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In the 1970s it was discovered that the body had its own natural painkillers which were similar in structure to morphine - a drug used to relieve severe pain in cancer patients. These natural painkillers were called 'endogenous morphines', or endorphins for short.

Since their discovery it has been found that endorphins also:

  • help control the body's response to stress
  • regulate contractions of the intestine
  • lift our mood
  • regulate the release of hormones from the pituitary gland

In the mid-1980s it was found that women with PMS have low levels of beta-endorphins in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. This led to the suggestion that PMS could be a kind of opiate withdrawal syndrome.

According to this concept, women are dependent on their own endorphins and at times of the menstrual cycle, when endorphin levels are low, they experience irritability and depression - a form of 'cold turkey'.

Oestrogen is known to increase levels of beta-endorphins so this may be one reason why women feel all right before ovulation when oestrogen levels are high and experience PMS afterwards when oestrogen is on the decline.

There is also some evidence that endorphin levels are affected by prostaglandins. So if there is a shortage of the necessary prostaglandins there may in turn be a shortage of endorphins.


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