Ask a woman if her period affects her body beyond the reproductive system and she'll probably answer with a resounding yes. This seemingly basic question is now being asked by numerous investigators in various areas of women's health research. From the timing of mammograms to the mind-altering effects of drugs, researchers are now learning that the hormonal swings during a woman's menstrual cycle affect more than just reproduction, like metabolism rates and pain. A woman's menstrual cycle starts when menses flow begins, is followed by the follicular phase when estrogen rises and peaks at ovulation mid-cycle, then ends with the luteal phase when progesterone dominates.

Until recently, researchers didn't include women in significant numbers in clinical trials, let alone consider the effects of menstrual cycles on female health.1 Several pieces of history combine to explain this lack of attention, says John M. Johnson, a physiology professor at the...

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