PMS & Hyperventilation
“PMS”, or premenstrual syndrome, are a group of symptoms that women experience typically during the luteal phase (the time between ovulation and menstruation). And not every women experiences PMS symptoms, and not all the time, and actual causes are relatively unknown. At best we can guess it may be related to multiple factors such as diet, nutrition, exercise, stress management, lifestyle habits, sleep hygiene, environmental, etc, and just about anything and everything that can affect the balance of our hormones.
One possible connection to PMS symptoms is the relationship between hormonal changes and hyperventilation (“overbreathing”). Hyperventilation is a state of breathing too much air that affects the blood gas levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), where too much CO2 is expired, lowering its levels in the blood, which decreases the amount of oxygen saturation from the blood into the tissues; this brings the need to hyperventilate to take in more oxygen from the outside. When CO2 levels are low in the blood, this promotes vasoconstriction and our stored reserves of oxygen located within the hemoglobin molecules in our red blood cells are less likely to be released into the blood and thus to the tissues. Feeling “light-headed” after strenuous exercise is a common example of this where due to the hyperventilation, there is less blood flow to the brain at that moment.
In a 2006 study by Slatovska et al, they found that women who experienced PMS symptoms demonstrated lower CO2 levels when their symptoms appeared during the luteal phase, which is also when their progesterone levels were increasing. The PMS symptoms disappeared as their progesterone levels decreased and CO2 levels normalized. This suggests that possibly women with PMS symptoms might have a greater sensitivity to CO2 levels caused by increased progesterone leading to hyperventilation. CO2 is the primary trigger for us to breathe; when you hold your breath long enough, there’s an increase in CO2 in the blood and limited oxygen saturation into the tissues which leads to the strong desire to breath. Hyperventilation leads to vasoconstriction, less oxygen to the tissues, decreased blood flow, increased sympathetic nervous system drive, increased pain sensitivity, poorer recovery, “brain fog”, “trigger points” (possibly due to the poor tissue oxygenation), and overall, an overly stressed state.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Addressing hyperventilation may help improve and/or abolish PMS symptoms. How can we address hyperventilation? Breathe slower. Breath lighter. Breathe deeper. In other words, the Oxygen Advantage approach of functional breathing and simulation of altitude training.