|1237811. Mon May 22, 2017 12:52 pm
|Three of every four menstruating women say they experience PMS. But a review of research led by University of Toronto has found no link between negative moods and the pre-menstrual phase. “There is so much cultural baggage around women’s menstrual cycles, and entire industries built around the idea that women are moody, irrational, even unstable, in the phase leading up to menstruation,” says Dr. Gillian Einstein, one of the U of T experts who analysed 41 research studies into PMS. “Our review, which shows no clear evidence that PMS exists, will be surprising to many people, including health professionals.”
Thirty-five of the 41 papers reviewed found no link between mood and the menstrual cycle whatsoever. Not a peep. Of the six (13.5 per cent) papers that did show any relationship, several were found to be biased because the participants were not “blinded” to the purpose of the study—the women in the study knew that the researchers wanted to know how moody their PMS made them.
But if it doesn’t exist, how come so many people (and their partners) report PMS symptoms? “Before women even get their first period, they have heard about PMS. The notion is so ingrained in our culture that some of these studies are actually biased because women know the study is about PMS,” says Einstein. What Einstein is suggesting, then, is that PMS is a cultural phenomenon, not a medical one. As it turns out, PMS is primarily a Western notion: according to Professor Jane Ussher who studies women’s health psychology at the University of Western Sydney, the concept of PMS doesn’t exist in Hong Kong, China or India.
Someone should probably mention this to the medical community. Premenstrual syndrome is recognised by mainstream medicine and was first described in 1931. A wide variety of symptoms including anxiety, depressed mood, crying spells, mood swings, irritability and anger are attributed to the condition. In severe cases, when mood swings appear to be impacting the person’s work and relationships, it is called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Textbooks will tell you that the causes of PMS and PMDD are unclear but that the wonderful medical catchall “hormonal changes” appear to play an important role. Underlying depression and anxiety are common in both PMS and PMDD diagnoses.
Of course, there are physical symptoms such as bloating and cramping related to the pre-menstrual phase, and just like a headache or a cold, severe period pain could make you irritable. But that is very different from saying that hormonal changes result in a temporary mood disorder. It seems bizarre that PMS is so widely accepted as a condition when no correlation between mood changes and the premenstrual phase (let alone a causal link between hormone changes and mood) has been demonstrated. It matters because if we are brushing off negative mood as the result of PMS then we aren’t addressing the real problems. As Einstein says, “There are so many things going on in women’s lives that can have a distinct impact on their moods—stress, lack of social support, economic hardship, physical ailments. Looking at these factors is key to the concept of evidence-based medicine.”
Read the original paper here:
Read U of T News covering the research
My full opinion piece on the research, which I wrote in 2015