Results from a new meta-analysis study from researchers in Spain and published in journal BMJ Open recently revealed a ‘moderate’ link between drinking alcohol and PMS.
The new data was collated from researchers at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, using information from 19 previous studies in eight European countries, and involving more than 47,000 female participants in total.
Scientists found that drinking alcohol was linked with a 45% increase in the risk of PMS, and that heavy drinking – or consuming more than one alcoholic drink a day – was linked to a 79% increase in the risk of PMS.
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, refers to a group of symptoms which begin around one or two weeks before a woman starts her period. According to the NHS, symptoms include mood swings, spotty skin, cravings, bloating, sore and tender breasts, fatigue, irritability and, in some cases, depression. It’s fairly common, with around one in three women suffering mild symptoms each menstrual cycle. According to the National Institute of Health, it’s estimated that around between three and eight percent experience severe symptoms.
From the relatively large number of studies consulted in this meta-analysis, and the consistency of the results within each one, researchers were able to deduce that the alcohol intake may be linked to an increased risk of PMS in European women, but could not prove that drinking causes the symptoms or makes them worse.
According to the World Health Organisation, people in Europe drink more alcohol than any other part of the world, consuming the equivalent of 12.5 litres of pure alcohol a year, or almost three glasses of wine a day. Six in ten European women are drinkers, with 12.6% being classed as ‘heavy’ drinkers. It has also been reported that Britain is the worst country in the western world for heavy drinking among professional women, with the highest proportion of hazardous drinking among women found among those between the ages of 45 and 64.
Despite the link discovered by researchers during their analysis, they stressed that it’s unclear whether this increased risk of PMS is actually down to the alcohol itself, or whether women are drinking to cope with the symptoms. Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has studied PMS and contested the new data, telling Live Science: “I think it’s really premature to link alcohol to the worsening of premenstrual syndrome symptoms based on this study.”
Bertone-Johnson believes women could be drinking more in order to try and rid themselves of the pain and noted that the women in the studies were already experiencing PMS when they were asked about their alcohol intake. "That, unfortunately leaves the possibility that their menstrual symptoms themselves led them to drink alcohol," she concluded. In order to properly understand the link between PMS and alcohol, she suggests researchers include more studies which track women from their teenage years and examine their alcohol intake over a large period of time.
But Dr Shazia Malik, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA UK, believes there is definitely some worth in the research. “Whilst it is difficult to find an absolute association between PMS and alcohol intake, this paper does have enough strength to suggest a correlation between alcohol intake, and especially heavy intake, and PMS incidence," she tells SL, adding that if a woman is suffering from PMS, "then it would certainly be advisable to minimise alcohol intake (as well as caffeine, stress and processed foods) to try and mitigate this. In any case we know that excessive alcohol intake is harmful to health and has a correlation with breast cancer risk, in any case, so to drink well within recommended limits is advisable.”
If you're worried that you or someone you know has a drinking problem, visit nhs.uk for help and information.
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