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Influence of the Menstrual Cycle on Flight Simulator Performance after Alcohol Ingestion

Martin S. Mumenthaler, Ruth O'Hara, Joy L. Taylor, Leah Friedman, Jerome A. Yesavage

Objective: Previous studies investigating the influence of the menstrual cycle on cognitive functioning of women after alcohol ingestion have obtained inconsistent results. The present study tested the hypothesis that flight simulator performance during acute alcohol intoxication and 8 hours after drinking differs between the menstrual and the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Method: White female pilots (N = 24) were tested during the menstrual and the luteal phases of their menstrual cycles. On each test day they performed a baseline simulator flight, consumed 0.67 g/kg ethanol, and performed an acute-intoxication and an 8-hour-carryover simulator flight. Results: Subjects reached highly significant increases in estradiol (E2) as well as progesterone (P) levels during the luteal test day. Yet, there were no significant differences in overall flight performance after alcohol ingestion between the menstrual and luteal phases during acute intoxication or at 8-hour carryover. We found no correlations between E2 or P levels and overall flight performance. However, there was a statistically significant Phase × Order interaction: Pilots who started the experiment with their menstrual day were less susceptible to the effects of alcohol during the second test day than were pilots who started with their luteal day. Conclusions: The tested menstrual cycle phases and varying E2 and P levels did not significantly influence postdrink flight performance. Because the present study included a comparatively large sample size and because it involved complex “real world” tasks (piloting an aircraft), we believe that the present findings are important. We hope that our failure to detect menstrual cycle effects will encourage researchers to include women in their investigations of alcohol effects and human performance. (J. Stud. Alcohol 62: 422-433, 2001)