Do you go up two pant sizes every month before your period? Do your loved ones avoid you during that certain time of the month because they are afraid of your irritable and cutting remarks? You are not alone. At least 80% of women experience some type of premenstrual complaint during the two weeks before their period. Common PMS symptoms include: abdominal bloating, constipation, weight gain, fluid retention, headaches, breast tenderness, acne, fatigue, irritability and depression. Often, oral birth control pills are prescribed as a treatment for PMS, but this is not your only option. Frequently, PMS symptoms are caused by minor hormonal imbalances or nutrient deficiencies. Nutrients and herbs can be effective therapies for balancing hormone levels naturally.
If you want to address yourPMS complaints without the use of medications, dietary changes are a good place to start. Eliminate simple carbohydrates, caffeine and alcohol from your diet for a couple of months. At the same time, make sure that you are getting regular exercise (at least 30 minutes per day) and adequate sleep. In addition to these diet and lifestyle changes, you may want to try the following nutrients:
- Calcium: Although this mineral is well known for bone health, it is often overlooked as a necessary nutrient for PMS prevention. Women with adequate calcium intake are at lower risk for developing PMS. It has been shown to improve mood and decrease bloating and food cravings. We recommend taking 1000-1200mg of calcium daily.
- Magnesium: Women who take magnesium experience less hormonal migraines and fluid retention around their periods. Also, magnesium is involved in serotonin production. Women who take magnesium often find that they have less irritability and improved mood. We typically recommend 300-500mg of magnesium daily.
- Vitamin B6: This vitamin is often recommended for PMS and depression. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) supports the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, as well as improving hormone metabolism. Taking 100mg/day of vitamin B6 can help reduce all PMS symptoms and especially those related to depressed mood and irritability.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant has been shown to decrease breast tenderness and PMS symptoms in women who take 400 IU/day for three months. Vitamin E can act as a blood thinner and should only be taken under the advice of your physician.
- Essential Fatty Acids: A combination of fish oil and evening primrose oil may be helpful for women with painful cramps and clotting during their menses. The EPA, DHA and GLA provided in these oils have an anti-inflammatory action and have also been shown to help those with anxiety and depression. To be effective 2-4 grams (2000-4000 mg) of fish oil and 500mg of evening primrose oil must be taken all month long.
One of the most common hormone imbalances responsible for PMS symptoms is called estrogen dominance. Estrogen and progesterone are the two main "female" hormones. Estrogen dominance occurs when you have an over production of estrogen and proportionally less progesterone. Women with estrogen dominance experience worse PMS, water retention, hormonal acne, heavy or painful periods, irregular menstrual cycles and hormone headaches. Women with these symptoms may also have other conditions such as Polycystic Ovaries (PCOS), uterine fibroids or endometriosis. Some natural therapies focus on lowering estrogen levels and increasing progesterone levels. Diets that help stabilize blood sugar levels and weight loss, if appropriate, can also be helpful. The following natural therapies can help rebalance estrogen levels and decrease PMS symptoms:
- Flax seed:Ground flax seed is rich in lignans and can be obtained from foods or as a supplement. Lignans are the fatty part of the seed that provide the beneficial essential fats and have estrogen balancing effects. Flax seeds have been shown to balance blood sugar, decrease fibrocystic breasts (a hormone related condition), and may even be protective against hormone related breast tumors. We recommend taking between 25-40 grams per day from food and/or supplements. Although flax oil can be a great source of essential fats and is good for your skin, it is the flax seeds that have the hormone balancing effects.
- Calcium D-Glucarate: Glucaric acid is found in many fruits and vegetables including oranges, apples, brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbage. When combined with calcium it forms calcium D-glucarate, a nutrient that decreases estrogen levels by influencing its metabolism and elimination from the body via the liver. This nutrient has received a lot of attention in the prevention and treatment of those with hormonal cancers of the breast.
- DIM and Indole-3-carbinol: These nutrients are found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. Similar to flax seed, these nutrients have estrogen balancing properties. We often use supplements that combine flax seed, calcium D-glucarate and DIM into one formula to address symptoms related to estrogen excess.
- Vitex agnus-castus:Also known as chasteberry, Vitex is an herbal medicine traditionally used for regulating menstrual cycles and promoting fertility. Many studies have shown it to be an effective treatment for PMS symptoms including depression, irritability, headaches, breast tenderness and food cravings. Vitex is a valuable herb when treating women's health complaints because it has been shown to promote both progesterone and dopamine, hormones known for promoting a sense of calmness and well-being in the body. Vitex can be used alone or may be included in other herbal formulas designed to promote progesterone production and hormone balancing in the body.
- Progesterone cream: Natural progesterone is typically made from wild yam or soy. However, these herbs do not have any progesterone activity by themselves. A special process must be applied to these plant products to make the bio-identical progesterone. Many women find it beneficial to apply a small amount of progesterone cream to the inside of the wrist or behind the knees the last 2 weeks of the menstrual cycle. Progesterone is known to balance the negative effects of estrogen, regulate menstrual cycles and to decrease heavy menstrual flow and cramps. In addition, it can be an effective treatment for PMS symptoms including bloating, breast tenderness and irritability.
Sometimes PMS symptoms are the beginning signs of larger hormonal imbalances. If you are experiencing heavy or irregular menses, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, low libido, insomnia and hormonal headaches then you may be peri-menopausal. During this time of life, which can occur anytime between the ages of 35 to 55, you can have rapid drops and fluctuating hormone levels. You can address many of these hormone imbalances by usingnatural therapies specific for menopause. Many of the herbs and nutrients used for menopausal women support the ovaries and adrenal glands, the parts of a woman's body responsible for making these hormones.