PMS Linked to Drinking Alcohol in New Study

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Scientists have found an association between PMS and drinking. Jp Valery/Unsplash

Drinking alcohol has been linked to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in a new study.

PMS has both mental and physiological symptoms, ranging from depression, fatigue and food cravings to tender breasts and bloating, which hits sufferers around a week or two before their period. In the U.S., three in four women experience PMS at some point in their lives, while just under 5% have the more serious premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which can trigger severe depression, anxiety and irritability.

Despite its prevalence, little is known about the condition. Scientists do not know what causes it, but women under extreme levels of stress, who have a family history of depression, and a personal history of depression—including postpartum depression—are believed to be more susceptible. Treatments include protecting one's health by exercising, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep. Some women are prescribed medications such as antidepressants to ease their symptoms. On average, those who experience PMS suffer 3,000 days of debilitating symptoms during their reproductive lives.

Building on previous studies that indicated that women who consume alcohol experience severer PMS, the new research suggests that more than one in ten cases could be linked to drinking.

The team behind the paper assessed 19 studies on PMS from eight different countries released before May 2017. The pooled analysis contained data on more than 47,000 participants.

Heavy drinking, categorized as consuming more than one average-sized drink a day, was associated with a 79 percent heightened risk of PMS. Moderate drinking, or consuming between 10g of ethanol and the average alcohol content of one drink a day, was associated with a heightened risk of 45 percent. Worldwide, around 30 percent of women drink alcohol, with around one in 20 of those drinking heavily, according to the study authors. Those figure rises to almost 60 percent and over 12.5 percent respectively in the U.S.

The team behind the study acknowledged that the association doesn't mean drinking causes PMS, but argued their findings "are important given that the worldwide prevalence of alcohol drinking among women is not negligible."

More research is now needed to understand whether alcohol causes PMS, or whether women are drinking more according to the severity of their symptoms in an attempt to boost their moods.

The authors reasoned that alcohol could raise the risk of PMS by changing levels of sex steroid hormones and gonadotropin, which is essential for reproduction. Alcohol could also disrupt vital chemicals in the brain linked to mood, such as serotonin.

Spanish researchers from University of Santiago de Compostela and CIBER-ESP, Madrid, as well as scientists at the University of Southampton, collaborated on the study published in the journal BMJ Open.

Professor Bahi Takkouche, professor of preventative medicine at University of Santiago de Compostela, told Newsweek the study is important because it is based on a large group of participants and is believed to be the first meta-analysis on the relation between alcohol and PMS.

"There is not a single cause of PMS," said Professor Takkouche. "It is probably a constellation of risk factors that include changes in hormone levels, diet and psychological factors. Our study is but a step towards a perfect understanding of this syndrome."

"The take home message should be that it is probably better for women who are prone to PMS to avoid heavy drinking. We believe that women should not accept intense premenstrual symptoms as normal and that they should consult a doctor if they suffer from them."

Study co-author Professor Hazel Inskip, of the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton, told Newsweek: "We can't be sure whether the alcohol causes the PMS or vice versa, but PMS affect women's lives profoundly and if alcohol is exacerbating the symptoms for some then trying to reduce the intake might help. However, there are probably many causes of PMS and so alcohol reduction may not be the answer for everyone."