Prehistoric PMS?

Were cave women moody at that time of the month?

As the APA (American Psychiatric Association) ponders whether or not to include premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD–severe PMS) in the DSM-V, Newsweek reports on recent research suggesting that the condition may have a genetic component. The research is far from conclusive however, having been conducted on mice (and only sixteen of them).

One of the researchers, Dr. Peter Schmidt of the National Institute of Mental Health told Newsweek: “This is the first time, in the case of PMS and PMDD, that we have very strong evidence that there may be an underlying biological variation, at the level of the genome, that may relay a differential response to a normal change in hormone levels.”

I’m reminded of Marjorie Shostak’s wonderful book: Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. Shostak asked hunter-gatherer women living in the Kalahari region of Botswana about PMS. None of them had any idea what she was talking about. They thought she was referring to menstruation or pregnancy. So if there’s a genetic component to PMS, presumably the gene is very infrequently expressed among this group.

But I tend to be skeptical of these genetic arguments. I find more significance in the fact that the women Shostak spoke with led very different lives than modern Western women do. For example, hunter-gatherer women menstruate far fewer times in their lives than do modern women.



Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.