Do Animals Have Periods Like Humans?
Most Animals Don’t Get Periods But Women Do, But why?
Do animals have periods just like women? For women, getting their first period can be stressful and brings about a lot of questions. ‘What’s happening to my body?” “How do I best manage this?”. The first few instances may also be a potentially embarrassing situation and could lead to excruciating pain. Some individuals may even resort to curling up with a bag of hot water with limited breath and movement. While a lot of women may be experiencing these firsts in terms of their menstrual period, it still is something challenging for most women because menstrual periods are commonly unpleasant and inconvenient.
But here is the thing: while women (those who are normal and regular in terms of their cycle) do get periods and start menstruating, most other female animals just don’t. So some of the valid questions women may ask mother nature are “Why the need to menstruate at all” and “If it is great, why not all animals get it?”
The Reproductive Cycle: Human Females
The reproductive cycle of individuals requires the occurrence of menstruation and each month, the body responds to hormones of reproduction (specifically progesterone and estrogen) wherein the womb of the woman becomes ready for conception. The endometrium of the womb’s inner lining begins preparations for implanting the embryo. This lining then starts to thicken and will start dividing into various layers and form a network of extensive blood vessels.
If the woman does not conceive, the levels of progesterone get reduced and the tissues of the endometrium which became thicker begin sloughing off and get excreted via the vagina. This is the kind of bleeding referred to as menstruation. Women, on average, experience blood loss during menstruation in the amount of 30 to 90 millimeters over 3 days to a week of menstruating. This was identified by experts by having women weighed pre and post use of tampons and pads.
At face value, it seems to be a wasteful cycle and as such, a lot of people are trying to find an explanation for why menstruation needs to occur. In the early days of science, people believed that menstruating is the body’s way of having toxins removed from the body. Research on menstruation conducted in the 1900s was mostly leaning towards the sexual attitude and menstruating taboos associated with women back then (with some of these taboos persisting at present!).
The Notion Attributed to Menstruation
One example of this was cited by the popular physician named Bela Schick which coined the word “Menotoxin” in the year 1920. Schick conducted some tests wherein women who are both non-menstruating and menstruating did some flower handling. The said physician alleged that women who had their menstruation excreted substances that are toxic coming from their skin which leads to the wilting of the flowers. These Menotoxins, based on the findings of Schick, also led to the stoppage of yeast development and stopped the rising of the dough. It was also posited by the physician that the sweat of menstruating women can also get seeped in the aforementioned toxic substances.
Other supposed experts supported the finding of Schick stating that the menstruation of females can lead to spoiled pickles, wine, beer, and also make plants wither. In short, there was this pervasive notion that women are disgusting and awful. The real issue though is that people kept pushing these ideas forward well way into the 1970s. The truth is though, that these studies were designed very poorly and did not have any solid proof that the abovementioned toxins did exist.
In the year 1993, a hypothesis that is quite different about women’s menstruation surfaced which caught the attention of the media back then. A University Professor in California named Margie Profet suggested that the function of menstruation is to help fight off against the transported pathogens by the sperm to the uterus. Instead of saying that the dirty ones are the women, the roles were reversed in that this time, the men are the ones who were dirty.
This idea by Profet, was quickly demolished due to lacking evidence. One example is that it assumes that the womb will have more organisms that can cause diseases before menstruation compared to after menstruation. The aforementioned conclusion though did not pan out. Some research also asserted that menstruation can increase infection risk due to the growth of bacteria in the blood, an iron-rich substance, along with sugars and proteins. Also, when menstruating, there is reduced mucus in the cervix which can make it easier for the entry of bacteria and other harmful microorganisms.
Another prediction made by the professor which is that if the females of a particular genus were to mate with more than one partner, there is a tendency for the bleeding to increase as they would be exposed to the increased risk of diseases brought about by the sperm. However, experts found no associations between the promiscuity of females the bleeding during menstruation. A major critic of Profet is Beverly Strassman, an anthropologist in Michigan who asserted her ideas in 1996.
Strassman stated that for science to better comprehend the reason behind the occurrence of menstruation, we need to first look at why the wombs of animals also go through the cycle of reproduction, which means not just human beings but also in animals.
Animals and Menstruation
Other female mammals have their wombs’ wall built up similar to human women. If these animals don’t conceive, they simply have the material be bled out or re-absorbed. That is because maintaining this lining inside the walls of the womb requires energy so it may be ideal to just have torn down and had it regrown.
All in all, monkeys found in South Africa do menstruate such as the rhesus macaques along with great apes. Other animals such as bats and elephant shrews also menstruate. But why is this so? It seems like it all boils down to how well the womb is managed by the animal itself. Those that do menstruate don’t let the embryo control them while those that do not, let the embryos dictate what happens deep inside, an evolutionary that seems to work for both groups of menstruating and nonmenstruating animals.