Women's menstrual cycle causes changes in the brain that affects their desire to smoke, a new study has found. Published in Psychiatry Journal, the study suggests that these changes in the brain may interfere with women's ability to quit smoking. Women tend to crave smoking during certain parts of their period. However, there is no difference between the cravings of men and women.

The research followed 34 men and women who smoked over 15 cigarettes a day. The participants filled out questionnaires and had MRI scans done on their brains while they looked at smoking-related images. The women underwent MRI imaging twice: once during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle and the second time during the mid-luteal phase. The follicular phase is during the beginning of the cycle, and the mid-luteal phase is broadly when ovulation has ended, towards the end of the period. At this time, levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone are high.

Women were found to crave smoking more during the follicular phase of the period. It is possible that a decrease in estrogen and progesterone deepen withdrawal symptoms and increase the neural activity associated with craving, according to author Adrianna Mendrek, a neuroscientist at the Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Montréal.

During the follicular phase, the researchers observed neural activity in the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes of the brain, while in the mid-luteal phase, there was increased activity only in the hippocampus. This suggests that it may be easier for women to quit smoking during the mid-luteal phase rather than the follicular phase. Women's beliefs and other psychosocial factors too play a role in whether a woman quits smoking, so periods are not the only factor to be taken into account.

Previous research suggests the women may succumb to nicotine dependency more easily than men. This study, while not noticing any difference in the cravings of men and women, suggests that men and women could be different when it comes to quitting smoking because of the menstrual cycle.

To contact the writer, email: sonali.raj@gmail.com