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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016 Mar;65:149-64. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.12.009. Epub 2015 Dec 18.

A lack of consistent evidence for cortisol dysregulation in premenstrual syndrome/premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

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Department of Psychology, Università Degli Studi di Padova, Italy. Electronic address:
Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research (IISBR), Arizona State University, United States; Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, United States.


Although decades of research has examined the association between cortisol regulation and premenstrual syndrome/premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMS/PMDD), no review exists to provide a general set of conclusions from the extant research. In the present review we summarize and interpret research that has tested for associations between PMS/PMDD and cortisol levels and reactivity (n=38 original research articles). Three types of studies are examined: correlational studies, environmental-challenge studies, and pharmacological-challenge studies. Overall, there was very little evidence that women with and without PMS/PMDD demonstrate systematic and predictable mean-level differences in cortisol, or differences in cortisol response/reactivity to challenges. Methodological differences in sample size, the types of symptoms used for diagnosis (physical and psychological vs. only affective), or the type of cortisol measure used (serum vs. salivary), did not account for differences between studies that did and did not find significant effects. Caution is recommended before accepting the conclusion of null effects, and recommendations are made that more rigorous research be conducted, considering symptom-specificity, within-person analyses, and multiple parameters of cortisol regulation, before final conclusions are drawn.


Cortisol; Hypothalamic–pituitary axis; Premenstrual dysphoric disorder; Premenstrual syndrome

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