Living near green space could reduce the physical and psychological symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), researchers have found.
A first-of-its-kind study of more than 1,000 women aged 18 to 49 living in cities in Norway and Sweden found that women who across their lifetime live in neighbourhoods with more green space are less likely to experience PMS symptoms than those living in less green neighbourhoods.
Scientists from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and the University of Bergen found that women living in neighbourhoods with more green space had fewer PMS symptoms and were less likely to experience anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, breast tenderness or abdominal bloating.
Although PMS causes clinically relevant symptoms in up to 20% of women of reproductive age, there have not previously been any studies into its relationship with green space.
The study, published in Environment International, adds to a growing body of evidence of the health benefits associated with natural environments.
Participating women – from Bergen in Norway and Gothenburg, Umeå and Uppsala in Sweden – were required to complete a questionnaire, including whether they experienced any of the following common PMS symptoms: irritability, anxiety, tearfulness or increased sensitivity, difficulty sleeping, depression, breast tenderness or abdominal bloating and headaches.
The study adopted the normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) to calculate green space and scientists also estimated exposure to air pollution.
The research aimed to establish whether living near an urban green space could improve PMS symptoms and whether it was affected by body mass index, air pollution or physical activity.
Lead author Kai Triebner, a researcher at the University of Bergen, said: “Three of the four symptoms that improved with exposure to green space were psychological, which is consistent with what we already knew: contact with nature helps to reduce stress and improve mental health.”
Triebner said green space lowered levels of cortisol. He said: “Stress can worsen PMS symptoms and increase levels of the hormone cortisol, which, in turn, could be associated with an increased release of progesterone, which has been linked to the occurrence of PMS symptoms.”
The research is “another building block” in understanding of what the best conditions are to live healthily, he said.
But the research found that women needed to be exposed to green space for a long time to get the most benefits. “When we looked at exposure to green space at a specific point in time, the analysis did not yield any significant results,” said Payam Dadvand, a researcher at ISGlobal, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, and a coordinator of the study. “Our research therefore underscores the importance of long-term exposure to green space, which is where benefits against PMS symptoms were found.”
Previous research has suggested that the benefits of natural space are linked to a rise in physical activity and a reduction in air pollution exposure. But the latest study did not find that these factors played a role.
Dadvand said that despite growing evidence of the beneficial impact of green space on health, many cities still did not have enough of it. He said: “City officials should therefore prioritise natural environments as essential for our health.”