Period tracker: How your menstrual cycle affects your brain, weekly

Posted on 20 August 2018

Studies show that hormonal changes may actually alter the chemical balance in the brain and trigger some of the mood swings associated with a woman’s monthly cycle. Learn how your hormones affect your mood week-by-week and how to master your menstrual cycle.

There’s a biological basis for those monthly bad moods. A study carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany found that oestrogen-level changes affect the hippocampus — the area of the brain that’s central to memories, mood and emotions.

It’s very important to note, however, that a woman’s period has no effect whatsoever on her mental ability. Another study, this one carried out at the Medical School Hannover and University Hospital Zürich, showed that levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone in a woman’s system have no impact on her working memory, cognitive bias or ability to pay attention to two things at once.

The hormones

Oestrogen is one of the main female sex hormones and it is the reason for the structural differences between the male and female bodies (e.g. breasts and wide hips). Oestrogen is one of the hormones responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle and reproductive system.

Progesterone prepares the tissue lining of the uterus to allow the fertilised egg to implant and it maintains the endometrium throughout pregnancy. If a pregnancy does not occur, progesterone levels drop and can result in a decreased sex drive, mood swings, PMS symptoms, breast tenderness and bleeding (i.e. your period begins).

Testosterone has a surge at the time of ovulation and experiences a slight rise just before the beginning of your menstrual cycle. It enhances your sex drive and helps maintain muscle mass, bone strength and an overall sense of well-being.

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Published in Endocrinology

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