In the first half of the cycle, oestrogen alone is present, and its job is to promote the growth of the egg, secreted in the follicles of the ovary. Oestrogen reaches its speak when ovulation occurs and the egg breaks loose, and then its level begins to decline.
Then the second key hormone, progesterone, is produced at the spot where the egg originally grew. Progesterone’s job essentially to promote the conditions for a healthy and successful pregnancy. Both oestrogen and progesterone levels then rise gradually until they reach another peak, together – to come tumbling down again at the onset of menstruation. If the egg is successfully fertilised, however, both progesterone and oestrogen levels stay hight.
It Is now accepted that regular changes in personality correlate with phases of the menstrual cycle, involving a swing in some women between “elevated positive moods” and “elevated negative moods” in a manner independent of social factors. The sun may be shining, the job satisfactory, the house beautiful, the children sweet-tempered, the husband kind and loving – but the woman is prey to a biologically induced chemical gloom.
Oestrogen specifically promotes the brain cells to be more active. As oestrogen concentration mounts, the brain is more alert, and is capable of absorbing a greater amount of information. The senses are heightened, whether they be sound, touch, taste or smell. This stage is associated with a sense of well-being and alertness, high feelings of self-esteem, enthusiasm, pleasure, and sexual arousal. Women are equipped with a chemical timetable which makes them feel pleasure and contentment at the optimum time for successful conception.
Progesterone, on the other hand, has an inhibitory effect. The brain become more sluggish, compare with the bright, receptive phase induced by oestrogen. Libido drops and anxiety conspires with tiredness to produce depression. At the same time, progesterone seems to have a calming effect, stabilising the emotions. This seems to be typical of the second half of the cycle, as progesterone reaches its peak. Four or five days before menstruation, the level of both progesterone an oestrogen plummet.
With suddenly much less progesterone to calm the mood, and much less oestrogen to promote feelings of well-being, behaviour can swing between hostility, aggression (hitherto suppressed by the soothing effect of progesterone), and severe depression, occasionally spilling over into the psychotic.
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