PMS afflicts millions of women each month, some with debilitating symptoms. Pain killers and antidepressants are standard treatments, both of which carry serious side effects. A new study finds turmeric extract may be superior in addressing some of the root causes of the disorder.
A new study published in the journal Neuropeptides titled, “Effect of curcumin on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in women with premenstrual syndrome: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,” has revealed that the primary polyphenol in turmeric known as curcumin is capable of improving symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), including increasing an important hormone in the nervous system called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and which is known to undergo significant decreases in women who suffer from challenging PMS cycles.
Millions of women take pain-killers to reduce PMS symptoms without realizing NSAIDs like ibuprofen can have life threatening adverse effects, including thousands of heart attacks each year. Also, aspirin is far more dangerous than the public has been told, with evidence-based alternatives like pycnogenol going almost completely unacknowledged. Tylenol is not only one of the most dangerous drugs for the liver, leading one health advocate to suggest the FDA should pull it from the market, but has also only recently been found to have psychiatric effects by numbing emotional states. Clearly we need safer alternatives, and ideally solutions that help to heal imbalances at a level far deeper than just surface symptoms.
Curcumin extract may positively modulate BNDF levels in PMS sufferers.
According to the study, “BDNF is a widespread growth factor in the nervous system (Cubeddu et al., 2011 and Autry and Monteggia, 2012). It is involved in modulation a wide range of functions including neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, neuronal survival and growth.”
The study provided the following background information about the relevance of BDNF to PMS:
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a variety of physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms that start during the late luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, and the symptoms disappear after the onset of menses.
Serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels during luteal phase in women associated with PMS have more alterations than women not suffering from PMS. In this regard, altered luteal BDNF levels in women with PMS might play a role in a set of psychological and somatic symptoms of the PMS.
Studies of last decade revealed neuroprotective effects of curcumin and its ability to increase BDNF levels.”
The study also indicated that the worldwide prevalence of PMS is as high as 80-90%, with 2-5% of women suffering so severely that it is classified as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD),1 a condition considered serious enough to be classified in the DSM-IV as depressive order,2 and against which antidepressant drugs such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used as a first-line treatment.
Unfortunately, the conventional approach to PMS focused on suppressing symptoms palliatively instead of resolving the root causes, which relies heavily on pharmaceutical medications, both antidepressants and pain-killers, may adversely alter the natural patterns of BDNF secretion and/or uptake, as well as produce a battery of other serious side effects.
100 mg every 12 hours before and after menstruation produces improvement
The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, clinical trial evaluated the effect of curcumin on three successive menstrual cycles, each 10 days in duration. 70 college age women with a confirmed recent history of PMS were randomly allocated into placebo and curcumin groups, consisting of 35 women in each. Each groups received two capsules daily of either curcumin or placebo for seven days (100 mg every 12 hours curcumin in the treatment group) before menstruation and for three days after menstruation for three successive menstrual cycles.
The women were asked to record the severity of their symptoms in questionnaire form, and self-report was used to determine the menstrual cycle phase of participants. Additionally, venous blood samples were drawn on the fourth day of each menstrual cycle to determine their BDNF levels using the ELISA detection method.
The results were summarized:
Before intervention, BDNF levels and mean scores of PMS symptoms (mood, behavioral and physical symptoms) between two groups showed no significant differences. But in curcumin group first, second and third cycles after interventions BDNF levels were significantly higher and mean scores of PMS symptoms were significantly less than placebo group. Based on our results part of these beneficial effects of curcumin may be mediated through enhancing serum BDNF levels in women with PMS.”
In the discussion section of the paper, the researchers hypothesized that curcumin’s observed beneficial effects could be due to modulation of a range of neurochemicals related to PMS:
The common symptoms of PMS are mood, behavioral and physical problems and curcumin possesses some interesting properties in animal models on those problems that justify its effects in our study (Angst et al., 2001, Lopresti et al., 2012, Kulkarni and Dhir, 2010, Kulkarni et al., 2009, Pérez-López et al., 2009 and Rapkin and Akopians, 2012). In vivo and in vitro studies during past decade confirmed that curcumin is capable of modulating levels of BDNF, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin that are involved in mood and behavior regulation (Lopresti et al., 2012 and Kulkarni et al., 2009).”
They also noted that curcumin may have antidepressant properties similar in action to SSRIs, namely, through modulating serotonin levels. This could also help explain why a human clinical trial comparing them actually found turmeric extract superior: Groundbreaking Study Finds Turmeric Extract Superior to Prozac for Depression.
An equally compelling theory is that curcumin’s beneficial properties are manifold (i.e. pleiotrophic), irreducible to its purported modulating effect on a single neurochemical like serotonin. Kelly Brogan, MD, for instance, has worked to expose the fact that in six decades of research, the serotonin theory of depression has not been scientifically validated. More compelling, according to her, is the idea that inflammation in the body and brain drive depression. Owing to curcumin’s well known, broad spectrum, and potent anti-inflammatory properties, it is likely that down-regulation of inflammation is a key component of this spice’s antidepressant activity.
Moreover, it is known that BDNF concentrations depend on the levels of fluctuating hormones like estradiol:
[E]strogen responsive elements have been localized on BDNF genes, telling that estradiol fluctuation during menstrual cycle can alter BDNF expression in limbic brain regions (Cubeddu et al., 2011, Blurton-Jones et al., 2004 and Zhu et al., 2013).
Clearly, PMS and PMDD are complex conditions, with numerous underlying and interacting factors. Unlike patent pharmaceuticals, which are truly synthetic xenobiotic toxicants, turmeric extract has a rather immense number of potential therapeutic properties. We have classified over 150 distinct beneficial physiological actions articulated by curcumin and other turmeric components on our database here. Given the extremely high safety threshold of this agent relative to pharmaceuticals, as well as its evidence-based efficacy in positively modulating the physiology and self-reported quality of life of PMS sufferers, this study opens up a new potential role of turmeric in treating a condition that is presently either under-treated or mis-treated with often ineffective, as well as unsafe medications.
For more information on treating PMS naturally, consult our database on the topic here: natural premenstrual syndrome (PMS) solutions. You can also read about how yoga, probiotics, gingko biloba, and green tea may stimulate increases in BDNF, naturally. Finally, read about additional drug alternatives to treating PMS in the articles below:
- Milk a Cure for PMS? A Giant Leap in Logic
- Vitex Agnus-Castus Chasteberry Does It Again for PMS
- Ginger Found to Reduce Premenstrual Pain and Mood
- Fennel For Painful Periods: A Clinically Proven Drug
1 Khayat et al., 2014a S. Khayat, et al. Effect of treatment with ginger on the severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms ISRN Obstet. Gynecol., 2014 (2014), p. 5
2 Epperson, 2013 C.N. Epperson Premenstrual dysphoric disorder and the brain Am. J. Psychiatry, 170 (3) (2013), pp. 248–252