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Women More Prone to Psychological Illness "That Time of the Month"

Update Date: May 24, 2013 01:36 PM EDT

"That time of the month" is real, and there's a new study to prove it. New research reveals that women at a particular stage in their monthly menstrual cycle are more vulnerable to some of the psychological side effects associated with stressful experiences. 

Scientists said that the latest findings could be used to develop preventative treatments that stop common mental health problems from developing in women.

Researchers said the latest study is the first to provide evidence of a link between psychological vulnerability and the timing of ovulation.

For the study, researchers wanted to look at whether the effects of a stressful event are linked to different stages of the menstrual cycle.  They looked at 41 women aged between 18 and 35 who had regular menstrual cycles who were on the pill. Each of the participants watched a 14-minute clip of a film containing death or injury.  The women provided saliva samples before and after the film so that their hormone levels could be assessed.  The participants were then asked to record instances of unwanted thoughts they days after they've watched the film.

Researchers explained that a common symptom of mood and anxiety problems is the tendency to experience repetitive and unwanted thoughts, and that these
"intrusive thoughts" often occur in the days and weeks following a stressful experience.

"We found that women in the 'early luteal' phase, which falls roughly 16 to 20 days after the start of their period, had more than three times as many intrusive thoughts as those who watched the video in other phases of their menstrual cycle," researcher Dr. Sunjeev Kamboj, Lecturer in UCL's Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, said in a news release. "This indicates that there is actually a fairly narrow window within the menstrual cycle when women may be particularly vulnerable to experiencing distressing symptoms after a stressful event."

Researchers believe the findings could offer important insight into mental health problems in women, and could potentially lead to better treatment in women who have suffered trauma.

"Asking women who have experienced a traumatic event about the time since their last period might help identify those at greatest risk of developing recurring symptoms similar to those seen in psychological disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)," Kamboj explained. "This work might have identified a useful line of enquiry for doctors, helping them to identify potentially vulnerable women who could be offered preventative therapies."

"However, this is only a first step. Although we found large effects in healthy women after they experienced a relatively mild stressful event, we now need to see if the same pattern is found in women who have experienced a real traumatic event. We also need further research to investigate how using the contraceptive pill affects this whole process," he concluded.

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