Want to give up junk food? Quit smoking? Stop binge-watching TV? The secret to success may be in timing it around your hormones, according to a new study
When's the last time you heard anything good about PMS? Most of us who menstruate could do without the monthly bloodletting all together, not to mention the crabbiness, bloating and cravings that come with it. But a new study published in Biology of Sex Differences found that there may be a really cool benefit to our monthly hormonal swings: They can help us break a bad habit. That's right, your PMS may actually help you finally accomplish your health goals. (P.S. Did you know Ditching Tampons Might Make You More Likely to Go to the Gym?)
Most of us don't exactly look forward to PMS, but apparently we can take advantage of our hormone cycles to help short-circuit addiction. They studied women trying to break a bad habit—quitting smoking, in this case—and discovered the women had an easier time quitting and suffered fewer relapses if they did it during the second half of their menstrual cycles. (Your Menstrual Cycle Phases—Explained.)
How does it work, exactly? It's Biology 101: A woman's monthly cycle revolves around the waxing and waning of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone. At the beginning of your cycle, right after your period ends, your estrogen surges. But about halfway through your cycle, you ovulate (the egg is released) and your estrogen drops, allowing progesterone to take over. This second phase, known as the luteal phase, leads into peak PMS, as your body prepare to bleed again.
The key is the higher levels of progesterone, which appear to protect women against addictive behaviors, according to the study. Estrogen may get all the feel-good glory, but progesterone doesn't get enough credit for helping calm and focus our minds. And the effect doesn't just work on smoking cessation.
"Interestingly, the findings may represent a fundamental effect of menstrual cycle phase on brain connectivity and may be generalizable to other behaviors, such as responses to other rewarding substances like alcohol and foods high in fat and sugar," said senior author Teresa Franklin, Ph.D., a research associate professor of Neuroscience in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release.
As the effect and sample group were both relatively small, more studies definitely need to be done before we can draw any real conclusions. But the results are encouraging and if you're trying to break an addictive habit, waiting until you're in the second stage of your cycle (use a period-tracking app if you're not sure) can't hurt—but it could help! (Psst... Find out Why Women Are Putting Pot In Their Vaginas.)