Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) 101

Conditions
Last Updated Jun 26, 2020
Conditions

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), also known as Premenstrual Tension (PMT), is the name that is used to describe a collection of physical and emotional symptoms that affect women before the start of menstruation.  Around eighty percent of women suffer from PMS but there is no need to suffer in silence.  There are some natural remedies that can help.

Information about PMS

Physical symptoms for PMS include:

  • bloating in the stomach
  • swollen hands or feet
  • tender or enlarged breasts
  • lower abdominal pain or cramps
  • weight gain
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • appetite changes
  • aches in the joints or muscles
  • acne

Emotional symptoms for PMS include:

  • irritability
  • anger
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • tension
  • fatigue or a lack of energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • crying spells
  • feeling overwhelmed or out of control

PMS tends to affect women between the age of 20 and 40, and is more common over the age of 30.  When you are premenstrual, there will be an increase of hormones called prostaglandins.  These hormones are directly related to the inflammation processes within the body and can cause problems such as breast tenderness, and can increase headaches.  They may also decrease your pain tolerance.

PMS may also cause problems due to low blood sugar.  When a woman is premenstrual, her blood sugar levels may drop more easily after a meal.  Usually, levels stay stable for a period of up to five hours, however, during the premenstrual stage of the cycle, blood sugar levels can drop as soon as three hours after eating.  This can cause poor concentration, tiredness, and sugar or carbohydrate cravings.

Nutrition

Women that suffer from PMS tend to eat more refined carbohydrates, refined sugar, dairy products, and sodium, than those who do not.  Sufferers of PMS may have food cravings in the time leading up to their periods and the most common foods craved are sweet foods, refined carbohydrates, and salty foods.  The intake of stimulants such as coffee, tea, alcohol, chocolate, and cigarettes may also increase during this time.  However, the change in diet can actually make the symptoms of PMS worse.

For example, sugary foods or caffeine are contributors to mood swings, irritability, and anxiety, and salty foods are linked to water retention.  As well as resisting cravings, women that suffer from PMS should eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, include more wholegrains in their diet, and eat smaller meals throughout the day, as this stabilises blood sugar levels and helps to combat food cravings.

There is speculation that women that suffer from PMS may be deficient in essential fatty acids, especially gammalinolenic acid, which is found in evening primrose oil, safflower oil, borage seed oil, and blackcurrant seed oil.  Therefore supplementation may be beneficial for PMS symptoms.

Vitamin B6 and Vitamin E may also be useful.  Vitamin E can help to reduce breast soreness while vitamin B6 seems to relieve symptoms.  Calcium and magnesium supplements may be beneficial.  A study has shown that calcium supplementation led to a 48 percent reduction in the symptoms of PMS.  Magnesium can reduce PMS-related bloating, fluid retention and breast tenderness.

Exercise

Exercise increases endorphin levels within the body, the chemicals that are responsible for a sense of wellbeing and pain relief.  Regular exercise is also helpful for reducing stress and maintaining self esteem.  Exercise has been shown to be helpful with PMS, with those who exercise reporting an improvement in their PMS symptoms.  Aerobic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, aerobics, and dancing appear to be the best forms.

Stress Reduction

While a certain amount of stress is necessary in day to day life, too much stress over a prolonged time has a negative effect on our health.  In fact, stress is capable of disrupting the menstrual cycle.  Women who suffer from PMS may find that their symptoms worsen when they are stressed.  To help stress, utilise strategies such as yoga, meditation, and relaxation therapies.  It may also be helpful to try and rearrange your schedule if possible, so that you are reducing stressful factors or events in the time that leads up to your period.

Herbal Therapies

Herbal therapies that are useful for the treatment of PMS include:

  • Vitex Agnus Castus (Chaste Tree) – this herb has been traditionally used to treat menstrual symptoms, including PMS.  Taking this herb can reduce irritability, mood swings, anger, headaches, and breast fullness.
  • Black Cohosh – this herb can be useful for reducing premenstrual depression, anxiety, tension, and mood swings.
  • St John’s Wort – this herb is useful for treating mild depression, and it can also reduce symptoms of PMS by at least fifty percent.

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Originally published on Jul 14, 2008

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