Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is widely used to explain mood swings, food cravings and crying spells that women sometimes experience shortly before their menstrual cycle. But a brave group of female researchers have debunked that idea – and it is sure to set off a firestorm among women who believe their emotional state is more fragile in the days before their period than what the medical evidence suggests. “Women might actually admit to being in a bad mood for good reasons at other times of the month,” said Professor Gillian Einstein, one of the study’s authors and the director of the collaborative graduate program in Women’s Health at the University of Toronto.
The researchers don’t debate the physical symptoms – bloating, breast tenderness and stomach pains – linked with menstruation. Nor do they look into premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a controversial and uncommon extreme form of PMS. But a review of the literature, which came down to 47 in-depth studies, revealed that only 14 per cent of them found an association between negative mood and the premenstrual phase. The research was published last week in the journal Gender Medicine. Some women are already showing their displeasure with the findings. “Who are a small group of scientists to tell us how we feel?” asked Elissa Stein, New York-based co-author of the book Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation. “I bring my own personal experience to the equation. How can you say there is no such thing?”
Stein said PMS is treated as a joke; it is a way of dismissing a woman’s emotions and behaviour. “That’s really detrimental to women,” Stein said. Gynecologist Dr. Dustin Costescu-Green fears the study could be a slippery slope where the medical community does not fully appreciate the symptoms women are experiencing. He said that researching a large group of women, as opposed to reviewing the literature, would make for a more robust study. “My concern is that … women who are finding that their mood is impacting on them, they’re not going to come forward because now we have a paper that says this isn’t a real problem,” said Costescu-Green, a contraceptive advice, research and education fellow at Queen’s University.