Mark Stengler, ND
Negligence is the word I can think of that best summarizes the way conventional medicine approaches premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Here we have a condition that is simply a matter of hormone imbalance and nutritional deficiencies.
Negligence is the word I can think of that best summarizes the way conventional medicine approaches premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Here we have a condition that is simply a matter of hormone imbalance and nutritional deficiencies. Yet Prozac and other antidepressant drugs are quickly becoming the primary conventional treatment for PMS. The motto should be "take this pill and call me next menstrual cycle."
Although women have been lead to believe that some degree of PMS is normal, this is a myth. Rather, PMS is a signal that a hormone imbalance exists. There are many theories as to the cause, including excessive estrogen, progesterone deficiency (or an imbalanced ratio between the two), elevated prolactin (protein hormone), increased aldosterone (adrenal gland dysfunction), nutritional insufficiencies, hypoglycemia, prostaglandin deficiency or excess, serotonin deficiency, thyroid abnormality, liver health and various psychological factors. Fortunately though, natural approaches work astoundingly well to prevent and treat PMS.
Proper diet and nutrition are essential for correcting the underlying hormonal imbalances and nutritional deficiencies of PMS. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, herbs, nuts and seeds should be plentiful in the diet. Eat fresh, organic foods. Try to avoid processed foods. It has been shown that vegetarian women have much less circulating free estrogen in their blood than non-vegetarian women, thus decreasing one's susceptibility to PMS. Fermented soy products such as tofu, tempeh and miso also can help prevent PMS due to their hormone-balancing phytonutrients.
Eat Healthy Fats
A diet low in saturated fat (as found in red meat and dairy products) helps reduce excess estrogen levels. Conversely, fat cells trigger estrogen production. Also, non-organic meat contains traces of estrogen and other hormones from livestock that have been injected with estrogen and other fattening hormones. It is also important to avoid harmful fats, such as trans fatty acids found in margarine and partially hydrogenated oils. Women following a diet low in these fats have been shown to experience a reduction in PMS symptoms.
Reduce Sugar Intake
Researchers found a strong correlation between high sugar consumption and PMS. Excessive consumption of highly refined sugar can deplete valuable reserves of chromium, magnesium, zinc, manganese and B vitamins. These nutrients are necessary for the metabolism of sugar. Sugar also worsens symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), especially premenstrually, resulting in symptoms of irritability, poor concentration, sugar cravings and headaches.
Watch Your Salt
If water retention is a problem, restrict your use of salt. Also, increase your intake of potassium, found in fresh fruits and vegetables. A high intake of salt and low intake of potassium can lead to symptoms such as water retention and high blood pressure.
The Fluid Factor
Restrict caffeine-containing products such as coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and some pain relievers. Caffeine worsens PMS symptoms such as anxiety, depression and breast tenderness. Alcohol also depletes B vitamins, magnesium and zinc, and damages liver cells. This interferes with the proper metabolism of hormones.
Herbal PMS Busters
Herbal medicines are among the safest and most effective therapies for PMS. Their use has been documented through thousands of years.
Hippocrates wrote about the hormone-balancing qualities of vitex (also known as chaste tree, chaste berry or monk's pepper) in the fourth century BC. This fruit was used for diseases of the uterus and is now the most popular herbal remedy for PMS. Studies have dem-onstrated that vitex supplementation can reduce physical complaints (such as headaches, breast tenderness, bloating, fatigue and sweet cravings) and psychological complaints (such as anxiety, irritability, depression, mood swings and a lack of concentration) after using an extract for a minimum of one month.
This botanical is safe to use except during pregnancy and for those women on the birth control pill. Vitex is usually taken for three to five months. Average dosage is 40 drops of tincture, or 180 to 240 milligrams of standardized capsule extract.
Dandelion Leaf (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion effectively reduces the uncomfortable bloating and swelling that many women experience during the last seven to 14 days of their menstrual cycle. It acts as a potent diuretic. Animal studies have shown a diuretic effect comparable to the pharmaceutical diuretic Lasix but without the loss of potassium.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Passionflower is most popular for its relaxing and sedating properties. Conditions such as restlessness, irritability and insomnia are primary indications for this nerve relaxant. Clinically, passionflower is a valuable adjunct in the treatment of the emotional instability associated with PMS.
Dong Quai (Angelica sinesis)
Dong quai (also known as tang-kuei or dang gui) reduces painful cramps and breast tenderness associated with menses. It is thought to relax the smooth muscles of the uterus, thereby relieving cramps.
Specific nutritional supplements have proven valuable in controlling PMS symptoms. Interestingly, most of them work by improving the liver's ability to clear estrogen out of the body.
Vitamin B6 is one of the most important supplements in the treatment and prevention of PMS. Vitamin B6 works synergistically with magnesium. Without B6, magnesium cannot get inside the cell. However, with B6, more magnesium can enter and be used in the cells. I recommend 50 to 100 mg in divided doses, or a B-complex formula.
Magnesium plays many important roles in a healthy, functioning cell. A deficiency of this mineral can account for many PMS symptoms. Studies have shown that PMS sufferers have lower levels of magnesium in their red blood cells, compared to women without PMS. I recommend 250 to 500 mg daily.
This mineral is for more than just bone health. Studies have shown it to be effective for PMS. For example, one double-blind study looked at 497 women who were given either 1,200 mg of calcium or a placebo for three menstrual cycles. By the third month, a significant improvement in four PMS symptoms (negative mood, water retention, food cravings and pain) was experienced by the group that took calcium.
Women with PMS have been shown to have lower levels of zinc. As I have discussed, high prolactin levels are associated with PMS. Zinc helps balance and lower these abnormally high prolactin levels. I recommend 15 to 30 mg daily.
Vitamin E helps to effectively reduce breast tenderness and other PMS symptoms. I recommend 400 to 800 IU daily. Natural vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol) with a blend of mixed tocopherols is best.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil is a dietary source of GLA. This essential fatty acid is a precursor to prostaglandins, which have a regulating effect on hormones and other systems of the body. Opinions vary on the effectiveness of evening primrose oil for PMS. Some studies have shown the benefits of evening primrose oil supplementation for PMS-related depression, irritability, breast pain and tenderness and fluid retention. I recommend 2,000 mg (200 mg of GLA) to 3,000 mg (300 mg of GLA) along with an oil blend that includes omega-3 fatty acids (flax seed oil and fish oil).
In summary, PMS is not a "normal" part of a healthy woman's life. It is very realistic that through a healthy diet, lifestyle and supplementation, it doesn't need to occur at all. By incorporating the recommendations in this article, women can treat the underlying cause of their condition.
Symptoms of PMS
The symptoms of PMS range from mild to debilitating, depending on the woman, and usually occur two weeks or a few days preceding the menstrual cycle.