Feeling grumpy? The classic "I'm hormonal" excuse may now be exactly that: Just an excuse. A new study from Stanford University finds that declining estrogen levels have no influence on women's mood.
Previous research has shown a tenuous link between estradiol—one form of estrogen—and depression in older post-menopausal females. "There is a lot of thought that estrogen has an important role with mood for women, with higher levels being associated with better mood," says lead study author Victor Henderson, MD. "But the clinical data behind that is really not very strong."
In his new study, Dr. Henderson and his team compared reproductive hormone levels in women who'd recently gone through menopause (less than 6 years before), and those who'd made the transition more than a decade prior. He then measured their mood to see if estrogen, in particular, might play a role.
"The finding with mood is that we really didn't have a significant finding," Dr. Henderson says. Translation: There was no link between the amount of estrogen in post-menopausal women's blood and how irritable or grumpy they felt. (Estrogen also had no bearing on women's memory, either.)
Why? Because it may be hormonal swings—rather than the actual levels of the chemicals circulating through your system—that dictate how you feel. "Before the final menopause occurs, there's a time when hormone levels tend to fluctuate a lot," says Dr. Henderson. "I think this is when a lot of the mood fluctuation occurs." That may explain why pre- and post-menopausal women don't differ in rates of the blues, while "there does appear to be a heightened risk of developing depression symptoms during the transition itself," says Dr. Henderson.
So what does cause some women to be so darn moody? "There might be genetic and biological factors, but those haven't been teased out yet," says Dr. Henderson. "A lot of folks think it comes back to psychological substrates—stress in one's life, sleep deprivation, changes in sleep habits." That's good news for you, because those are things you can (somewhat) control.