The science is in: Hormones are NOT the Cause of PMS mood swings
We’ve been told for years that the anxiety, gloomy mood, stress and irritability that come with PMS each month are due to shifting levels of hormones before your period. But a body of new scientific research indicates that, while hormones play a part in the timing of Emotional PMS, they are not the underlying cause of these symptoms.
Instead, research is showing that Emotional PMS symptoms are caused by changes in how glucose (sugar) and triglycerides (fat) are processed in the brain.
This means that doctors have been treating Emotional PMS incorrectly for decades. The standard treatment for PMS, hormonal birth control, suppresses the body’s natural hormonal cycling but doesn’t address the true problem.
Many women do, especially if the sugar is combined with a bit of fat, such as in chocolate bars and ice cream. The body is often smarter than we give it credit for, and it craves what it needs.
Before your period that need is sugar, which it needs specifically in the cerebellum, a part of the brain in charge of “primitive” emotions. When dysfunctioning, the cerebellum has been shown to cause irritability, anger, gloominess and mood swings.
Scientific studies that track sugar (glucose) levels in the brain have shown that the cerebellum of women with extreme PMS mood swings consume a much larger amount of sugar than normal. The cerebellum sits in the lower part of the brain. It plays a key roles in motor control, attention, and regulating fear and pleasure responses. Just like patients with severe PMS, persons with bipolar depression have also been shown to have an increased demand for sugar in the cerebellum.
In the times that you have PMS mood changes, your cerebellum may be quickly burning through your body’s available supply of sugar.
What happens if your cerebellum doesn’t get the extra sugar it needs in the days before your period? You begin to crave sugar and struggle with all the PMS swings in emotion like irritability, gloomy mood, anxiety and stress.
This is the same reason why all people, men included, experience temporary mood symptoms similar to PMS when we get hungry and our blood sugar drops too low.
But the symptoms of Emotional PMS remain whether or not you’re hungry.
So is the answer to mild PMS mood changes to just eat more chocolate and feast on fatty treats high in sugar?
While sugar and fats binge eating to fuel your cerebellum brings temporary relief to some women, (9, 10) this sugar binge brings on many more problems beyond the quick sugar rush, including increasing the risk of depressed mood. In a study of about 70,000 women, scientists at Columbia University investigated the link between sugary foods and depression. The work, recently published in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”, found a statistically significant increase in depression in women who consumed foods with added sugars. In contrast, women who consumed fruits and vegetables had a significantly lower incidence of depression. (11)
So by feeding your PMS craving with chocolate bars, you may actually be increasing your risk of depressed mood instead of solving it. Additionally, consumption of sugary fatty treats have a number of other health consequences, and is definitely not ideal for weight maintenance. So just loading up on chocolate is not the answer. And adjusting your hormones to eliminate your natural cycling may not be the best idea either.