Contrary to popular belief, the findings of a new European study suggest that menstruating has no effect on a woman's ability to think.
Led by Professor Brigitte Leeners and a team from the Medical School Hannover and University Hospital Zürich, the researchers set out to study if there was any truth behind the anecdotal evidence that women on their period are not performing at their best.
"As a specialist in reproductive medicine and a psychotherapist, I deal with many women who have the impression that the menstrual cycle influences their well-being and cognitive performance," commented Professor Leeners, who was also motivated to carry out the study after questioning the methodology of many existing studies on the subject.
For the research the team recruited 68 women and, unlike most similar studies, followed them across two consecutive menstrual cycles.
The researchers looked at three aspects of cognition, asking participants to perform ten cognitive tests in total, lasting around 40 minutes, to see if there were any changes in the three processes at different stages in the menstrual cycle.
The team used a standardized, validated, computer-assisted neuropsychological test system for the study, and participants performed the tests on a touchscreen computer.
Although the results may come as a surprise to some women, the team found that the levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in a woman's system have no impact on working memory, cognitive bias or ability to pay attention to two things at once.
Despite the team finding that in the first cycle some hormones did affect cognitive bias and attention in some of the women, these results were not found in the second cycle, and overall none of the hormones studied had any replicable, consistent effect on the women's cognition.
"Although there might be individual exceptions, women's cognitive performance is in general not disturbed by hormonal changes occurring with the menstrual cycle," commented Professor Leeners.
She did add however that more research does need to be done in this area, and that going forward even larger samples of women with hormone disorders and further cognitive tests would help researchers gain more understanding of how the menstrual cycle affects the brain.
The findings can be found published online in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.