PMS: New Relief?

Provides information on the benefits of raising the beta-endorphin levels in women who are experiencing premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Presentation of PMS; Comments from Susan S. Girdler, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

By Angela Pirisi, published July 1, 2000 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016


PMS is a real pain, particularly for the five to 10% of women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), or severe PMS. But now scientists are one step closer to finding relief.

Researchers aren't sure what causes PMDD, but women with the disorder know what it means: severe joint and muscle pain, headaches, breast tenderness, fatigue. To better understand why certain women experience so much more discomfort during menstruation, psychiatric experts at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill compared the pain threshold of 27 women with PMDD to that of 27 women with mild PMS by restricting blood flow to their arms with blood pressure cuffs. Their results, published in the May/June issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, indicate that not only do women with PMDD have a lower pain threshold and shorter tolerance times, but their blood levels of beta-endorphins--the body's natural pain-killing hormones--were about 30% lower than that of non-PMDD sufferers.

If women with PMDD have significantly lower levels of beta-endorphins, particularly a few days before and after their period, why not raise their hormone levels to help lessen the pain? Unfortunately, it's not that easy, according to Susan S. Girdler, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at UNC, because there's no simple test that measures beta-endorphin levels. "Moreover," Girdler explains, "We're really looking at a syndrome with multiple determinants, beta-endorphins being just one of them."

But the discovery does offer hope: Assuming low beta-endorphin levels are at least partially responsible for PMDD, Girdler suggests that exercise may quell the symptoms. Exercising not only raises beta-endorphin levels, but has also been proven to reduce stress--yet another debilitating symptom of the disorder.