Science Questions

Does the menstrual cycle affect willpower?

Tue, 14th Jan 2014

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Question

Caroline Tredd asked:

I get really strong cravings for sweet stuff at a certain time of the month and I cannot focus on anything apart from satisfying this urge. Is there anything in the menstrual cycle and resolution ability to have willpower?

Answer

Molly Crockett - I don't know the answer to that question actually, but certainly, the hormonal system is associated with the menstrual cycle interact with the dopamine system in the brain.  This is work by Emily Jacobs and Mark DíEsposito.  That has been done in the context of working memory I believe, but we do know that dopamine interacts with oestrogen.  So, itís certainly plausible that this could be the case.

Chris - Ben?

Ben Gardner - The only thing Iíd add to that is perhaps that actually, the expectation that that certain time of the month will lead to this particular cravings.  It couldíve actually created a habit in more of a sense that I was referring to whereby experiencing that particular stimulus, in other words, that time of the month actually triggers that craving.  And that may be occurring on top of any kind of chemical changes.

Chris - And also, it sort of chimes with what Barry Everitt was saying earlier about when he comes out of his front door and heís in a street that he recognises, and it normally is the way to work.  On a Sunday, he sometimes ends up in work by accident.  Itís sort of, if you've got the environment setup around your menstrual cycle, there are lots of cues there that might cue you to want the sugar rather than purely the hormones.

Ben Gardner - Yes, Iíd quite agree with that.

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