An international team of researchers believe that low doses of an antidepressant like Prozac may be pivotal in preventing premenstrual symptoms (PMS) in women.

In a collaborative study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, scientists from the University of Bristol, UCL and the University of Sao Paolo-Riberiaro Preto in Brazil used rats to show that the anti-depressant can inhibit a specific enzyme in the brain, and could be used to alleviate symptoms of progesterone withdrawal such as PMS.

PMS affects up to 80 percent of women and can sometimes cause debilitating conditions, according to a news release. PMS can also cause women to feel anxious, irritable, fatigued, and have an increased sensitivity to pain.

Researchers believe the onset of PMS is triggered by a fall in secretion of the ovarian sex steroid hormone progesterone, that occurs toward the end of the menstrual cycle. The fall in secretion then leads to a decline in its breakdown product allopregnanolone, which acts as a sedative and tranquilizing agent.

The imbalance creates a drug withdrawal-like response in the brain, according to the news release. However, the researchers found that antidepressants inhibit the enzyme, which deactivates allopregnanolone, and maintains the chemical balance of the tranquilizing agent.

“The work is important because it introduces the possibility for targeted, intermittent therapy for PMS with minimal side effects,” Dr. Lovick of the University of Bristol said, according to the news release.

In addition to the team’s findings, aother study published in the journal European Neurophsychopharmacology showed that short-term treatment with a low dose of antidepressants immediately prior to a rat’s premenstrual period raised allopregnanolone levels. It also prevented PMS symptoms from developing.

Human trials are expected to begin in Brazil soon.