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The University of Southampton

Alcohol intake may be linked with PMS

Published: 24 April 2018
alcohol linked to PMS
Alcohol intake may be linked with PMS

Drinking alcohol may be linked to pre-menstrual syndrome, or PMS for short, according to a new study involving researchers at the University of Southampton.

The analysis of published study data, in the online journal BMJ Open, estimates that around one in 10 cases (11 per cent) might be linked to alcohol intake.

Premenstrual syndrome includes any or all of mood swings, tender breasts, food cravings, fatigue, irritability and depression. Its severity varies from woman to woman.

Several studies have shown that PMS tends to be more severe among women who drink alcohol, but it’s not clear whether this is due to the alcohol itself or whether women reach for the bottle to cope with their symptoms.

To try and find out more, the Southampton researchers alongside colleagues from University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, assessed research databases for relevant studies published up to May 2017, and found 19 from eight different countries, involving more than 47,000 participants.

Pooled analysis of the data from these 19 studies produced estimates showing that alcohol intake was associated with a “moderate” heightened risk of PMS of 45 per cent, rising to 79 per cent for heavy drinkers.

While the design of the included studies precludes the ability to establish cause, the relatively large number, and the consistency of the results, suggest that alcohol may be associated with an increase in the risk of PMS, they say.

Professor Hazel Inskip, Deputy Director, MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, said: “PMS can be a debilitating condition which varies from woman to woman. This study has shown a clear association between alcohol consumption and risk of pre-menstrual syndrome.  We can’t be sure whether the alcohol causes the PMS or vice versa, but women with PMS might be advised to try cutting their alcohol intake to see if their symptoms improve."

Globally, the proportion of women who drink alcohol is thought to be around 30%, with around one in 20 (6%) of those heavy drinkers. But in Europe and America the equivalent figures are higher, at almost 60% and over 12.5%, respectively.

“Based on the figures above and on our results, we estimate that 11% of the PMS cases may be associated to alcohol intake worldwide and 21% in Europe,” says the study. “Furthermore, heavy drinking may be associated with 4% of the PMS cases in the world and over 9% in Europe.”

They speculate that if the association is causal in nature, “eliminating heavy drinking in women would then prevent one in every 12 cases in Europe.”

There are some plausible biological explanations for the association found, they explain. Alcohol might boost PMS risk by altering levels of the sex steroid hormones and gonadotropin during the menstrual cycle, and/or it might interfere with the production of key ‘mood’ chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, they suggest.

Further research is most definitely needed, they conclude.

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