Society for Menstrual Cycle Research
May 10th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling
Guest Post by Barbara Sommer, University of California-Davis
Why is it that assertions about hormones and behavior lead us to readily suspend our capacity for critical thought? It seems like folks will accept just about any assertion with regard to the power of estrogen and the fluctuation of the menstrual cycle.
My observations over several decades (I am nearly forty years post-doctorate) have been reassuring. I have not seen women crushed in the working and professional worlds by the demands of their physiology. In fact it looks like women might be moving towards running the world, at least in those areas where they have access to education. Nevertheless, it rankles when a journal of some credibility makes assertions based on scanty evidence.
It is difficult to evaluate the quality of the research underlying the claims of the article “Is Estrogen The New Ritalin?” in the current issue of Scientific American: Mind. The title is cute. A writer for the New Yorker recently claimed that “White is the New Black.” Do we believe it? The article was provocative, and did not pretend to be a scientific piece of work. In contrast, the estrogen piece, by appearing under the prestigious banner of the Scientific American, carries an imprint of scientific credibility. The first paragraph claims the menstrual cycle might affect the brain as much as caffeine, methamphetamines, and Ritalin. Nowhere in the study is there any indication that estrogen levels or even menstrual fluctuation effects were actually compared with the above substances. The author also claims that this study is “the first to show that cognition is tied to estrogen levels in people” – perhaps the first because no one else has done a good job of it, but certainly not for a failing to try. There are many published studies claiming that estrogen affects cognitive function.