Do you dread the week or two prior to your monthly cycle? You know that time when you feel yourself changing from Dr. Jekyll into Ms. Hyde. There’s the irritability, the bloating, the gnawing food cravings, breast tenderness, crying spells, depression and headaches-just to name a few of the most common complaints women experience.
The following have been identified as possible underlying causes of PMS/PMT:
* Excessive estrogen levels from diet, personal care products and stress
* Deficiency in progesterone from diet, personal care products and stress
* Elevated prolactin levels
* Poor nutrition
* Psychological issues
Since PMS encompasses as many as 150 different symptoms and a myriad of possible causes the problem can be complex, confusing and, at times, difficult to correct. However, it is not necessary to suffer in silence as there are many Natural Choices which have been shown to effectively treat your PMS symptoms…..first:
Change Your Diet
The easiest thing you can do to help alleviate your PMS symptoms is to improve your eating habits. Food can play a large role in how you feel when your hormones are raging. Here are some suggestions for simple adjustments you can make to your diet:
1.Eat a Plant Based Diet - Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, herbs, nuts and seeds are the main components of a plant-based diet. Studies have shown that women who are vegetarian have much less circulating free estrogen in their blood than non-vegetarian women.
One way vegetarians avoid consuming free estrogen is by not eating meat-most farmers inject livestock with hormones that we ingest when we eat non-organic chicken, beef or pork. Since xeno-estrogens interfere with natural hormone production and function, it makes sense to take steps to prevent the introduction of synthetic hormones into your body’s natural chemistry.
However, you don’t have to become a full-fledged vegetarian to reap the benefits. By simply increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and shopping for hormone and antibiotic-free meats, you will improve your overall health.
Eat at least three servings per week of cold water fish high in omega 3 fatty acids-halibut, salmon, cod.
2.Consume More Dietary Fiber - Many studies suggest that a high fiber diet reduces PMS symptoms by binding excess estrogens in the gut and keeping them out of circulation.
3. Reduce Saturated Fats - 40 percent of the average American diet contains saturated fats. This number should be reduced to, at the most, 25 percent. A diet low in saturated fat (found primarily in dairy and animal products such as fatty meats and lard) can help reduce estrogen levels because fat cells trigger estrogen production.
4. Reduce/Eliminate Stimulants - It is also important to avoid harmful fats such as trans-fatty acids and partially hydrogenated (used primarily in margarine and snack foods). Women following a low-fat diet have been shown to experience a reduction in PMS symptoms.
Stimulants-caffeine, alcohol, sugar-can heighten a women’s PMS symptoms. Caffeine especially can aggravate symptoms like anxiety, depression and breast tenderness. It’s best to reduce or eliminate coffee, chocolate and any pain relievers (like Excedrin) that contain caffeine. Alcohol is also detrimental during PMS because it depletes essential nutrients in the body-namely B vitamins, magnesium and zinc-and even moderate doses can cause damage to your liver cells, which in turn interferes with the proper synthesis of hormones by the body.
Excessive consumption of highly refined sugar can deplete chromium, magnesium, zinc, manganese and B vitamins. Studies show that women who consume high amounts of refined sugar suffer from more severe PMS symptoms. Sugar also worsens hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which can result in symptoms often associated with PMS-irritability, poor concentration, cravings and headaches.
5. Exercise - This is a no-brainer. Exercise helps to reduce and prevent PMS symptoms, like depression, because it floods the body with endorphins, a natural analgesic released by the body. The “runner’s high” or euphoria is caused by an increase in endorphins in the system. 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise-running, walking, swimming, dancing-at least three days a week will not only keep PMS at bay, but will improve your physical health and appearance.
Supplements for PMS Relief
Aside from the lifestyle changes previously outlined, the following vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary on a daily basis, not just when their PMS symptoms are raging:
* NATURAL PROGESTERONE
The primary reason women experience some combination of the 150 symptoms of PMS is failure to make sufficient progesterone during the progesterone phase of the month (ovulation to menstruation).
VITAMIN B6 This nutrient has been proven to effectively relieve headaches, swelling, bloating, depression and irritability associated with PMS. The recommended dosage is 50 - 100 mg daily within a B complex formula-B vitamins work best together rather than when taken separately.
MAGNESIUM PMS sufferers tend to have lower levels of this mineral in their red blood cells, compared to women without PMS. Magnesium is also activated by vitamin B6, which helps breakdown of estrogen in the liver. Therefore, it would make sense that a deficiency in one of these two vital nutrients could result in PMS symptoms. The recommended dosage is 500 mg daily with 1000 mg of calcium. Purchase calcium citrate or malate, NOT calcium carbonate. These formulations of calcium are much more easily absorbed than calcium carbonate, which tends to be excreted by the body if not completely absorbed. Look for capsules or quick dissolve pills.
ZINC PMS sufferers tend to have lower levels of zinc, which can affect hormone levels and lead to symptoms as varied as depression, acne outbreaks or oily skin. The recommended dosage for daily maintenance is 15 mg within a multivitamin. Zinc taken alone in higher doses can cause stomach upset, anemia and can lead to an imbalance in copper levels in the body.
VITAMIN E This vitamin has been shown to effectively reduce breast tenderness often associated with PMS. The recommended daily dosage is 400 - 800 IU (international units is the unit of measure for vitamin E). Natural vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol), with a blend of mixed tocopherols is best supplement option.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS Evening primrose oil used as a food supplement has been shown to alleviate PMS related depression, irritability, breast pain and tenderness, and fluid retention, due in large part to the omega 3 fatty acids it contains. In practice, I have seen mixed results. I recommend the following dietary changes to my patients:
GROUND FLAX SEEDS 1 -2 tablespoons daily.
EVENING PRIMROSE OIL (EPO) containing 200 - 300 mg of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) daily.
As far as herbal supplements are concerned, the following are most effective for PMS symptoms:
This is one of the most popular herbs used for treating PMS symptoms. Vitex acts directly on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland by increasing luteinizing hormone levels-LH is a substance produced by the pituitary gland that stimulates the secretion of other hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, by the ovaries.
Vitex might also slightly decrease follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels-FSH is also produced by the pituitary gland and triggers the development of eggs in the ovaries. A balance in these two hormone levels can lead to a subsequent balance in progesterone and estrogen. Vitex has also been shown to decrease the body’s production of prolactin which can also help alleviate the symptoms of PMS.
The recommended dosage is 240 mg of standardized capsule extract (0.6 percent aucubine) daily. This herb should be taken daily as a maintenance product, not just when PMS symptoms are present.
Less than 2 percent of all women who have taken this herb have experienced side effects which include digestive upset and mild skin rash.
Dandelion effectively reduces the bloating and swelling associated with PMS. It acts as a potent diuretic by helping the body eliminate excess or retained water. It is comparable to the pharmaceutical diuretic, Lasix. However, unlike many pharmaceutical diuretics, dandelion does not cause an increase in the levels of potassium excreted in the urine.
The recommended dosage is 160 mg capsules daily of a standardized extract (with 3 percent vitexine) per the label instructions, while PMS symptoms are present.
This herb is a valuable nervine (or nerve tonic) with potent anti-anxiety properties. It is especially important for the treatment of emotional instability or mood swings associated with PMS.
Take 160 mg capsules daily (per the label instructions) while PMS symptoms are present.
Dong quai is sometimes called the “women’s ginseng” by traditional Chinese herbalist because of its many applications for treating conditions specific to women. In China, dong quai is used primarily to treat symptoms associated with PMS and menopause-it’s believed to have a stabilizing influence on the female endocrine system.
Benefits include reduction of painful uterine cramps and breast tenderness associated with the menses. It is also thought to relax the smooth muscles of the uterus and has been shown to protect and increase liver metabolism.
The recommended dosage is 100 mg of a standardized extract (0.8 percent ligustilide) taken everyday until blood flow begins.
Traditionally, dong quai is taken for five menstrual cycles (or roughly 140 days). Women who stick to this plan should see noticeable improvements in their symptoms after two cycles or roughly 56 days.
Dong quai should not be taken during menses, when it could cause increased bleeding. Fair-skinned individuals may become more sensitive to sunlight while taking this herb, and should take steps to protect their skin.
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.