The Good Bad News about PMS and Women’s Brains

List of common symtpoms of PMS
List of common symtpoms of PMS

I am writing this blog about PMS and the brain as a response to psychologist, Robyn Stein Deluca’s TED Talk on PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome. And I do so in honor of Brain Awareness Week 2015.

TED Talk by Robyn Stein DeLuca: The good news about PMS

Let me share that I am shocked at Robyn’s unscientific approach to the syndrome of PMS, which is reported to be associated with a spectrum of physical and emotional health problems. In my 23 years of public health brain research, and in my drumming for the brain work with special populations, including, women’s health, I’ve seen countless examples of how physical disorders actually affect brain health, and how disorders of the brain affect physical health. It’s no longer a mystery. The real question is, what to do about it? So I left the comment below on Robyn’s TED talk page. I hope she and others read it.

Brain health and mental health is the biggest challenge of the 21st Century.
Brain health and mental health is the biggest challenge of the 21st Century.

Let’s use 2015 Brain Awareness Week to take a fresh look at PMS.

Migraine headache can get you out of your routine
Migraine headache can get you out of your routine

As a scientist, my gut sense is that PMS is rooted more in the brain’s sensitivity to changes in hormones. For instance, women are far more affected by thyroid, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders. They are more likely to feel empathy and have higher levels of the hormone oxytocin. Women also are able to “entrain” their menstrual cycles readily to each other, which is a function of their sensitivity. So, it would seem with this increased sensitivity to emotions, hormonal changes, and activities going on around them, that women could also suffer problematic physical changes in the brain and body from this resulting sensativity. Interestingly, I suspect there are similarities with PMS to that of PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, where for one cause or another, an individual’s brain is less able to process sensory information, and the results are physical changes in the brain, and eventually, in their overall health. Where PMS is a women’s syndrome, PTSD more disproportionately affects men.

Excedrin is used to help manage pain associated with migraine headache.
Excedrin is used to help manage pain associated with migraine headache.

Migraines more disproportionately affect women likely due to their higher hormonal activity and lower hydrostatic pressure in the brain from lower blood volume, and brain pressures. I’ve written about how weather apps and web sites can help in managing weather induced migraine headache.

Weather Apps helpful in Managing Weather Related Migraine Headache

Barometric Pressure graph reveals steep drop and rise which can trigger micraine headache
Barometric Pressure graph reveals steep drop and rise which can trigger micraine headache

Weather related low barometric pressure then is also more likely to induce migraine and hypotensive states in women, than in men. And, the slight loss of blood associated with menstruation, can cause a slight drop in blood pressure and exacerbate migraine syndromes. Together with each woman’s unique psychological makeup, these factors lend itself to a problematic cause & effect of mechanisms that impact brain health in women. Conversely, PTSD seems to affect women far less than men. So it would seem there are some unique health advantages to women’s physiology and brain health.

In support of women’s health, I put on drum circles and drumming events for women’s groups, and for women and others in the workplace.

Drumming for Wellness

Women were ecstatic at this year's women's drum circle at an Orange County area temple.
Women were ecstatic at this year’s women’s drum circle at an Orange County area temple.

Drumming for Workplace Wellness

Drum circles aid productivity and stress reduction for employees at this area Orange County firm.
Drum circles aid productivity and stress reduction for employees at this area Orange County firm.

Women tend to suffer fewer problems with homelessness, and drug and alcohol addiction, than their male counterparts.

Homelessness Affects Men far more than Women
Homelessness Affects Men far more than Women

This appears to be rooted in differences in the male versus female brains. One difference is with the neurochemical, oxytocin, widely regarded as the “love hormone,” which is found in higher levels in women than in men. But men who are active in community outreach and charitable activities, tend to have higher oxytocin levels. There is now an oxytocin nasal spray which has been greeted with mixed results. More recently, when I consider the plight of area homeless people and their associated mental health challenges, I can’t help but wonder whether oxytocin spray might help them, or whether their helping at an area outreach project might boost oxytocin levels, and help normalize wider brain function. Change has to begin somewhere. Here’s a related study:

Outreach can raise Oxytocin Levels (The Guardian)

In September 2015, I gave an in-depth presentation on how methods of alternative medicine can be used in drug and alcohol addiction, and covered related sensory processing disorder and cognitive accessibility. I also own the domain for CognitiveAccessibility.org.

Cognitive Accessibility accommodations er CognitiveAccessibility.org
Cognitive Accessibility accommodations er CognitiveAccessibility.org

Complimentary and Alternative Medicine in Drug & Alcohol Addiction

Illustration of the Meridian fields used in Acupuncture and Alternative Medicine
Illustration of the Meridian fields used in Acupuncture and Alternative Medicine

In my 23 years of being involved in brain care and public health as both a patient and researcher, I’ve seen countless examples of how the prevailing views can be wrong. And Robyn’s dismissal of PMS as a physical syndrome, would appear to be wrong. I also think an mHealth app, coupled with blood work, counseling as needed, exercise, and wellness strategies, could be very helpful in management of PMS.

mHealth Apps in Neurology
mHealth Apps in Neurology

I am concerned with how Robyn Deluca glosses over the obviousness of PMS as NOT having “measurable medical sequela.” Instead, she attempts to label it a mental health or psychiatric disorder.

Avoidable deaths from medical errors in the U.S.
Avoidable deaths from medical errors in the U.S.

I think PMS should be labeled an actual disorder, a bit like PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), where both are a collection of physical complaints secondary to stress and sensitivities in physiology. The medical field seems intent on denying the existance of both of these, as it similarly has with SPD. I have found shooting baskets to be a wonderful mindfulness therapy for stress and SPD related complaints, and authored this blog.

Sports Science vs the Brain Science of Basketball

Basketball allows participants to feel and move rhythmically with a touch sensitive ball
Basketball allows participants to feel and move rhythmically with a touch sensitive ball

Over the longer term, untreated brain health issues can result in the development of sensory processing disorder, or SPD, which is a collection of real neurological complaints that the U.S. government continues to refute today. I’ve written a great deal on this topic.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Brain Diagram of the Cranial Nerves
Brain Diagram of the Cranial Nerves

Apparently, PMS is a heated topic. I was attached by a fellow reader after I initially posted my impressions on Robyn’s conclusions on PMS. I hope those of you with firsthand experience who work with PMS patients will continue to voice your views against the politics of medicine.

Stephen Dolle in Washington, D.C. for the FDA's Hydrocephalus STAMP Conference in 1999.
Stephen Dolle in Washington, D.C. for the FDA’s Hydrocephalus STAMP Conference in 1999.

To learn more about my work, contact me at Dolle Communications.

Stephen Dolle
Drum circle Facilitator & Neuroscientist
Public Health Advocate
Email: contact[at]dollecommunications[dot]com
Web site: Dolle Communications
Telephone: (949) 642-4592

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