A lot of women know the moodiness and brain fog that comes with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The symptoms can range from simply feeling irritable and icky to being something that interferes with your normal lifestyle.
Premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder:
What role do genes play in PMS?
It has been shown in the past few years that there is a genetic component, especially for a severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
A 2011 study of twins estimated the heritability of PMS to be around 95%.[ref]
PMS affects about 30-40% of women, while the rarer PMDD affects only 3-8%.[ref]
Is it all in your head?
In a literal way… It turns out that neurotransmitters cause some of the symptoms of PMS and PMDD. Both conditions are linked to physically altered neurotransmitter levels.
- Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter involved in mood stability. Estrogen is a serotonin agonist, and fluctuations in estrogen levels also affect serotonin levels.
- GABA, another neurotransmitter, is also involved in PMS symptoms for some.[ref]
Genetic variants in these neurotransmitter genes are linked to increased susceptibility to PMS and PMDD — and they may hold the clues to what to do about PMS symptoms.
PMS and PMDD Genotype report:
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HTR1A Serotonin Receptor Gene:
The HTR1A gene codes for a serotonin receptor found mainly in the brain. Rs6295 is a fairly common genetic variant of this serotonin receptor gene. One study found the variant (C/C for 23andMe) reduces serotonin neurotransmission and is “associated with impaired WM [working memory] in the premenstrual phase and premenstrual decline of cognitive function.” [ref]
Check your genetic data for rs6295 (23andMe v4, v5):
- G/G: typical*
- C/G: increased risk of PMDD
- C/C: Impaired working memory in the premenstrual phase[ref]; increased risk of PMDD[ref]
Members: Your genotype for rs6295 is —.
*Given in the plus orientation to match your data.
ESR1 Estrogen Receptor 1 gene:
ESR1 mediates estrogen activity in the brain and has been studied as a risk for diseases such as breast cancer, osteoporosis, and endometriosis, as well as severe PMS. ESR1 has also been studied in relation to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease.[ref] (There are many studies on this gene – worth looking into if you are homozygous for the variant.)
Check your genetic data for rs9340799 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):
Members: Your genotype for rs9340799 is —.
One study showed that the ESR1 polymorphisms are most associated with PMDD for those with a COMT (catechol-o-methyl transferase) variant.[ref] Also known as COMT Val158Met (rs4680), this well-studied polymorphism is involved in dopamine activity.
Check your genetic data for rs4680 (23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):
- G/G: higher risk of PMDD (combined with ESR1 polymorphism)[ref]
- A/G: normal risk of PMS
- A/A: normal/lower risk of PMS
Members: Your genotype for rs4680 is —.
Lifehacks: Natural solutions for PMS and PMDD
Genetics seems to play a bigger role in PMDD. For many of us, though, we may need to look further for solutions to PMS woes.
Histamine intolerance is tied to PMS, especially for menstrual cramps. You can read up on the genes involved in histamine intolerance here and here – as well as Googling histamine intolerance. If the symptoms of histamine intolerance seem to fit you, a diet lower in histamines may help your PMS. Foods high in histamines (avoid for low histamine diet) include anything fermented (soy sauce, vinegar, wine, kombucha), lunch meats, tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, chocolate, and fish that is not completely fresh.
Related article: Genetics and Histamine Intolerance
What doesn’t seem to work?
Antioxidants – specifically vitamins A, E, and C – were studied and found to have no effect on PMS symptoms.[ref]
Shockingly (not!), a study found that women with PMDD tend to eat more right before their period.[ref]
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Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering and also an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.