Anyone who menstruates knows how painful PMS symptoms can be. For the two to 10 percent of the population who experience Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder (PMDD), however, severe symptoms can be downright debilitating. That's why it's so important that researchers may have discovered the cause of PMDD. Researchers at the National Institute of Health have found a possible link between PMDD symptoms and how we respond to hormones on a cellular level — and the news could be life-changing.
The researchers discovered that cutting off estrogen and progesterone in menstruating people seems to stop PMDD symptoms. In a press release on the study, which was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, lead researcher Peter Schmidt explained that he and his team found "cellular evidence of abnormal signaling in cells derived from women with PMDD, and a plausible biological cause for their abnormal behavioral sensitivity to estrogen and progesterone."
In layman's terms, this means that when researchers “turned off” these hormones, people with PMDD saw their symptoms disappear; however, the symptoms returned when the hormones were added back. For people in the control group, there was no change, thus confirming that people with PMDD are more sensitive to hormones.
The findings may help people who menstruate on several levels. Firstly, PMDD is notoriously difficult to treat; indeed, even though PMDD follows a cyclical pattern and can be chronic or life-long, many people struggle to get a proper diagnosis. There are both "natural" treatments for PMDD, such as practicing yoga and eating a balanced diet, as well as treatments from a medical professional, often including antidepressants and hormonal birth control. But being able to turn off those hormones will help both identify and treat PMDD.
Second, as of right now, PMDD is categorized in the DSM 5 Diagnostics Manual — basically the Grey's Anatomy of mental health — as a depressive disorder. But as David Goldman, head researcher of the study, explained to Broadly, the current research might refocus the discussion of PMDD away from mental health and into the realm of physical illness: "This new research, pointing to molecular causation, further helps put PMDD on the same footing as other medical diseases," he noted.
There is a long history of mental health not being taken as seriously as physical ailments, as well as a long history of people not taking women's pains seriously. Our culture persists in in making jokes about menstruation and PMS and PMDD symptoms, which may be part of what contributes to the belief that PMDD is not a "real" disease.
While we should be taking mental health as seriously as physical health, and we should certainly be taking everyone's health complaints seriously, Goldman makes a great point: This kind of research might be the definitive proof people look for when determining a better cure or treatment.
While researchers do point out that even with this advance, a cure is not here yet, it's one step in the path of helping people who live with PMDD live happier, healthier lives. And that's definitely something to celebrate.