It’s common wisdom that women become emotionally unhinged when it’s their “time of the month,” right? Supposedly, we get weepy, angry, and just generally difficult whenever our periods come along. Is it true? For some women, sure, at least on occasion. Others aren’t as affected.
This emotional instability has long been associated with hormonal changes that come with uniquely female experiences: menstruation and childbearing. But recent studies suggest brain biology plays a major role. Take, for example, this article on how menstrual pain changes brain function, or this one about PMS and the brain (which suggests that PMS might occur in women whose brains are unable to increase activity in the region that controls emotion, unlike women who don’t experience PMS). Another relevant article is this one on postpartum depression, which postulates that postpartum depression results less from hormonal changes than from decreased activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex of the brain. That’s a part of the brain involved in emotional response and the ability to empathize with others–like a baby.
When it comes to the stereotype of women as emotionally unpredictable, it probably doesn’t matter if it’s caused by hormonal changes, brain biology, or some as-yet-undiscovered other possibility. But for doctors and scientists trying to help women with severe menstrual pain, postpartum depression, and other “female problems”, it matters a great deal. The research is far from definitive–and may yet be disproven–but if it offers any hope for women in pain (emotional or physical) then I’m all for it! After all, these are not problems that are limited to a small group of people: collectively, they likely affect many millions (if not billions) of women worldwide.
The abstracts of the studies referenced above are available here:
- Abnormally Reduced Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortical Activity and Effective Connectivity with Amygdala in Response to Negative Emotional Faces in Postpartum Depression
- Toward a functional neuroanatomy of premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- Orbitofrontal cortex activity related to emotional processing changes across the menstrual cycle
- Brain morphological changes associated with cyclic menstrual pain