Going to our beloved section I like to call "When Politicians Speak", let me present you the not-so-outdated and extremely sexist statement given by the most inclusive world leader, Vladimir Putin: “I am not a woman, so I don’t have bad days. I am not trying to insult anyone. That’s just the nature of things. There are certain natural cycles.” You’ve probably heard about this in the last couple of weeks. Besides the fact that it’s unbelievable that a politician in charge of a nation thinks and expresses outdated and sexist comments, this sheds light on how ignorant we can be regarding subjects as natural as menstruation.
Putin isn’t the only one with those mistaken beliefs. Even today, in the so-called era of information, we still believe in myths about our body, especially when it comes to menstruation, a natural process that for some reason has always been as mysterious and mythicized as the location of the Holy Grail or the existence of fairies. The issue here is the long and heavy load of negativity it has always been attached to it. From being the proof of women’s evil nature (carried since the original sin), to believing that the blood discharged during this time of the month is toxic, it appears that, no matter how much research is done to debunk all myths, we still bestow on it that sense of mysteriousness and secrecy, as it there's something to be ashamed of. And seriously, this has to stop.
Bearing that in mind, Dr. Brigitte Leeners (Medical School Hannover and University Hospital Zürich) and her team of researchers embarked on a mission to debunk the biggest myth about menstruation: period brain. This myth, in particular, is one of the most unsettling, since, as we see with Mr. Putin’s profound words, it’s often used to diminish and offend women. We’ve seen it everywhere: real life, television, movies, songs, and sometimes –believe it or not–
we also use this "condition" to justify certain mistakes and attitudes in our life. But what is "period brain" exactly?
Supposedly, it’s a symptom or condition that comes hand in hand with our period. It's thought to makes us act clumsily, fail to pay attention to two things at the time, thus causing accidents, as well as being able to retain much of the information given to us, feel sad, and experience terrible mood swings. Moreover, apparently our sex drive decreases, and several other wonders happen. All of which have become clichés regarding menstruation and being a woman.
The origins of this particular myth are certainly unknown. However, there have been some scientific studies that seemed to engrave it in our collective imagination. As Dr. Leeners explains, the results shown in these studies are actually erroneous due to their core and methodology. Having only used a few women for the research and analyzing only one menstrual cycle doesn’t really set a constant. As she says, this particular study is not like math, where you have specific data. Instead it's a matter of statistics and exceptions. That’s why you can’t base your investigation on just a few subjects in just a determined cycle.
For that reason, in her study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience she explains that to get broader results, they studied two menstruation cycles from 68 women. The study consisted of analyzing the functions of the brain, as well as its physiological features (size, color, shape, etc). Moreover, they asked the subjects to conduct 32 tasks to see both the brain functions and the hormonal natural process of menstruation.
The results were that the levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone (involved in menstruation) don’t really affect the brain functions in terms of memory, cognition, and attention processes as we tend believe. The study explains that, while in some cases there were slight alterations, these weren’t repeated in the second cycle, proving that there isn’t a consistent neurological effect in women’s brain function.
However, as Leeners explains, there’s still much more work to do on the subject to debunk once and for all the way society perceives menstruation. The first step is getting rid of all those myths we still believe in and perceive our period as something natural and not shameful or mysterious.