The Science of Menstruation: A Deep Dive into What Happens During a Menstrual Cycle

Menstruation, often colloquially referred to as a "period," is a natural process experienced by billions of women worldwide. Yet, despite its ubiquity, many aspects of menstruation remain shrouded in mystery and misconception. Understanding the menstrual cycle is crucial, not just for reproductive purposes, but for overall health and well-being.


The Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle

a. Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5): The menstrual phase marks the beginning of the cycle. It's characterised by the shedding of the uterine lining, a process that results in menstrual bleeding. This phase can bring about symptoms like cramping, mood swings, and fatigue. Hormonally, there's a significant drop in progesterone and estrogen levels, signalling the body to commence the cycle anew.

b. Follicular Phase (Days 1-13): Concurrently starting with the menstrual phase, the follicular phase sees the ovaries preparing to release an egg. The uterine lining begins to thicken in anticipation of a potential pregnancy. Estrogen levels rise during this phase, stimulated by the release of the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which encourages the growth of ovarian follicles.

c. Ovulation Phase (Day 14): Arguably the most critical phase for those considering conception, ovulation is when a mature egg is released from the ovary. This egg then travels down the fallopian tube, awaiting fertilisation. This phase is regulated by a surge in the Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and a peak in estrogen levels.

d. Luteal Phase (Days 15-28): Post-ovulation, the body prepares the uterine lining for a potential pregnancy. If the egg isn't fertilised, it disintegrates, leading to a drop in progesterone and estrogen levels, and the cycle restarts with the menstrual phase.

The Role of Hormones:

a. Estrogen: Often dubbed the "female hormone," estrogen plays a pivotal role in the menstrual cycle. It regulates the thickening of the uterine lining and affects mood, energy levels, and overall health. An imbalance in estrogen levels can lead to various symptoms and conditions.

b. Progesterone: This hormone prepares the body for pregnancy post-ovulation. It ensures the uterine lining is suitable for a fertilised egg to implant. Fluctuations in progesterone can influence mood and manifest physical symptoms, such as bloating.

c. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) & Luteinizing Hormone (LH): These hormones are integral to the maturation and release of the egg. They interact closely with estrogen and progesterone to regulate the menstrual cycle.

Common Myths & Misconceptions:

Despite advancements in reproductive health education, myths persist. One common misconception is that everyone has a 28-day cycle. In reality, cycle lengths can vary significantly from person to person. Another myth is that ovulation always occurs on day 14, but ovulation can vary based on the cycle's length and other factors.

Furthermore, severe menstrual pain isn't "just part of being a woman." Extreme pain can indicate underlying conditions like endometriosis or fibroids and should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

The Impact of External Factors:

a. Diet & Nutrition: Certain foods can exacerbate or alleviate menstrual symptoms. For instance, caffeine can intensify bloating, while foods rich in magnesium, like dark chocolate, can help with cramps.

b. Stress: Chronic stress can impact the menstrual cycle, leading to irregularities or even missed periods. The body's response to stress can disrupt the hormonal balance necessary for a regular cycle.

c. Exercise: While moderate exercise can alleviate menstrual symptoms, over-exercising can lead to irregularities or amenorrhea (absence of menstruation).

Menstrual Irregularities & Disorders:

a. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): A prevalent condition, PCOS is characterised by irregular periods, excessive androgen levels, and polycystic ovaries. Its exact cause remains unknown, but insulin resistance and inflammation are believed to play roles.

b. Endometriosis: This painful disorder occurs when tissue similar to the uterine lining grows outside the uterus. It can lead to severe menstrual cramps, chronic pain, and fertility issues.

c. Amenorrhea: The absence of menstruation can result from various factors, including stress, extreme weight loss, or underlying conditions.


Understanding one's menstrual cycle is empowering. It's more than just knowing when the next period might arrive; it's about recognising the intricate dance of hormones and physiological changes that occur in the body. By fostering open discussions and prioritising menstrual education, we can demystify this natural process and support holistic well-being.