Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) can be awful, with symptoms varying from mood swings, anxiety, sugar cravings and water retention to depression. The monthly cycle is met with dread by many women. But did you know that your diet, supplements and herbal interventions have the capacity to dial down many PMS symptoms?
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What is PMS?
The term pre-menstrual syndrome happens in a woman’s cycle when emotional and physical symptoms such as breast tenderness, migraines, tension, irritability and bloating occur. These symptoms usually set in a few days prior to your period. However some women experience the symptoms for a full two weeks leading up to their menses and it can kick in shortly after ovulation. The symptoms usually disappear on the onset of menstruation. This period of time between ovulation and menstruation is also referred to as the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.
Many women can ease through this part of their cycle, but some are plagued with horrific symptoms that have a huge influence on their day to day lives, affecting not just themselves but the people around them. As symptoms of PMS are so varied and individual, they have been broken down into five categories to make the classification of PMS simpler.
What are the five types of PMS?
- Anxiety (PMS-A) symptoms range from experiencing deep feelings of overwhelm, tension, feeling on edge, irritability and anxiety.
- Cravings (PMS-C) symptoms include insatiable cravings for carbohydrates, in particular chocolate and sweet foods. Many women also experience an increase in appetite, but also suffer from headaches and fatigue as a result.
- Depression (PMS-D) symptoms range from general low mood and fatigue, coupled with lack of co-ordination, crying for no reason, feeling clumsy, dropping items, confusion and forgetfulness.
- Hydration (PMS-H) symptoms vary from breast tenderness and bloating to water retention and weight gain.
- Pain (PMS-P) symptoms, unsurprisingly include painful cramps with a reduced threshold to pain.
Many women will experience some symptoms from a few or all of these categories, and symptoms can also vary from cycle to cycle depending on factors such as stress, diet, life stage and lifestyle. Interestingly despite the wide range of potential symptoms, herbal remedies and food supplements have been found to help women holistically and may bring relief to more than one category at once.
What is Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)?
Some women experience such devastating PMS that it seriously effects their daily lives, and this distressing condition is known as pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder.
PMDD is classified as a very severe form of PMS. Women that suffer from this may find it hard to maintain healthy relationships, many also struggle to work and socialise, whilst some will also experience suicidal thoughts during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle.
If you are struggling with PMDD it is important to discuss this with your GP, they should be able to offer guidance on how to make emergency appointments in times of distress and provide support helpline information, such as the Samaritans.
Although PMS and PMDD have a variety of symptoms, these conditions impact everyone differently, and there is hope. There are plenty of diet, lifestyle, supplements and herbs which may help to dial down many of these annoying and disruptive symptoms, which could then allow you to continue living your life to its fullest.
Luteal Phase Dysfunction
Not many women know this, but there is also a condition known as luteal phase dysfunction (LPD) which many women experience, but are unaware of. If you notice that you are having more frequent periods with spotting in between, then you should discuss this with your GP as LPD may also increase the risk of infertility and early miscarriage. Many women with LPD benefit from regulating their blood glucose and adrenals during this phase and some of the suggestions below may also help over time.
How to Dial Down PMS Symptoms with Diet, Supplements and Herbs
The NHS guidance suggests some simple lifestyle tweaks that are easy to apply in our daily routines, they include taking regular exercise, eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and using techniques such as yoga and meditation to reduce stress and aid relaxation.
However, let’s take a deeper dive into some more specific nutrition and supplement information. These five key recommendations should be implemented for at least 3 cycles (or 100 days) and you should see a gradual improvement each month. Some women may need to include natural support as maintenance over a longer period of time., so use your intuition and keep on working on things until you are in better balance.
Studies have recognised that both Vitamin B6 and Magnesium taken together are likely to be of benefit in treating premenstrual symptoms and premenstrual depression. They were shown to reduce symptoms such as water retention, mood swings, nervous tension, irritability, pain and anxiety. Foods that are rich in B6 include salmon, chicken, tofu, pork chops, sweet potatoes and bananas, whilst foods high in magnesium include whole grains, dark leafy veggies, avocado, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds.
The Indian herb Shatavari (Asparagus racemose) is often used in Ayurvedic medicine to help balance female hormones at different life stages. It is an adaptogen, which means it has a regulating effect throughout the body. It may help to enhance libido and fertility, support and balance hormones and menstruation whilst also reducing menopausal symptoms.
Agnus castus is a wonderful balancing herb which is also useful for supporting PMS. It can also help to encourage a menstrual cycle into a more regular pattern, whether too close together or too far apart. In clinical trials, improvements were seen in symptoms such as irritability, anger, headaches, bloating, depression, breast tenderness and mood alteration.
Another herb that has been researched for the relief of PMS symptoms is the lovely deep yellow spice Saffron (Crocus sativus). Studies indicate that it may relieve symptoms such as period cramps as it has a relaxing effect on the muscles, it also influences mood and behavioural changes linked to PMS. Saffron is found in a number of South East Asian and Spanish recipes and can also be taken as a food supplement.
If you are struggling with PMDD, a study showed that when women with PMDD that took myoinositol showed significant reduction in daily symptoms, depression and severity of illness. Often simply called inositol, this is a sugar naturally made within the body, and as a food supplement research has found it to help to regulate blood sugars in women with polycystic ovaries. It may also equally help to relieve anxiety and OCD tendencies.
Diet, supplements and herbs can all play a role in reducing PMS symptoms, and many can be implemented quite simply into daily routines. However, if you have any concerns about your symptoms or if they are impacting your daily life so significantly that life is no longer a joy, then I urge you to have a chat with your GP to investigate it further.
If you are wishing to take a more holistic approach to your hormone health then NatureDoc has a dedicated team of Nutritional Therapists who specialise in women’s health and can organise full hormone testing and support women struggling with the run up to their period.
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- NHS – Pre-menstrual syndrome
- Dietary factors and luteal phase deficiency in healthy eumenorrheic women
- Efficacy of vitamin B-6 in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: systematic review
- Magnesium supplementation alleviates premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention
- Oral magnesium successfully relieves premenstrual mood changes
- Asparagus racemosus: a review on its phytochemical and therapeutic potential
- Saffron for the Management of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial
- Therapeutic effect of Vitex agnus castus in patients with premenstrual syndrome
- Myo-inositol in the treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- Inositol treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Herbal treatments for alleviating premenstrual symptoms: a systematic review
- Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with agnus castus fruit extract: prospective, randomised, placebo controlled study