A woman’s menstrual cycle is driven by the ebb and flow of hormones that prepare the body for pregnancy. This symphony of hormones not only transforms the reproductive organs, but, according to recent research, also reshapes the brain.
Two studies released in October performed detailed brain scans of women at multiple points across the menstrual cycle, finding that the volume or thickness of certain regions change in sync with hormone levels. The areas of the brain highlighted by both studies are those in the limbic system, a group of brain structures that govern emotions, memory and behavior.
“It’s like the brain being on a roller coaster every 28 days or so, depending on the length of the cycle,” said Erika Comasco, associate professor of women and children’s health at Uppsala University in Sweden, who was not involved in the research. “The importance of these studies is that they are building knowledge about the impact of these hormonal fluctuations on how the brain is structured.”
“These brain changes may or may not alter the way we actually act, think and feel in our everyday lives. So the important next steps for the science are to put those pieces of the puzzle together,” said Adriene Beltz, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, who was also not involved in the research. “Do the hormonal effects on brain structure influence how the brain works?”