Did you know that pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) affects approximately 70 to 90% of women? That’s almost all of us! PMS describes any symptoms that occur after ovulation and disappear almost as soon as the period arrives. A further 10% of women with PMS may experience a very severe form called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Symptoms of PMS are wide ranging and can include
- mood swings
- irritability and tension
- anxiety and depression
- low tolerance to stress
- bloating, swelling, water retention
- breast tenderness
- acne outbreaks
- headaches or migraines
- cramping, pain, joint pains
- food cravings
Some women will describe, and their partners may testify(!), a complete change in personality and such low stress tolerance that small things might seem completely overwhelming or upsetting. If this is affecting you for one or two weeks out of every month, this is a hugely significant impact on your wellbeing.
Top tips for reducing PMS symptoms
- Controlling blood sugar levels
We know from research that women with PMS have alterations in patterns of their stress hormones e.g. cortisol1. If you eat a diet high in sugar or even high in carbohydrates or if you regularly go too long without eating, your blood sugars will fluctuate wildly over the day. Eating little and often and ensuring that meals and snacks are based on quality proteins or fats will help to improve your hormonal balance.
- Vitex Agnus Castus
This herb has been shown to be most useful in reducing or eliminating symptoms of PMS. A reputable double blind placebo controlled clinical trial in the British Medical Journal showed that agnus castus is an ‘effective and well tolerated treatment’ for PMS2. We know from clinical experience (and personal!) that this can be a very effective addition to your supplement protocol.
Known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’, magnesium is important in managing symptoms such as anxiety, low mood and irritability, as well as menstrual migraines. Magnesium is our most commonly identified deficiency in blood tests in our clinic. Food sources include nuts and seeds which we recommend including on a daily basis. Try adding milled seeds to your breakfast or snacking on a small handful of nuts. Other sources include pulses, fish and dark green leafy vegetables. If supplementing, use an organic form such as magnesium citrate and not magnesium oxide which is poorly absorbed.
- B vitamins
Women with PMS have been shown to have lower levels of B vitamins than non-sufferers3. B vitamins are found in wholegrains so switching from the ‘white stuff’ e.g. bread, pasta, rice to brown varieties is a good step. This will have the added benefit of reducing blood sugar fluctuations which is an added bonus. Vitamin B6 in particular is helpful and foods rich in B6 include fish such as tuna and salmon, spinach, cabbages, cauliflower and peppers. If you are supplementing, we recommend taking it in the form of pyridoxal-5-phosphate rather than having to convert pyridoxine in the body.
- Increase consumption of healthy omega-3 fat
Pro-inflammatory molecules called prostaglandins are implicated in period pains. These prostaglandins increase your body’s sensitivity to pain, can cause your muscles to spasm and also create inflammation. Increasing your intake of omega-3 helps your body to produce calming, anti-inflammatory prostaglandins instead. The best source of Omega-3 fats are oily fish, such as wild or organic salmon, mackerel and sardines and you may get small amounts from flaxseed (linseed), chia seed and walnuts. Alternatively, take a good quality Omega 3 fish oil supplement containing greater than 500mg EPA and 500mg of DHA per day.
Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD will be in Dublin, Galway and Cork from 24th-26th October with Heather Leeson and Ciara Wright speaking on How to Balance your Hormones Naturally. Find more information on times and venues here.
For more advice on managing PMS the natural way, talk to us on 01-4020777 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
- Parry et al (2000) Cortisol circadian rhythms during the menstrual cycle and with sleep deprivation in premenstrual dysphoric disorder and normal control subjects. Biol Psychiatry. 2000 Nov 1;48(9):920-31.
- Schellenberg R (2001) Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with agnus castus fruit extract: prospective, randomised, placebo controlled study. BMJ 322(7279):134-7
- Chocano-Bedoya et al (2011) Dietary B vitamin intake and incident premenstrual syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May; 93(5): 1080–1086.