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Women's Health

The Other Time of the Month

Your menstrual cycle can affect you in some surprising ways.
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Yeah, yeah, we've all heard the jokes about "that time of the month," when our hormones are so out of whack that we might as well be on the all-Twinkie diet. The teasing might be funny (or not) but the misery is real: bloating, cramping, mood swings, and more.

But did you know that the rise and fall in hormones that drives our menstrual cycle affects just about every part of our body all month long? And the period around ovulation -- when estrogen levels zoom -- can really hit us in some unexpected ways.

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We call it "the other time of the month."

"There's a connection to almost all the common ailments -- asthma, arthritis, migraine, diabetes, and some of the less common, like epilepsy," says Mary H.H. Ensom, PharmD, of Children's and Women's Health Centre of British Columbia in Vancouver. And that's not to mention the link to the common cold, canker sores, and sex drive.

Before we tell you how your body works in such mysterious ways, here's a quick primer on the hormone roller coaster.

The average menstrual cycle takes about 28 days, with a range of 25-35 days considered as normal. The monthly cycle occurs in phases: the follicular phase, the ovulatory phase (ovulation) and the luteal phase.

Your cycle starts on the first day of your period; this also marks the beginning of the follicular phase. During this phase, estrogen levels start to rise as eggs start to grow, says Sandra Carson, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The ovulatory phase, or ovulation, occurs about day 14. One egg or follicle in your ovary emerges as the dominant one. It's ripe and ready to drop, and there's a surge and peak in estrogen.

The luteal phase begins right after ovulation. During the first part of this phase, estrogen levels briefly dip and then rise again and remain high, while progesterone kicks in, reaching its zenith. If you don't get pregnant and implantation of the fertilized egg doesn't happen, both hormones fall during this phase. The waning hormones result in menstrual bleeding and the start of a new cycle, she says.

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