Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is a well-known, but rarely discussed topic. It’s even often talked about jokingly. If you Google “PMS” you’ll likely find hundreds of cartoons and jokes.
It’s not uncommon to hear someone (typically a male) reference PMS anytime a woman is in a bad mood. Blame it on PMS, right?
But, in reality, PMS is a legitimate condition that impacts the lives of many women, as well as their loved ones.
About 85% of women will experience at least one PMS symptom, but the degree to which it affects a woman can vary. Fifty percent of women who deal with PMS experience significant impairment in their day to day lives – including symptoms of severe depression. If that’s the case, these women may be diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), another menstruation-related condition where a woman experiences severe depression, irritability and tension before menstruation.
Before I get into natural ways to treat PMS, it’s important to know the basics of a the menstrual cycle.
The Menstrual Cycle
According to WebMD,
The menstrual cycle is the series of changes a woman’s body goes through to prepare for a pregnancy. About once a month, the uterus grows a new lining to get ready for a fertilized egg. When there is no fertilized egg to start a pregnancy, the uterus sheds its lining. This is the monthly menstrual bleeding that women have from their early teen years until menopause, around age 50.
The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones released from the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Estrogen and progesterone are the two main hormones that control the menstrual cycle. Estrogen is responsible for building up the lining of the uterus. The hormone progesterone increases after an egg is released from the ovary. Progesterone helps keep the uterine lining thick so that it is prepared for a fertilized egg.
When there is no fertilized egg, progesterone levels drop, causing the uterus lining to break down. This hormone drop and lining breakdown are the start of a woman’s period. The same hormonal changes that are responsible for the menstrual cycle are also responsible for menstrual symptoms.
As I mentioned, estrogen and progesterone fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. Some women have few or no issues, but for others these hormone fluctuations may cause PMS. Common symptoms can include:
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Food cravings
- Low back pain/cramps
The degree to which a woman experiences symptoms can vary, and the severity of the symptoms can vary as well. PMS symptoms typically start 1-2 weeks before a menstrual period begins as this is the time where the greatest hormonal changes are occurring.
What Causes PMS?
It’s not entirely known what causes PMS. Hormonal imbalances are one factor, but research also suggests that women with PMS are unable to make gamma linolenic acid as effectively as other women. Low vitamin and mineral levels may also play a role. An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise can also contribute to PMS-related depression.
5 Natural Ways to Handle PMS
Dealing with PMS can be tricky. What exactly causes it is is somewhat of a mystery, so what works well for one person, may not for another.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting enough exercise is important. Regular exercise may help combat depression – whether it’s caused by PMS or not. Avoiding salty foods, sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol is best.
There are also many over the counter and/or prescription medications that are marketed as PMS treatments; however, we think there are better, more natural options available to women. A previous post talked about natural PMS options but I wanted to add a few more that may help.
1. Gamma Linolenic Acid
For women who are not able to make enough gamma linolenic acid, a GLA supplement may help. GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid. It’s found in plant based oils like borage seed oil, evening primrose oil and black currant seed oil. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential. Essential fatty acids cannot be made by the body so a person has to get them from food or a supplement in order to receive the benefit. Research has found that women with PMS often have low gamma linolenic acid levels and supplementation may help improve their symptoms.
2. Black Cohosh
Black Cohosh is an herb that’s commonly used for women’s health issues – including PMS. In addition, it’s been used for painful menstruation, acne and treating menopause symptoms.
Ginkgo has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Increased irritability, acne and depression are just the beginning for some women who suffer from PMS. Gaining weight or retaining water and breast tenderness are also common before their period. Research suggests that ginkgo may be beneficial for both fluid retention and breast tenderness.
4. B Vitamins
Both Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B6 play a role in alleviating some symptoms of PMS. Studies show that women with PMS tend to be deficient in B vitamins – especially B6 and B12. According to research, B vitamins may help alleviate PMS symptoms and further research will determine if B vitamins can prevent PMS symptoms altogether.
5. Progesterone Cream
Hormone imbalances during the menstrual cycle may be to blame for PMS symptoms. That’s why the birth control pill is often prescribed as a treatment. However, the “pill” can deplete your body of many important nutrients! Click here to learn more.
Progesterone cream is a natural alternative to the pill when it comes to handling PMS symptoms (not as a form of contraception, of course). It can have a similar effect without the harmful side effects. Progesterone cream has been shown to help with mood swings, cramps, anxiety and insomnia -just another common PMS symptom.
- For more on PMS and natural treatment options check out Ashley’s infographic here.
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