Notifications

Most women suffer from it at some point, and most men have had to deal with the effects.

It's something the female species has had to endure since the beginning of time...

PMS.

But now, a group of scientists and doctors have discovered something about PMS that they think could lead them to a cure.

Pre-Menstrual Tension, also called PMS or PMT, is something up to 80 percent of women experience. It has noticeable and unpleasant side effects, including irritability, depression, anxiety, and even physical effects including headaches, severe tiredness, muscle aches and cramps.

And for around one in 20 women, the psychological and emotional effects can be so intense that they require anti-depressants.

Until recently, it was widely thought that PMS/PMT was a “mood disorder” created by fluctuations of chemicals in the brain.

But researchers from the National Institutes for Health (NIH) recently found something unexpected that seems to explain PMS—and it's not chemicals in the brain.

According to their findings, the change in hormones before a woman's period completely alters how their genes work.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

For sufferers of PMS, some genes that are meant to activate before menstruation instead “dial back,” while genes that are supposed to become dormant, actually become more active.

NIH researchers are saying the finding is a major breakthrough, proving that women suffering from PMS are not simply experiencing “mood swings,” but that their entire biology is being changed.

Dr. David Goldman of the NIH writes:

“This is a big moment for women's health, because it establishes that women have an intrinsic difference in their molecular apparatus for response to sex hormones - not just emotional behaviors they should be able to voluntarily control.”

Researchers also concluded that women who suffer from severe PMS are more “genetically sensitive” to surges in hormones, like those that occur throughout the menstrual cycle.

The team confirmed the findings after testing certain hormone levels in the white blood cells of serious PMS sufferers during their cycle and comparing them to the same cells of women who never suffer from PMS.

Robert King/Newsmakers

The results confirmed it: the white blood cells of heavy PMS sufferers showed the opposite hormone expression to those of non-sufferers—hormones meant to activate lay dormant, and vice versa.

In 2014, a study by Bristol University and University College London hinted at the NIH's discovery when it found that women more or less experience “drug withdrawal” in the days leading up to their period, a symptom triggered by low levels of the hormone progesterone.

Progesterone produces a chemical which works as a powerful sedative and tranquilizer—so when levels of the hormone dip, changes in mood can be expected.

The NIH will continue its research and hopes to discover more about the complex interaction between the menstrual cycle and genes.