to be irregular from time to time. There are a number of factors that affect your cycle or cause a missed period, one of the most common being stress. As nurse practitioner and hormone specialist Dr. Stephanie Gray, DNP, MS, explains, our body’s biggest hormone hijacker is stress. “It will rob you of hormones, which can lead to changes in the frequency and duration of your period,” she says. “Stress also depletes nutrients just like coffee and alcohol can.” To reduce your stress levels and help your body get back on track, she suggests incorporating yoga, meditation, and deep breathing practices into your daily routine.
Myth: You cannot get pregnant during your period
Dr. Pensabene says it’s a bit of a gray area on whether a woman can become pregnant while she’s on her period. Though it’s unlikely, it isn’t impossible and is fully dependent on each and every woman’s schedule. “Fertility awareness as a birth control method can be effective, but it also is difficult to do without error. Not all vaginal bleeding is not part of your period, so it can be confusing to track ovulation,” she explains. “From time to time, women can experience early or late ovulation, regardless of observed bleeding.” Use a period-tracking app that will tell you which days you’re like ovulating, and thus, more fertile.
Myth: Birth control is the only solution for PMS
Many women start on birth control at a young age to navigate painful cramps and acne, but Dr. Gray notes that this isn’t a cure-all. While synthetic hormones (that’s the fancy term for birth control) at low dosages can alleviate symptoms, they don’t address the root cause of the problem. This can lead cause women to miss potential diagnoses until they come off and attempt to get pregnant. She suggests having a candid conversation with your medical professional to address all concerns upfront so that you can receive proper treatment and manage your symptoms best.
Myth: Women who spend time together, sync their menstruation cycles
When you moved in with a roommate, did your periods seem to sync up? Though many women claim to experience it, Dr. Pensabene says there is no medical science to support it. “Physical proximity to other women does not affect cycle timing or frequency,” she confirms. “This menstrual synchronization myth has been kicking around for many years, based on a questionable study of a handful of college students in 1971. Recent, more comprehensive studies show no reliable correlation.”
Myth: Diet doesn’t impact period symptoms
You may be tempted to give into cravings, but eating a bunch of junk can make PMS symptoms worse. If your diet isn’t balanced with the right amount of vegetables, good-for-you fats, and protein, all systems are impacted — including menstruation. This is even more true for women who suffer from conditions like endometriosis, causing their menstrual pain to intensify and their bleeding to run heavy, due to a higher estrogen and lower progesterone level.
To find balance, Dr. Gary recommends diet shifts. “Increasing cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts can help with proper estrogen clearance, and you should also work to increase foods that boost progesterone like yams and oily fish like salmon,” she explains. “Research shows eliminating dairy and soy can help reduce inflammation related to menstrual pain, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol, which rob you of nutrients like magnesium, will also help with cramping.”
Myth: Phases of the moon determine menstrual cycle
Dr. Pensabene says while this concept is dated back to ancient times, it isn’t based in truth. “While gravitational forces between the earth and the moon create ocean tides, the moon does not affect your period,” she continues. “Several studies have resulted in no support for these traditional beliefs of a connection between the moon and menstruation. Your period is determined by your body and is more likely affected by such factors as obesity, stress, and smoking — not the phases of the moon.”