If you are a female and you have started your period, then you have most likely experienced Premenstrual Syndrome. 75% of menstruating women have experienced symptoms of PMS at least once in their lives. Historically doctor’s have treated PMS like a psychological disorder, but PMS is HIGHLY treatable and it is not all in your head!
This topic is near and dear with me this month, because I was recently seen by the doctor for severe PMS pain symptoms and I have a family history of female disorders. Also, just because we are women and have a period does not mean we have to suffer through pain, mood swings, and bloating every month!
This post will hopefully shed light on reasons why we get PMS, what symptoms are included so you can recognize if you have it, and a huge host of treatment options (some you can do on your own, some you can do with the supervision of a doctor).
Men this post applies to you, because most of you have a friend, partner, sister, mother, etc., that has experienced these symptoms before. Never underestimate the power of a woman undergoing PMS or the Superhero you will be to her if you help her improve her symptoms!
I get bloating, cramps, and super annoyed with my partner right before my period… is that PMS?
Pretty much #truth sister! Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) refers to the cyclic constellation of lovely symptoms that appear during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (1-2 weeks before your period begins) and typically resolve during the menstrual flow.
Symptoms of PMS:
There are more than 150 symptoms linked to PMS, below are the most common…
So why the heck do we get PMS?
Unfortunately the cause is not completely understood. The main theory is that cyclic changes in the ovarian steroids (hormones) estrogen and progesterone cause changes in multiple body systems including the brain neurotransmitters, which then have emotional and physical manifestations.
English please! Your female hormones go out of balance due to the natural cycle of menstruation leading to changes in your brain chemicals causing fun physical and emotional symptoms.
Self Quiz! Take the quiz below. Check yourself at the end of the post to see if you were correct!
Some other contributing factors include…
- Poor diet, Food allergies, Nutritional deficiencies
- Stress, Environmental toxins
- Seasonal Affective Disorder, Depression
- Hypoglycemia, Thyroid problems, Poor liver function
- Hormonal imbalances: estrogen/progesterone (typically extra estrogen & decreased progesterone or imbalanced ratio), elevated Prolactin (pituitary hormone), increased Aldosterone (adrenal gland dysfunction), or Serotonin deficiency
Okay, I think I have PMS or at least I have some symptoms of it every month, what can I do?!
Go to your PCP (primary care provider) and get diagnosed with PMS. This is the most effective way to start getting treatment and help managing your symptoms. If you want to incorporate more natural remedies of treatment, see a practitioner that focuses on woman’s health, prevention, or Naturopathic medicine.
Ask your doctor about getting some of the following tests to assess the cause of your PMS and help direct treatment:
- Hormone Testing: Thyroid, DHEA, Cortisol, Testosterone, IGF-1, Estrogen, Progesterone, Prolactin (saliva, blood, or urine test)
- Vitamin/Mineral Analysis: Especially Magnesium, Calcium, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12 (blood test)
- Food/Environmental Allergies (blood or electrodermal test)
- Blood sugar balance (blood test)
Before getting diagnosed or while you are waiting, try some at home therapies!
Women with PMS symptoms typically, according to studies, eat a diet that is: high in refined carbs, high in refined sugar, high in dairy products, high in sodium, and deficient in iron/manganese/zinc!
Eat MORE of…
- Whole high fiber foods – help balance blood sugar, ease digestive problems, and reduce liver stress
- Veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, herbs, nuts, seeds!
- 2+ servings of green leafy veggies per day – they are a healthy source of Calcium, which supports and calms the nervous system and has a diuretic effect (decreases bloating)
- Essential Fatty Acids in cold water fish, flaxseeds, and flaxseed oil – decreases inflammation
- 1 tablespoon of ground Flaxseeds daily with 10 ounces of water – helps to support a healthy estrogen metabolism
- If you eat animal products, make sure they are HORMONE and ANTIBIOTIC FREE!
Eat LESS of…
- Saturated fat (found in red meat and dairy products) – diets low in saturated fat have been shown to reduce excess estrogen levels
- Harmful fats like trans-fatty acids (margarine, partially hydrogenated oils)
- Any known food allergies or sensitivities
- Sugar, especially refined sugar – throws blood sugar levels off balance leading to increased mood swings, tension, and PMS symptoms. It also depletes stores of Chromium, Magnesium, Zinc, Manganese, and B Vitamins, which all help to metabolize sugar! YIKES!
- Sodium/Salt – leads to increased bloating
- Caffeine containing products like coffee, soda, chocolate, and even some pain relievers – can increase anxiety, depression, and breast tenderness
- Alcohol intake – it is dehydrating to your body, AVOID completely 2 weeks before menstruation
At Home Treatments:
- Do Yoga! It relieves cramps, improves digestion, and releases stress!
- Exercise! Woman who exercise regularly, just 30 minutes of walking per day, have fever PMS symptoms than those who do not!
- Try Reflexology or Acupressure or Massage or Hydrotherapy
- See a qualified practitioner or try one of the self massage or hydrotherapy treatments at home!
Place a hot compress to the lower abdomen, below the belly button for relief from cramps.
Constitutional hydrotherapy home treatment
Consti-what-now? Constitutional Hydrotherapy is a gentle at home treatment using hot and cold to optimize circulation, detoxify and purify the blood, enhance digestive function/elimination, balance the nervous system, and stimulates/enhances the immune system.
How? Alteration of hot and cold compresses increases the immune system’s white blood cells to help fight off infection. It also increases circulation to the digestive organs and other organs of elimination.
Treatment Instructions (2 person):
- Lie on your back, have your partner cover your bare chest and stomach with, either 2 large hand towels folded in half or 1 small bath towel folded for 4 layers, wrung out in hot water tolerable to the touch. Cover the body with a wool blanket to avoid becoming chilled. Leave the towels in place 5 minutes. See illustration 1 below.
- Replace the hot towels with, either 1 large hand towel folded in half or 2 hand towels unfolded, wrung out in cold water. Cover the body as before with a blanket to avoid becoming chilled. Leave the cold towel in place 10 minutes. Do not remove the towel until it has become warmed, or 12 minutes, whichever is first.
- Repeat the same treatment on the back. See illustration 2.
The treatment should take about 30 minutes.
Treatment Instructions (1 person):
Take a hot bath or shower for 5-10 minutes (do not wet the head). Get out and dry quickly. Take a towel wrung out in cold water and wrap it all around the trunk of the body, from the armpits to the groin. Cover with a wool blanket to avoid chill. Leave the cold towel in place at least 20 minutes, or longer, until it is warmed. See illustration 3 above.
Lie down with knees bent and put pressure on the surface of abdomen until you find the spots that are tender. Massage these points with the flat of your hand using firm but gentle pressure. Use an essential oil listed below for added effect. Ask your partner to do this for you, I am sure they will be happy to help you feel better physically and emotionally. 🙂
Try some of the following options either via an infuse, used in massage, or take a bath or foot-bath with some essential oils.
Black pepper and Rosemary
Soothing, warming effect on cramped abdominal muscles.
Geranium and Rose oils
Balances female hormones as well as uplifting emotional effect.
Geranium, Rose Oils, Lavender, Bergamot, or Jasmine all have calming effects on the nervous system. Use any of them alone or in combination to relax!
Supplementation and Botanical Medicines:
Sometimes diet, stress reduction, and physical medicine treatments are enough to calm down even the worse PMS symptoms. Other times we have to look towards nutritional supplementation and botanical medicines and even sometimes pharmaceuticals for relief. Below are some commonly used supplements and botanical medicines used by Naturopathic Doctors. There are no dosages below, because these treatments should only be used under the supervision of a Naturopathic Physician or other licensed health care provider! These are some ideas to discuss with them though!
High potency multivitamin formula
This you could purchase on your own and add to your daily routine. It will help make sure you do not have any undetected or undiagnosed nutritional deficiencies and will support your diet (whatever it might be).
Works synergistically with Magnesium as cofactor for estrogen metabolism by the liver. A double-blind study, showed 84% of women with greater symptom improvement than placebo.
Ideally citrate, malate, aspartate, or glycinate. Cofactor required for metabolism of estrogen. Also, relieves cramping.
Shown to be deficient in women with PMS.
Decreases breast tenderness and other associated PMS symptoms. Try to get natural Vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol) with a blend of Tocopherols and Tocotrienols, this is the best form to absorb it the most!
A double-blind study compared Calcium with placebo for 3 menstrual cycles. They saw improvement in 4 PMS symptoms with the Calcium group over placebo: negative mood, water retention, food cravings, and pain.
This is the most well-studied herbal treatment for PMS. Improvements have been noted within 2 cycles. It has a balancing effect on Progesterone levels and Prolacin levels. A 2 month study compared Vitex to Prozac and saw that both were beneficial overall for decreased PMS symptoms, but Vitex was more helpful for physical complaints. DO NOT USE if you are on Oral Contraceptives!
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis)
Reduces painful cramps and breast tenderness associated with menses by relaxing smooth muscles of uterus.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Relaxes nervous system, improves symptoms of restlessness, irritability, and insomnia
Dandelion leaf (taracacum officinale) or Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale)
Decreases water retention associated with PMS and acts as a liver tonic.
Homeopathy has been shown to work with some women for their PMS symptoms. For acute situations, take an acute remedy dose such as a 30C potency 3 x day for 2 weeks before menses to prevent symptoms. Consult with a homeopathic practitioner or a Naturopathic doctor who also practices homeopathy for the best-matched remedy.
Below are some remedies to consider! Since homeopathic remedies are aimed at treating the WHOLE person, look at the remedies below and the symptomatic descriptions that accompany them. If there are one or two that seem to apply to your situation, then that remedy may be your match. You can purchase most acute homoepathic remedies at your local health food store, but ideally you would allow a Naturopathic doctor or Homeopath assist you in your remedy selection.
Homeopathy not your thing… skip this section! Not all treatment modalities are for everyone! 🙂
- PMS Symptoms (SSx): puffiness in extremities & swelling, diarrhea with or before menses
- Psychologic SSx: may feel awkward, clumsy, tendency to drop things
- PMS SSx: fatigue, water retention, & breast tenderness. Period comes early and lasts a long time.
- Psychologic SSx: anxiety & feeling of being overwhelmed
- Other SSx: usual chilly, clammy feet and hands
- Cravings: eggs, dairy products, and sweets
- PMS SSx: unbearable, painful menses that is better with motion and worse with warm applications
- Psychologic SSx: irritable, angry, sensitive to pain
- PMS SSx: painful menses that’s worse as the flow increases, cramping & shooting pain that goes across the legs/thighs, headache stiffness in the neck & back
- Psychologic SSx: jealousy, irritability, suspiciousness, rage that improve once menstrual flow starts
- Other SSx: woman feels hot, intolerant of anything touching her throat
- PMS SSx: sensation that women’s internal organs will prolapse through her pelvis (ouch!), feels like she needs to cross her legs for relief
- Psychologic SSx: great irritability
- Other SSx: better with fresh air
- PMS SSx: Digestive upset (gas, bloating) especially in the late afternoon.
- Psychologic SSx: Feels irritable and wants to boss others around, although lacking in self-confidence.
- Other SSx: Craves sweets and has a large appetite.
- PMS SSx: Migraine headaches or low back pain with menses
- Psychologic SSx: Feels depressed and lonely. She’s worse when given consolation or sympathy.
- Other SSx: Strong craving for salt and aversion to the sun.
- PMS SSx: constipation worse with period.
- Psychologic SSx: Emotional symptoms of PMS including impatience, anger, and irritability.
- Other SSx: Craving for alcohol, coffee, spicy, or fatty foods. Feels chilly and improves from warmth and rest.
- Psychologic SSx: Great hormone balancer for women with PMS who experience mood swings, weepiness, and irritability
- Other SSx: Symptoms improve with consolation and attention. Desire to be in fresh air and feel worse in warm rooms. Strong craving for chocolate and sweets.
- PMS SSx: fatigue, bearing-down sensation in the uterus (as if it will fall out), painful breast tenderness occurring with or before menses
- Psychologic SSx: irritability
- Other SSx: strong craving for chocolate & sweets, exercise makes symptoms better
Let’s Sum it up Folks…
If you have symptoms of PMS here is your quick easy summary…
- Try a localized therapy like a hot pack or gentle massage to help ease any cramping pain.
- Change your diet to include more fiber, veggies, fruits, and healthy fats and meats. Get rid of refined sugar, refined carbs, bad fats, and alcohol. Limit your intake of dairy and caffeine the week before your menses.
- Exercise regularly and practice stress reduction techniques like yoga to prevent symptoms from starting.
- Take a multivitamin to make sure you are not deficient in any vital nutrients.
- Consult a Naturopathic doctor or other preventive care practitioner for vitamin/mineral/botanical supplementation ideas!
- If your symptoms are unbearable, try OTC pain relievers or pharmaceutical options, but try some of the other levels of care first if you can!
Women should not have to suffer every month, so make sure you are taking control of your health and don’t allow yourself to fall victim to the PMS woes!
If you said True…
No silly… PMS is due to the natural cyclic hormone changes that occur every month in menstruating women. It is these natural changes that cause the brain chemistry of some women to act out in the wrong way. It does not necessary mean that women have an imbalance of hormones.
If you said False…
That is correct! Nice job smarty! The problem is not out of whack female hormones, but rather those hormones acting on brain chemistry in a not so good way.
My name is Emma Petshow and I am a 3rd year naturopathic medical student at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR. For more about myself, check out my bio. This blog is intended for information about preventive health and lifestyle improvement. The information contained on this blog is not to be used as medical advice. For specific medical advice you should consult your physician.
There were a lot of references and articles that went into creating this blog post. If you are interested in seeing or reading those studies, please message me and let me know and I will make a list available! I didn’t want to link every word! 🙂