“Period brain” or “brain fog” has been a long standing topic of debate when it comes to the effects that menstruation has on women. Women have reported feeling clumsy and unfocussed during their period and researchers have speculated about whether hormones triggering menstruation can affect neurotransmitters.
But a new study has found that menstruation does not affect three aspects of cognition – working memory, cognitive bias and the ability to pay attention – and thus busts the myth that women may not have the ability to do their best work while on their period.
The lead author of the study Professor Brigitte Leeners said that as a reproductive medicine specialist and a psychotherapist, she deals with many women who think that the menstrual cycle influences their cognitive performance. So, Leeners set out to find if this can be scientifically proven. Leeners and a team of researchers from Switzerland, Germany and Italy analysed data from 68 menstruating women – a larger sample than previous studies on the subject. The data was collected over two consecutive menstrual cycles. the team assessed the women’s visuospatial working memory, attention, cognitive bias and hormone levels at points across both cycles. In their study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, they showed that the levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone had no impact on these aspects of cognition in their study subjects.
While analysis of the results from the first cycle suggested that cognitive bias and attention were affected, these results were not replicated in the second cycle. The team did not find any differences in performance between individuals or changes in individuals’ performance over time.
They maintain that although there might be individual exceptions, women’s cognitive performance is in general not disturbed by hormonal changes associated with menstruation. However Leeners also cautions, that bigger studies of women with hormone disorders and further cognitive tests would provide a fuller picture of the way that the menstrual cycle affects the brain.