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You aren’t imagining it: Menstruation affects the brain

You aren’t imagining it: Menstruation affects the brain

If you think your period makes your brain foggy or less effective, we’ve got some news for you. Menstruation often gives the brain a boost.

Over the years—centuries, in fact—there have long been discussions about how a woman’s period affects her thinking, memory, interactions with others and relationships. While there’s no doubt that the menstrual cycle affects a woman’s brain, it mainly affects it in positive ways. Learn more from the Touro team about how a woman’s brain works.

Breaking down the menstrual cycle

The menstrual cycle encompasses the process of the body preparing for pregnancy. Each month, the release of estrogen and progesterone signals the lining of the uterus to build up, preparing for a fertilized egg to attach and begin developing. When there’s no fertilized egg, that lining breaks down. Then the process repeats.

Menstruation is simply another name for a woman’s menstrual period. During a woman’s period, blood is released from the uterus. This occurs when the uterine lining breaks down because no pregnancy formed that month.

The average age for a girl to get her first period is 12, but anywhere between ages 10 and 15 is considered normal. Menstrual cycle length can also vary and may fluctuate over the years, with most cycles lasting about 28 days.

How menstruation affects the brain

Anyone who has ever had a period knows about the surge in hormones menstruation causes. Hormonal fluctuations are responsible for premenstrual syndrome (PMS), a collection of unpleasant symptoms that typically occur right before a period begins.

As it turns out, those same hormonal fluctuations also affect the brain. Researchers have been studying how the menstrual cycle, menstruation, female sex hormones and the brain correlate for decades. Recent research has turned up some interesting findings.

One study looked at how women performed on certain cognitive tests at different times during the menstrual cycle. That study found that implicit memory—the information we unconsciously know, such as habits and automatic behaviors—ebb and flow throughout the month, with brain function linked to rising and falling hormones over the menstrual cycle.

Researchers are also investigating how conditions that affect female sex hormones, including premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and polycystic ovary syndrome affect the brain, but they have all advised that more research is needed.

How menstruation can affect mental health

Mental health includes your emotional, psychological and social well-being, and it’s affected by menstruation and the menstrual cycle. The hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle can cause a wide range of mental health symptoms, including heightened emotions, mood swings and increased irritability.

Just as your period can affect your mental health, mental health issues can affect your menstrual cycle. Women who have mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, may be more likely to experience PMS or PMDD or to have irregular menstrual cycles.

The bottom line? The female body is a complicated, beautiful creation. Hormone fluctuations can cause a variety of cognitive and mental changes—but many of the effects on the brain are positive.

As a woman, your health needs evolve over the years. Find a women’s health provider at Touro to help you through them all.