Many women suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS), experiencing physical discomfort and emotional turmoil in the weeks running up to their period. PMS can make you feel depressed in the run up to your period, and women may feel sad, anxious, or irritable as a result.
Research shows that women who have depression experience higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that occurs naturally in the body. While cortisol plays an important part in our body, regulating everything from blood pressure to our immune system, in large doses it can potentially wreak havoc with the body.
Cortisol levels increase when we are under stress. This in turn affects the rest of the body, preventing the hypothalamus in our brain from letting your ovaries know they should release an egg. This results in a late period.
High levels of cortisol can also cause a condition known as hypothalamic amenorrhea. This can delay your period or, in some cases, stop it from coming entirely.
Prolactin is a natural hormone that plays a number of roles in the body, from reproductive functions to immunoregulation. High levels of prolactin (hyperprolactinemia) is known to cause menstrual abnormalities.
In studies, women with high levels of prolactin (hyperprolactinemia) have also been shown to experience increased feelings of depression and anxiety.
Cortisol and prolactin
While both cortisol and prolactin play a role in depression and the menstrual cycle, they each work in different ways.
For example, depression and stress result in higher levels of cortisol, which subsequently causes period delays and irregularities as a secondary effect.
In contrast, high levels of prolactin causes irregular periods, however it can also be the cause of feelings of depression and anxiety in sufferers.
How can I treat it?
While there is no set treatment recommended by doctors for treating depression during premenstrual syndrome, there are several changes and medicines you can try to help alleviate it.
Monitor your symptoms
Keeping a diary of your menstrual cycle and its associated symptoms is a great way of staying on top of your PMS-related depression.
Make a note of how you feel and how your body is reacting during your period. This will help you confirm whether your depression is linked to your cycle, or if it is symptomatic of something bigger.
There are many period-tracking apps available online that can help you effectively monitor the symptoms of PMS. These also help you predict when your period is likely to come. However, simply making a note in a diary is just as effective.
Hormonal birth control methods
Hormonal birth control methods such as the pill, patches, or implants are very effective at regulating the symptoms of PMS. Many women find hormonal birth control methods prevent sore or tender breasts, bloating, or irregular sleeping patterns.
Hormonal birth control methods can also be great at regulating emotional problems associated with premenstrual syndrome, including depression. But this is not an absolute, and some women find these methods of birth control exacerbate the condition.
Experiment with different methods, carefully noting the effects of each. Always discuss your symptoms with your doctor before embarking on a new method.
There are plenty of over-the-counter remedies available that can help alleviate the symptoms of PMS and depression.
Calcium in particular has been known to help with premenstrual syndrome-related depression, among other symptoms. You can take calcium supplements, or you can find it naturally in milk, cheese, or yoghurt.
Vitamin B-6 has also been known to relieve the symptoms of PMS. As with calcium, you can take supplements for this vitamin, or you can find it in foods such as turkey, chicken, fish, or fruit.
Change your lifestyle
Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent depression, whether it’s PMS-related or not. 30 minutes of brisk activity once a day can do wonders for your mood. Even a fast walk on your way home can have a noticeable impact on your mood.
Sleep is also a crucial factor in regulating your mood. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night, particularly in the two weeks running up to your period. Avoid using your smartphone or tablet at least two hours before bed, as the blue light emitted from these devices affect your body’s natural rhythm.
Finally, make a concerted effort to regulate your stress levels. When you feel stressed, your body reacts accordingly, exacerbating depression and other PMS-related symptoms. Experiment with mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing exercises to relax.
If all else fails, consult with your doctor about starting a course of antidepressants.
The most commonly-prescribed type of antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These include medicines such as sertraline, citalopram, and fluoxetine.
Antidepressants should be a last resort, and should only ever be taken after discussing all other options with your doctor.
Depression is a common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. If you are feeling depressed, sad, or anxious in the run-up to your period, speak to your doctor. It may be indicative of a bigger problem, or it may simply be a symptom of PMS. Whatever the cause, there are things you can do to treat it.