Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) refers to a range of physical and emotional symptoms experienced by women before menstruation. Symptoms vary and may include digestive upset, bloating, swollen breasts, acne, food cravings, headaches, anxiety and mood changes.
PMS symptoms occur one to two weeks before menstruation and usually disappear when the menstruation / period starts.
Common physical and emotional symptoms include:
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Digestive upsets, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea
- Headache / migraine
- Appetite changes or food cravings
- Joint or muscle pain
- Fluid retention
- Nervous tension, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, depression, and/or poor concentration
Why it happens?
PMS can affect menstruating women of any age due to the following causes:
- Sensitivity to changes in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle – usually progesterone, oestrogen and prolactin
- Stress does not seem to cause PMS, but may make it worse
- Chemical changes in the brain. Fluctuations in levels of the brain neurotransmitter, serotonin, are thought to play a crucial role in mood states, especially depression. And it appears that insufficient amounts of serotonin may contribute to symptoms of PMS, such as fatigue, food cravings and sleep problems
- Occasionally, some women with severe premenstrual syndrome have undiagnosed depression, though depression alone does not cause all of the symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome
- Nutritional deficiencies – some PMS symptoms have been linked to low levels of vitamins and minerals
- Excessive intake of salty foods may cause fluid retention
- Alcohol and caffeine may cause mood and energy level disturbances, plus interfere with the absorption of nutrients
What natural therapies can help?
Vitex agnus castus (chaste tree) – has been shown in studies to decrease PMS symptoms, specifically, breast pain or tenderness (also known as mastalgia), fluid retention, constipation, irritability, nervousness, acne and headache.
Shatavari or asparagus root – well known in Ayurvedic medicine for cleansing, strengthening and nourishing female reproductive organs and normalising hormones. It is ideal for young women with painful heavy periods because of its balancing effect and its ability to strengthen vitality.
Evening primrose oil – has been shown to reduce breast pain, breast tenderness, fluid retention and irritability.
St Mary’s thistle – aids liver function and detoxifies hormones.
Chamomile – has traditionally been used to help decrease dysmenorrhoea (painful menstrual periods).
Calcium – reduces premenstrual symptoms such as fluid retention, depression and pain.
Chromium – balances blood sugar levels.
Iron – deficiency may be caused by excessive blood loss.
Magnesium – reduced magnesium levels have been reported in women affected by premenstrual syndrome. There is some evidence that magnesium supplementation can improve symptoms including abdominal cramps, mood changes and fluid retention.
Vitamin B6 – has been clinically proven to be of benefit to patients with premenstrual symptoms in particular anxiety and depression.
Vitamin E – studies have shown symptoms of anxiety, craving and depression were reduced when patients were supplemented with vitamin E.
Did you know?
- Choose healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid excessive salt, sugar, saturated fats, caffeine and alcohol since these may exacerbate PMS.
- Dietary fibre helps keep the bowels regular. Aim for 25-35g of dietary fibre daily.
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals with a low GI index can help to avoid high and lows in your blood sugar levels.
- Chill out – exercise and stretching helps clear your mind and relax your muscles. Exercise regularly at least 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. Regular daily exercise can help improve general wellbeing. Try deep breathing exercises and meditation if you can’t slow down.
- Ensure you get plenty of sleep – at least eight hours every night.
- It is a good idea to keep track of your symptoms for three menstrual cycles using a calendar or diary. Write down your symptoms each day of day of your menstrual cycle. This is a good way to monitor if the symptoms are improving or getting worse and allow you to intervene with strategies that may help to reduce your symptoms. If your symptoms persist, take this record with you to discuss with your healthcare professional.