NTUs Dr Jessica Piasecki researches menstrual cycles

NTU's Dr Jessica Piasecki researches menstrual cycles

 December 06, 2022

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Supporting women in workplace is a key issue for employees and those that experience the impact of various menstrual cycle symptoms. 

Scientists at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) investigated menstrual cycle characteristics of more than 550 women before and during lockdown. In 2020, the pandemic resulted in significant disruption to daily life for people across the world, with significant changes to work, social, dietary and exercise patterns. 

Understanding menstrual changes

The researchers found that half (50%) of women reported a change in cycle length during lockdown and more than two-thirds (71%) experienced a change in bleeding patterns. 

The menstrual cycle can be altered by a wide range of factors and the researchers say it is important that females and clinicians understand these changes and whether there might be any possible effects on women’s health at an individual level. 

Participants reported a median increase in their cycle length of five days and a median decrease of three days once lockdown began and a third of women (34%) said they saw an increase in at least one symptom related to their typical cycle. 

The researchers sought to identify the main contributing factors brought about by changes in diet, exercise and stress. 

Participants reported an increased alcohol intake, consumption of cooked and baked goods and unhealthy foods.

The researchers found changes in menstrual cycle length – both an increase and decrease – were significantly associated with eating white and processed meats and an increase in dairy consumption was associated with cycle length increase.

Menstrual cycle symptoms can impact wellbeing

Most menstrual cycle-associated symptoms that showed evidence of change from the onset of the pandemic into the lockdown were psychosocial in nature. 

More than half of all participants reported a change in mood (54%) irritability (60%) emotional feeling (67%) worry (61%) feeling distracted (57%) lack of concentration (57%) motivation (62%) and focus (56%).

Despite numerous changes in symptoms of the menstrual cycle, a lack of focus was the only one significantly associated with a change in cycle length, where it was found to have increased in almost two-thirds (61%) of women.

Surprisingly, stress – known to elicit changes in the menstrual cycle – was not associated with a greater likelihood of a change in cycle length, the researchers reported, despite more than half of participants reporting high stress in relation to worry about their families’ health.

The study suggests that this finding could be due to the fact that a large proportion of women were exercising females. Exercise and balanced nutrition are recommended actions to offset stress. Despite this, researchers say that longer-term stress could still have a negative impact on fertility and reproductive health. 

Different activity levels cause different changes

The team found some differences in symptoms between women of differing activity levels.  Generally, active women showed a change in cycle length to be associated with a lack of focus, whilst for elite active level women, lower back pain and a lack of motivation were linked to cycle length change.

“While more research needs to be done in relation to potential factors driving changes, our initial findings provide a small but useful insight into the impact of lifestyle changes on women’s menstrual cycle patterns and symptoms during the first pandemic lockdown,” said Lead Researcher Dr Jessica Piasecki, an expert in exercise physiology in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology. 

She said: “With the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19 and peaks and troughs on the number of cases, there are concerns that continued cycle changes over time could become a serious consequence perhaps contributing to longer term reproductive issues, but further research is needed.

“Links between lockdown and mental health mean it’s unsurprising that the most substantial changes were in psychosocial symptoms and again our work highlights the potential for long-term stress to influence female fertility and other health.

“Future research should continue to investigate any long-lasting changes, as well as providing education and support for females undergoing any life stressors that may implicate their menstrual cycle or its symptoms.”

Female experts work for NTU

Dr Jessica Piasecki is a lecturer in Exercise Physiology within the Sport Science Department. She is a member of the Musculoskeletal Physiology Research Group at Nottingham Trent University. Dr Piasecki is module lead for the undergraduate module “Food and Healthy Eating” and contributes to other Nutrition and Applied Exercise Physiology modules across undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. She has a strong research interest in Exercise Physiology and Exercise for ageing and, currently, has over 10 peer-reviewed publications.

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