I GET IT FROM MY MAMA
Periods are like apples, they don't fall far from the family tree
I’m sure every female has wondered what specific traits they have inherited from their mother(s) throughout their lifetime. After having a convo with my friends one day discussing how we each had somewhat similar period experiences as our mothers, I decided to do some research on the topic. Disappointed but not surprised, there is almost no research funded or completed on how genetics affect the female menstrual cycle. Here is the small amount of info that I gathered:
Are irregular periods genetic?
Women rarely go to the doctor for their period problems due to the fact that most of us learn growing up that it is just “part of being a woman”. This being said, it has created a difficult gap in the healthcare world that we desperately need to fix. Though periods can seem weird and mysterious and can change month to month, women should be able to feel comfortable enough to be able to get a proper diagnosis if needed.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a genetic condition that results from abnormal levels of certain hormones, causing women to have irregular / no menstrual periods at all. This means if you have a family member with PCOS, it very well may affect your children. In some girls, hormone changes could begin as early as their first-ever cycle. In other women, changes occur over time. Currently, there is no cure for PCOS, but its symptoms can be treated & may include:
- Irregular periods or no periods
- Ovarian Cysts
- Trouble getting pregnant
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Hair loss
(pls see a lady doctor if you feel these may apply to you, they can help :) )
Is period pain genetic?
A 2016 study carried out by genetics company 23andMe concluded that it is indeed a possibility that severe period pain can be caused by genetics. Describing their research as the "first genome-wide association study of this form of chronic pain," their researchers surveyed almost 12,000 people who have periods and asked them about the intensity of their menstrual cramps. The 23andMe team found a genetic variant associated with those of European ancestry that reported severe menstrual cramping. This variant was in the gene encoding nerve growth factor (NGF)* which sits in a part of the genome responsible for regulating ovarian tissues. Interestingly, a link between NGF and chronic pain mediation has already been revealed through other chronic pain diseases. This is a huge start on possibly being able to find a better way to ease cramps or at least an explanation for women and doctors.
This is one of the biggest breakthroughs to help explain and show that women's healthcare is much deeper than it just being “that time of the month”.
The Sad Truth, for now
Writing this blog has me feeling very conflicted about the progress in women's health in our society. It's super exciting to see the efforts being made towards finding the root of women’s period pain, and other similar period ailments, but in almost every article I found, the scientist and researchers all mention how behind we are on women’s health research specifically relating to menstrual cycles. While there is no 100% guarantee (due to lack of research) that period symptoms are genetic, tons of women report similar menstrual symptoms to their mothers or sisters. Hopefully, in the near future, there will be more research that focuses on women's menstrual cycles. For this to happen these studies need funding and recognition by the scientific community, so let’s keep talking about it. Until then, stay strong ladies!
*The NGF gene provides instructions for making a protein called nerve growth factor beta (NGFβ). This protein is important in the development and survival of nerve cells, especially those that transmit pain, temperature, and touch sensations