Periods are stigmatized all over the world for various reasons. In some countries, women are seen as "dirty" and banished for their cycles. Others simply think it's "gross." And for the longest time, people believed that having your period somehow affected your cognition. Fortunately, new research disproves this common misconception about women on their periods. There is no such thing as "period brain," so women and men can finally put to rest the myth that women are somehow less capable during their period.
There's often been debate, most famously resurrected by Newt Gingrich back in 1995, that women shouldn't be in combat because "biologically" they couldn't sit in a ditch for 30 days if they had to. Others suggested as recently as 2016 that Hillary Clinton couldn't become president because "that time of the month" would get in the way of making Very Important Decisions.
While it's true that a woman's hormone levels change during her menstrual cycle, causing premenstrual syndrome, there's no evidence that cognition is impaired. But here's the thing: Everyone seems to have bought into the myth, even though there's no proof.
Professor Brigitte Leeners said in a statement that she was prompted to do the study when she found that her female patients believed that their cognitive performance was affected by their menstrual cycle, but there was no medical research to back that anecdote up.
She concluded, "The hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle do not show any association with cognitive performance. Although there might be individual exceptions, women’s cognitive performance is in general not disturbed by hormonal changes occurring with the menstrual cycle."
Leeners' team, comprised of members from the Hanover Medical School and University Hospital Zurich, monitored 68 women over the course of two menstrual cycles. They found that the levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone that fluctuate during a woman's menstrual cycle had no impact on "working memory," like remembering facts and completing a task. It also didn't affect cognitive bias, so women aren't making decisions that are skewed just one way on their periods. And they can pay the same amount of attention to two things at once.
Basically, yes, the hormones were at different levels, but it wasn't consistently affecting their capabilities.
During the first cycle, some women reported a lack of concentration or other symptoms, but they weren't replicated in the second month. So there's not really a connection between periods and how well a woman can make a decision at work or at home.
But this is science and scientists love their data. Leeners did say that much more research with larger samples and longer monitoring times needed to be done to get a more full picture. But the next time you catch yourself blaming a mistake on your period, know that it's likely just that you've internalized the myths about menstruation.
It's about time researchers started to look into the facts surrounding menstruation cycles, since the myths often hold women back and can even be dangerous in other parts of the world. Here's to science having women's backs.