It’s that time of the month again. And no, we’re not talking about your period. We’re talking about the week or two before your period when symptoms like mood swings, cravings, and relentless back pain and breast tenderness make their way into your everyday life. Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS is a common condition that affects around 80% of reproductive aged women.1 Despite its frequency, studies have yet to identify its underlying cause.
Nearly half of these women seek medical care for PMS and often rely on anti-inflammatory medicines to tame symptoms.1 Researchers at the University of California Davis School of Medicine used this link to further investigate the potential relationship between inflammation and PMS. They found that women who suffered from PMS symptoms were more likely to have higher levels of a particular circulating inflammatory molecule called high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP).1
Gold, Wells, and Rasor of the Department of Public Health Sciences analyzed data taken from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN)—a long-term study made up of almost 3000 racially and ethnically diverse women.1 Using this information, they looked at hs-CRP levels to see if they correlated with PMS symptoms.
Results published earlier this year in the Journal of Women’s Health showed that women with elevated hs-CRP (levels greater than 3 mg/L) were more likely to experience PMS symptoms such as changes in mood, cramping, back pain, food cravings, weight gain, bloating, and breast tenderness.
Although producing inflammatory proteins like hs-CRP is the body’s natural immune response to inflammation, it’s also considered to be an integral part of a woman’s monthly cycle. In healthy women with normal menstrual cycles, inflammatory protein levels are seen to increase around ovulation and later peak during menstruation—a time some consider to be a naturally inflammatory monthly episode.2 These higher inflammatory protein levels coincide with menstruation’s low estrogen and progesterone levels, further showing that the body’s immune response is a normal part of a woman’s cycle.2
To a certain extent, fluctuations in inflammatory markers during the menstrual cycle are normal. But when these fluctuations extend beyond normal levels—as Gold and her team observed—they can affect menstrual and PMS symptom severity. Earlier research papers have linked inflammatory protein levels, specifically CRP, to period symptom severity, with the strongest association seen in mood and pain symptoms.2 Other studies have shown similar results with inflammatory proteins called interleukins to be connected to both period and PMS severity.2
More studies are needed to confirm how inflammation exactly influences PMS, but these preliminary findings could potentially impact how the condition is treated and possibly play a role in prevention.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a Health Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering in her community.
- Gold, E. B., Wells, C., & Rasor, M. O. (2016). The association of inflammation with premenstrual symptoms. Journal of Women’s Health, 25(9): 865-874. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2015.5529. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jwh.2015.5529?src=recsys
- Bertone-Johnson, E. R., Ronnenberg, A. G., Houghton, S. C., Nobles, C., Zagarins, S. E., Takashima-Uebelhoer, B. B., Faraj, J. L., & Whitcomb, B. W. (2014). Association of inflammation markers with menstrual symptom severity and premenstrual syndrome in young women. Human Reproduction, 29(9): 1987-1994. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deu170. http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/29/9/1987.full.pdf+html