Study Says Stop Blaming Your Period for Your Brain Fog

Mood swings, cramps, acne, fatigue, weight fluctuation, and a roller coaster of emotions can all be blamed on your monthly cycle, but a new study states that you can’t use Aunt Flo as an excuse for what some call “brain fog” during that time of the month. The study, published this week in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience found that there is no direct link between a woman’s menstrual period and her ability to think clearly.

Participants were observed during two menstrual cycles and were monitored for brain functionality by performing 10 cognitive tests. The 68 study participants were tracked using touch screen computers while taking tests that measured visual-spatial working memory (remembering shapes and colors) and cognitive bias, or flaws in judgement that people usually make while processing information. The tests were administered during three stages in the menstrual cycle and the women’s hormone levels were also measured to track any possible changes that may occur over the course of a typical 28- to 30-day cycle.

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The study revealed that two main hormones, progesterone and testosterone, were associated with changes in working memory across one cycle in some of the women, but these same changes weren't repeated during the second round. Lead study author and professor of reproductive endocrinology at University Hospital in Zürich, Switzerland, Brigitte Leeners, says this suggests that there's a learning curve effect. “The hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle do not show any association with cognitive performance,” she said. “Although there might be individual exceptions, women's cognitive performance is in general not disturbed by hormonal changes occurring with the menstrual cycle.”

Previous studies have suggested that when hormones like estrogen and progesterone are low, women do a better job at performing visual and spatial tasks, skills that have been found to be typically performed better by the male gender. Those studies also showed that verbal tasks, or tasks that the female gender excels in, were performed better when estrogen and progesterone levels were higher.

While this new study contradicts those earlier results, Leneers says more research needs to be done using a larger sample group and more cognitive tests to better understand how the reproductive cycle effects women’s brains. For now, you will just have to stop blaming Mother Nature for your monthly lapses in judgment and foggy thinking. 

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