Arts & Living
By Bae Ji-sook
Menstruation may be stressful for many women, causing mood swings and minor or severe pain in the stomach and lower areas.
Apart from its well-known functions such as blood circulation, recent studies show that menstruation is beneficial for regulating stress.
According to researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, women handle stress more effectively than men, which alters the way their bodies experience chronic diseases such as depression, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders.
The scientists used functional MRIs to monitor the brain activity of healthy men and women viewing stress-triggering images. The women underwent brain scans twice, once at the start of their menstrual cycle and once during ovulation.
At the start of their menstrual cycle, women’s brain activity in response to stress was similar to men’s. But men’s response to stress was much higher when compared to women’s during ovulation.
Jill Goldstein, director of research at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at the hospital, said in a press release, “We found that women have been endowed with a natural hormone capacity to regulate the stress response in the brain.”
The most significant differences were detected in brain regions that control autonomic arousal response. The findings suggest that gender differences in stress response circuitry are hormonally regulated through the control of arousal.
“The results were striking given that men and women reported experiencing the stressful stimuli similarly even though their brains were activating differently,” Goldstein said.
“Therefore, understanding gender differences in stress regulation of the brain can provide clues to understanding the nature of these chronic medical disorders. Mapping out sex-specific physiology in the brain will also provide the basis for the development of sex-specific treatments for these diseases,” Goldstein said.
The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience January edition and was reported on by Business Week.