Scientists have made a “significant breakthrough” in our understanding of pre-menstrual tension (PMT), with the discovery that some women’s genes behave differently as their hormones fluctuate during their monthly cycle.
It was previously thought that the common psychological symptoms of PMT, which can include anxiety, depression and insomnia, were due to a fluctuation of chemicals in the brain, triggered by the hormonal changes that occur before a period.
These symptoms can be severe, and the NHS states around one in 20 women will suffer from persistent sadness, extreme anger or very low self-esteem.
But the new finding by researchers at the US-based National Institutes of Health (NiH) gives hope that a cure for the condition could be on the horizon.
“This is a big moment for women's health,” David Goldman, one of the NiH researchers, told The Telegraph.
“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 at the NiH made the discovery by comparing white blood cells from women who suffer from severe PMT with white blood cells from those who never experience any symptoms. They discovered a set of genes that behaved differently when exposed to an increase of the hormone oestrogen, with cells from PMT sufferers decreasing in activity while cells from non-sufferers were boosted.
They concluded that women with severe PMT were genetically more sensitive to the changes in hormones that occur throughout the monthly cycle than those without PMT, disproving the general belief that the condition is simply due to mood swings.
"Learning more about the role of this gene complex holds hope for improved treatment,” added NiH researcher Dr Peter Schmidt.