Why women get anxious at that ‘time of the month’

NewScientist Health

11:27 14 February 2011 by Wendy Zukerman
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Is it that time of the month? These are the words no man should ever utter. How about this for a diplomatic alternative: “Are your GABA receptors playing up?”

You may be spot on. It seems that these brain cells are to blame for some women’s monthly mood swings.

Many women feel a little irritable before menstruating, but up to 8 per cent suffer extreme symptoms, including anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Symptoms of what’s called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) begin around a week before menstruation when women are in the “late luteal phase” of their cycle and progesterone levels are at their height. Symptoms quickly subside after menstruation, once the so-called “follicular phase” has kicked in.

To investigate potential mechanisms behind PMDD, Andrea Rapkin at the University of California, Los Angeles used a PET scan, which shows where glucose is being metabolised to identify activity in the brain. The idea was to analyse the brain activity of 12 women with PMDD and 12 without the condition, at various times throughout their menstrual cycle.

Before each scan, the women rated the severity of any symptoms they had on a scale of one to six. Blood samples were also taken to test their hormone levels.

Fluctuating hormones were not to blame: all the women experienced similar jumps in progesterone levels throughout their cycle, irrespective of whether they had PMDD or not.

However, brain analyses showed that in the late luteal phase women with PMDD had heightened activity in their cerebellum. Rapkin also discovered that the larger the spike in activity, the worse the symptoms.

Women without PMDD had no such spike in activity, even though their progesterone levels were also rising during this time.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.