We tend to think that menstruation is 'just' blood. The reality is quite different: this blood is different from the blood that flows in our veins in many ways. Moreover, menstruation may well become a fantastic resource for research in the future.
What is in periods?
Periods are composed of :
- dead endometrial cells, which line the uterus every month in preparation for the arrival of a fertilised egg
- vaginal or cervical secretions
- of bacteria from the vaginal flora
- menstrual blood', which is different from conventional blood in its composition: it is less concentrated than 'venous' blood, i.e. the haemoglobin, platelets and iron are immersed in a greater proportion of water. On the other hand, its pH is identical, around 7.2.
All of this also makes the period more viscous than ordinary blood: secretions from the cervix can give it an egg-white texture, and the endometrium can break down into clots.
This is quite normal, and both the colour and texture of the period often varies from one period day to the next, or even from one cycle to the next.
Menstrual blood could be a cure tomorrow!
Little is still known about menstrual blood, and it has long been considered a waste product.
Nevertheless, some researchers are beginning to take a very close interest since the discovery in 2007 that menstrual blood contains mesenchymal stem cells (1), in the same way as the umbilical cord, the placenta, bone marrow or adipose tissue.
The difference is that it is much more abundant and easier to collect, in a non-invasive way, so it is an alternative resource that is easily accessible for research and medicine. Especially as menstrual stem cells multiply (and therefore grow) extremely quickly and their collection does not raise any ethical questions (how many of us would agree to donate our menstrual blood if it could save people?)
Menstrual stem cells are called MenSC (for MENstrual Stem Cells).
They have another remarkable ability: they are capable of generating many different types of cells, including cells of the heart, venous system, neurons, liver, lungs, pancreas, reproductive system and more! They could also 'immunomodulate' certain inflammatory conditions (such as certain tumours), but research on this is still in its infancy and is being explored by research teams around the world.
In 2019, a team has compiled the different areas in which the use of MenSCs is being studied and is already showing promising results (2). You won't believe your eyes!
- on hepatic fibrosis (liver disease for which a transplant is currently the most effective strategy), and liver failure, where they would allow the liver to regenerate.
- on type 1 diabetes mellitus,
- on stroke (they may reduce permanent nerve damage or even restore nerve function)
- on Duchenne muscular dystrophy (a fatal disease characterised by muscle degeneration), by restoring the muscles or even transforming the dystrophic cells into anti-atrophic cells
- Critical Limb Ischaemia (a vascular disease in which blood no longer flows and oxygen is lost to the limbs, leading to amputation)
- on Ovarian Cancer, where MenSCs repair ovarian damage, improve ovarian function and stimulate ovarian regeneration. They are even said to have anti-tumour properties.
- on myocardial infarction, where MenSCs would restore damaged heart function
- Asherman's syndrome (adhesions in the uterus that cause, among other things, infertility, irregular or absent periods or repeated miscarriages)
- Alzheimer's disease, where MenSCs could improve learning characteristics and memory
- on acute lung injury, where they promote the repair of injured lungs and protect against cell apoptosis (= cell suicide)
- on skin wounds, promoting wound healing and contributing to skin regeneration
- on endometriosis (3), which they could detect early and treat
Incredible, isn't it? And this is just the beginning!
We are looking forward to further studies, as it is quite possible that menstrual blood still holds some surprises for us!
Oh, and when someone tells you that menstrual blood is dirty, tell them that tomorrow, this blood could save their life...
(1) Cui CH, Uyama T, Miyado K, et al, "Menstrual blood-derived cells confer human dystrophin expression in the murine model of Duchenne muscular dystrophy via cell fusion and myogenic transdifferentiation". Mol Biol Cell., 2007
(2) Lijun Chen, Jingjing Qu & Charlie Xiang, "The multi-functional roles of menstrual blood-derived stem cells in regenerative medicine", BMC, 2019
(3) Laura A.Warren et al, "Analysis of menstrual effluent: diagnostic potential for endometriosis", Molecular Medicine, New York, 2018