Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS, as it is commonly called, refers to a diverse range of symptoms that occur preceding the menstrual cycle. It is actually a condition of hormonal imbalance, which leads to discomfort in the form of tender breasts, muscle cramps, bloating, and more. Most of these symptoms are a normal part of premenstrual symptoms. When these symptoms disrupt your daily life, at work, or in your relationships elsewhere, it is called PMS. It occurs between ovulation and the start of the menstrual cycle.
All women do not have the same symptoms. Every woman has her own set of symptoms. The periodicity of occurrence makes it a syndrome. The symptoms of PMS can be physical or emotional. The physical symptoms could be
- Abdominal pressure
- Oedema (water retention)
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Aching back and muscle cramps
- Lower back pain
- Changes in sleep pattern
Most women go through emotional and behavioral symptoms which they find most distressing. These include
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Depression, crying and sadness
- Anger, irritability and mood swings
- Anxiety and decreased alertness
- Inability to concentrate
When these symptoms are very severe, one is said to have PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). Women with PMDD report the following symptoms. Not all women have severe symptoms. It is said that chronic changes in the brain chemical called serotonin, may be the cause of PMDD. Certain brain cells that use serotonin are involved in controlling mood, attention, sleep, and pain. The symptoms usually start a week before the period and go away when the menstrual bleeding starts. The symptoms of PMDD include
- Feeling sadness and despair
- Tension and anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Frequent mood swings and crying
- Anger and irritability that affects other people
- Lack of interest in daily activities and relationships
- Extreme fatigue
- Insomnia and feeling out of control
Causes of PMS
PMS is linked to normal changes in the endocrine system that starts with ovulation, lasting up to the first days of the menstrual period. It is said that while the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, adrenal gland, and ovaries work together to produce an egg, they send out chemical signals to one another and the rest of the body. These signals are in the form of hormones and brain chemicals, and they have the ability to affect your mood, energy levels, and pain perceptions. If one part of the endocrine system is not working properly, the rest of the system is affected, causing various combinations of symptoms.
Treating PMS naturally
The solution to PMS may be simple, using a natural approach. Dietary changes and exercises can go a long way in alleviating these symptoms. A high sodium diet can worsen fluid retention, bloating, and breast tenderness. Caffeinated beverages like tea, coffee, colas can intensify anxiety, irritability, and mood swings. Avoiding alcohol and smoking helps. Alcohol depletes the body’s store of B vitamins and minerals. It also disrupts the liver’s ability to metabolize hormones which can lead to higher than normal estrogen levels. Cut down on salt, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. Include a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, raw seeds, nuts, fish, and whole grains. It has been found that certain vitamins and minerals help in balancing those hormones which lead to these symptoms. These include Folic acid, Calcium with vitamin D, Magnesium, vitamin B6, and vitamin E.
Calcium and Magnesium can help relieve PMS symptoms like pain and anxiety. A processed diet with a high sugar intake is often to blame for the lack of magnesium, as it is stripped from grains in the refining process. Magnesium is considered to work along with B6 to relieve PMS. Food rich in magnesium is pumpkin seeds, spinach, swiss chard, and soya beans.
Several studies show that the B6 vitamin is extremely useful in managing instability, depression, fluid retention, breast tenderness, and other premenstrual symptoms. Both B6 and Calcium affect the hormone-producing endocrine system. B6 has also been noted to be useful in fighting the acne flare that may come before the period. Very good sources of B6 are spinach, tuna, cauliflower, mustard greens, asparagus and broccoli, and kidney beans.
Exercise is a great stress reliever and increasing the pelvic circulation can help to rid the body of some of the bloating associated with PMS. Aerobic exercises at least 20 to 30 mins, thrice a week will help. Exercise helps reduce depression, tension, pain, and mood swings.
Vitamin E, it is said may help to ease the symptoms of PMS by reducing the production of prostaglandins, a hormone-like substance that causes cramps. Vitamin E may be helpful for alleviating menstrual cramps and decreasing blood loss during menstruation. Foods high in vitamin E are almonds, raw seeds like sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
Home remedies for PMS
Before considering herbs to treat PMS, certain dietary changes have to be made as discussed above. It is said that many women find relief simply by eating a high complex carbohydrate, low-fat diet, eliminating sugar and caffeine, and exercising regularly. Some of the herbs that are really helpful in alleviating the PMS symptoms are chaste berry and Evening Primrose oil.
Chaste berry (Vitex Angus castus)
Originally used by a group of nuns in Europe, the berry from the chaste tree has become very important in treating the hormonal and reproductive problems of women. It is said to exhibit activities that relieve the symptoms and regulates glandular functions in the long term. It is said to help your body increase its own progesterone through pituitary support. Elevated prolactin is associated with amenorrhoea as well as PMS. Chaste berry inhibits prolactin. It is also a sedative and anti-spasmodic. There are many studies that confirm that chaste berry produces PMS relief. It is also good for lactation and menopausal symptoms. Chaste berry can be had in the form of tincture or tea.
Evening Primrose oil (Oenothera biennis)
Native to North America, the herb has flowers that bloom in the evening. Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which is an essential fatty acid. GLA seems to be converted into molecules that seem to counteract biochemical changes in the body that might underlie PMS. Folk medicinal uses include conditions affecting women’s health such as breast pain associated with PMS. GLA supplements are also useful for depression, which is a symptom of PMS. It is available in the form of capsules.
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
Black Cohosh was first used by native Americans. It is a herb that helps treat PMS and menopause symptoms. The antispasmodic properties of the root are used to alleviate menstrual discomfort and painful cramps. The phytoestrogens contained in Black Cohosh are said to ease PMS. The root of this plant fights excess water retention by acting as a diuretic. It treats symptoms such as depression in PMS. Back Cohosh seems to have effects similar to the female hormone estrogen. Some chemicals in the root might work similarly to another chemical in the brain called serotonin. It can be had in the form of a tea, made from steeping the root in boiling water.
Black Cohosh should be used only for a short amount of time. Long-term use is not advised and it should be taken only with guidance from a doctor.
Flaxseed owes its reputation as healthy food to three components. It is high in fibre, which is found on its seed coat. It is rich in Omega-3 fatty acid ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) and is also a very good source of lignans in the human diet. Lignans have plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flaxseed has been shown to relieve some of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. A 2007 study from the Mayo clinic showed that twenty-one women, who consumed 40 gms of ground flaxseed daily had quite a drop in the frequency and intensity of their hot flashes.