According to researchers from University College of London (UCL), women may be more psychologically vulnerable after a stressful experience during specific days of the menstrual cycle. This is the first study to connect menstrual cycle or hormone levels with a specific potential psychological side effect. The study was published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
During and after times of stress, women are more likely to suffer from intrusive thoughts than man. In an attempt to find a possible cause for the gender difference researchers recruited 41 women between 18 and 35 years of age. All women reported normal menstrual cycles and none were taking birth control pills. The women watched a stressful movie that lasted 14 minutes. The movie showed injury and death. Participants were asked to submit a saliva sample to establish hormone levels at the time the movie was watched. After the movie, participants were asked to record any intrusive thoughts they experienced in days following the movie.
Based on hormone testing, women in the early luteal phase (between 16 and 20 days after the start of menstruation) were three times more likely to have intrusive thoughts after watching the movie. While there is no way to prevent stressful or traumatic situations, doctors can use the results of the study to predict potential risk for psychological vulnerability and intrusive thoughts based where the patient is in the menstrual cycle at the time of the event. “Asking women who have experienced traumatic event about the time since their last period might help identify those at greatest risk of developing recurring symptoms similar to those seen in psychological disorders such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder,” claims Dr. Sunjeev Kamboj – UCL lecturer and author.
Researchers believe the results of the study are a huge step in the right direction, but further study is needed to see if the same results occur when a real-life traumatic event occurs. Testing women who are using oral contraception is also necessary as oral contraception delivers hormones – thus potentially altering the psychological results.
Source: Mira Soni, Valerie H. Curran, Sunjeev K. Kamboj. Identification of a narrow post-ovulatory window of vulnerability to distressing involuntary memories in healthy women. Neurobology of Learning and Memory. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2013.04.003.