Menstruation - Evolution


All female placental mammals have a uterine lining that builds up when the animal is fertile, but is dismantled when the animal is infertile. Most female mammals have an estrous cycle, yet only primates (including humans) have a menstrual cycle. Some anthropologists have questioned the energy cost of rebuilding the endometrium every fertility cycle. However, anthropologist Beverly Strassmann has proposed that the energy savings of not having to continuously maintain the uterine lining more than offsets energy cost of having to rebuild the lining in the next fertility cycle, even in species such as humans where much of the lining is lost through bleeding (overt menstruation) rather than reabsorbed (covert menstruation).

Many have questioned the evolution of overt menstruation in humans and related species, speculating on what advantage there could be to losing blood associated with dismantling the endometrium rather than absorbing it, as most mammals do. Humans do, in fact, reabsorb about two-thirds of the endometrium each cycle. Strassmann asserts that overt menstruation occurs not because it is beneficial in itself. Rather, the fetal development of these species requires a more developed endometrium, one which is too thick to reabsorb completely. Strassman correlates species that have overt menstruation to those that have a large uterus relative to the adult female body size.

Beginning in 1971, some research suggested that menstrual cycles of co-habiting human females became synchronized. A few anthropologists hypothesized that in hunter-gatherer societies, males would go on hunting journeys whilst the females of the tribe were menstruating, speculating that the females would not have been as receptive to sexual relations while menstruating. However, there is currently significant dispute as to whether menstrual synchrony exists.

Read more about this topic:  Menstruation

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