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Prostaglandins—the new hormones PROSTAGLANDINS—THE NEW HORMONES
Prostaglandins, newly understood hormones, were first discovered and named in 1935 by Dr. U. S. von Euler, a distinguished professor and researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Dr. von Euler originally believed that these hormones were produced solely by the prostate gland in the male, which is his reason for naming them as he did. Continued research by a well-known group of Swedish scientists after World War II revealed more than fourteen different types of prostaglandins. Subsequently, in 1957, Dr. V R. Pickles, a British physiologist at the University of Sheffield, conducted ground-breaking studies on the function and control of these amino acid-tike hormones. Most significantly. Dr. Pickles found prostaglandins in uterine tissue. This discovery was a virtual medical milestone in the understanding of menstrual cramps.
About twenty different types of prostaglandins are found in nearly every cell and are responsible for many functions. As with any other hormone in the body, there are adverse side effects when prostaglandins are produced in overabundance, we are most concerned with the prostaglandin involved with menstruation, the one that causes uterine contractions; F2 (or F2 Alpha). Normally, this hormone it kept in control by the "pregnancy" hormone, progesterone. If a woman conceives, she continues to secrete high levels of progesterone, and F2 Alpha is not released. The body supports conception by blocking prostaglandin production. What happens if conception does not occur?
Prostaglandins released prior to and during menstruation stimulate rhythmic contractions of the uterus. These contractions help shed the uterine lining, causing menstruation. If the level of prostaglandins is higher than normal, menstruation will be accompanied by cruelly disabling cramps and other problems, such as headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lowered blood pressure, and even fainting spells and fever.
When Dr. Pickles and his team isolated prostaglandins—their so-called menstrual stimulant found in menstrual fluid—they were unable to provide a scientific answer to the question of why one woman secretes a higher level of this substance than another, we still have no satisfactory answer to that question. We can only suppose that, as with other types of body chemistry, such as having oily skin or a proclivity to slenderness, the answer lies in heredity. Whatever the "X" factor, it is proved that certain women will secrete more prostaglandins than others and that those women with higher prostaglandin levels will suffer from menstrual cramps and a tightening of the cervix.
When the cervix tightens, somewhat like a clenched fist, the flow of menstrual blood out of the body is obstructed. The Wood, replete with prostaglandins, is trapped in the womb. The hormone is first absorbed by the uterine muscles, then released, reabsorbed, and released again, creating a destructive and vicious cycle.
Unchecked, the prostaglandins circulate throughout the body without losing their potency. The uterus responds by contracting and cramping until the menstrual blood finally flows out from the vagina, carrying the prostaglandins with it. This release and absorption of prostaglandins can cause uterine contractions far more intense than labor pains during childbirth. There is also the likelihood that the menstrual blood that doesn't flow out of the body in a normal manner can back up into the fallopian tubes and then out into the abdominal cavity. This "backing up" eventually wreaks far greater havoc than excruciating menstrual cramps—it can lead to endometriosis.
Just as mere is a correlation between high levels of prostaglandins and menstrual cramps, a similar relation exists between regularly painful menstrual cramps and the possibility of the onset of endometriosis. The issue is not, however, quite so simple. Severe cramps may be blatant signals of hormonal fluctuations, but they are not necessarily blatant warning signals to every woman—or physician— that endometriosis may be developing and spreading. In fact, many women who are spared monthly cramps go through life blissfully unaware that they are victims of endometriosis. For these women, endometriosis is finally diagnosed either when they complain of painful symptoms other than menstrual cramps or when they discover that they cannot conceive—or they miscarry.
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