One Cheer for PMS

States there are good things which come out of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). Memory and awareness; Researchers of University of Texas at Dallas tests; Comments; Serotonin.

By Karin Vergoth, published on January 1, 1996 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Depression, irritability, mood swings, anxiety--no one has ever had a nice thing to say about pre-menstrual syndrome. Until now, that is.

A decidedly positive feature has been added to the list: better brain feats. Women with PMS may actually have greater memory and awareness of their surroundings than do their symptom-free counterparts.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas recruited women with and without PMS and, at different points in their menstrual cycle, gave the women tests that tapped a variety of mental abilities.

Several of the tests were "blind." Subjects weren't aware that the experiment was already under way when they met the researcher and "waited" for the work to begin. Later the women were asked to recall objects from the surroundings and personal details about the researcher.

On recall and recognition tasks, women with PMS came out ahead, at least during the follicular phase of their cycle, reports Deborah Atkins, a Ph.D. candidate at Texas. (That's typically the five or so days after menstruation ends.)

"Women with the disorder show heightened attention to their environment," says Atkins. And this perceptual focus is the key to better memory performance: "It would be difficult to recall something if it had not received some attention."

Atkins isn't sure what accounts for this elevated sensitivity, but leading candidates include fluctuating levels of hormones or the neurotransmitter serotonin. In any event, women with PMS can take comfort in the knowledge of their heightened awareness. Then again, they'd probably already noticed.--Karin Vergoth

PHOTO (COLOR): A pre-menstrual syndrome woman.