If you’ve been getting your period for years, you’ve probably already noticed that your menstrual cycle changes your body. From bloating to cramps on certain days of your cycle, this fact is pretty obvious to most women. But did you know your menstrual cycle changes your brain, too? You might have suspected this for a while, considering it’s common to become emotional, anxious, or even more sexual depending on where you are in your cycle. But that’s not all. Your menstrual cycle often determines how good your spatial awareness is, what kind of dreams you have, and how well you communicate. So your menstrual cycle changes your brain in some great ways! Here’s why that is and what else you can expect when it comes to brain changes throughout your cycle.
Here are some pointers on keeping tabs on your period: Want To Start Tracking Your Period? These Are the Best Apps for That
Why Your Cycle Affects Your Brain
First, you might be interested in why your menstrual cycle changes your brain. Researchers have discovered it’s due to your ovaries, since they release two hormones: estrogen and progesterone. The type and amount of hormones your ovaries release depend on where you are in your cycle. For example, in the first half of your cycle, from about cycle day 1 to cycle day 14 (the follicular phase), your body produces more estrogen than progesterone. At this time, it’s the job of a follicle in the ovary to release estrogen, which can start preparing the uterus for a possible pregnancy. Once estrogen levels peak, your body will release an egg, triggering ovulation.
Once you ovulate, usually around day 14 (the luteal phase), the sack from the egg—called the corpus luteum—starts producing progesterone. This hormone builds up the uterine lining in case a pregnancy occurs. If the egg is not fertilized and there’s no pregnancy, the progesterone levels will drop and you’ll get your period, starting the cycle over again. So basically, during your period, estrogen may be to blame (or thank!) for certain symptoms, while progesterone is the cause of many symptoms right after ovulation.
Speaking of your menstrual cycle, you’ll want to consider this: Are You Using Toxic Tampons?
How Your Menstrual Cycle Changes Your Brain
So, how exactly does your cycle affect your brain? Well, research shows that women tend to be better at spatial awareness right after their period. More specifically, one study attempted to find out what kind of impact estrogen levels have on the female body every month. The study found that when women had more female hormones in their bodies, they were worse at skills men tend to be good at, such as spatial awareness. But once their hormone levels dropped, their spatial awareness skills improved
Interestingly, when women had more female hormones in their bodies, they were better at things women tend to excel at, such as verbal fluency and implicit memory. Why is that? Well, researchers from this study realized that estrogen mainly affects two regions of the brain: the hippocampus and the amygdala. According to one article from the BBC, the hippocampus stores memories and makes people more social; this region becomes larger when there are more female hormones in the body.
Then there’s the amygdala, which assists us with processing emotions, particularly the fight or flight response. Similar to the hippocampus, the amygdala supports social awareness, even helping us determine when and why someone else might be fearful. It turns out these senses improve with more estrogen, which means your social skills peak when your levels are higher. So it makes sense that about three weeks after your period, you’re likely to be better at communicating, and you’re more empathetic, as you can easily tell when other people are scared.
As you can see, your menstrual cycle changes your brain along with your body. And the changes aren’t all bad. Some are advantageous, especially in social settings. So don’t be ashamed of the shifts that come every couple of weeks. Embrace them, because some might be very helpful during your next social event!
If you’re about done dealing with your menstrual cycle and think you’re moving to the next stage, here’s what you need to know: 14 Tips for Managing and Mitigating Menopause Symptoms
Other resources on how your menstrual cycle changes your brain:
Menstruation and the Female Brain: How Fluctuating Hormone Levels Impact Cognitive Function
Your Hypothalamus and Your Menstrual Cycle
Your Brain On: Your Menstrual Cycle