Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) affects about 75% of women in some way, with up to half of them reporting severe symptoms which affect their work or lifestyle.
PMS is a physical condition that typically occurs during the last 7-10 days before the onset of the period, with symptoms disappearing within a few days of bleeding commencing. Symptoms may vary across the course of a woman’s reproductive years.
Can include the following:
Bloating and fluid retention, resulting in weight gain
Breast swelling, tenderness and pain
Headaches and backaches
Anxiety and crying
Mood swings, irritability, aggressive behaviour
Drowsiness and fatigue
Nausea and clumsiness
Joint or muscle pain
Most women only experience a few of these symptoms. Hormonal fluctuations can make this condition worse at certain times such as after childbirth, miscarriage or abortion, and in the lead-up to menopause. Women may also experience PMS after discontinuing birth-control pills.
The menstrual cycle is generally divided into three phases known as the follicular (or proliferative) phase, ovulation and the luteal (or secretory) phase. PMS occurs largely as a result of the changes in the levels of oestrogen and progesterone that occur during the luteal phase, which commences at the time of ovulation (usually the 14th day after the start of menstruation if your cycle is 28 days).
Research is ongoing to determine why some women are affected by PMS and others are not, and to better understand how the symptoms of PMS are caused; however, a number of factors are known to influence PMS symptoms including:
Deficiency of vitamin B6 and essential fatty acids
Imbalance of calcium and magnesium
Blood sugar imbalance
Hormonal imbalance extending beyond oestrogen/progesterone imbalance (for example, some symptoms, such as breast tenderness, have been linked to an imbalance of prolactin, a hormone that stimulates the production of breast milk)
Treatment of PMS varies depending on the symptoms you are experiencing, and the extent to which they impact your life. Your healthcare professional will discuss your situation with you and prescribe the appropriate medication.
Vitex agnus-castus is a herbal remedy which has been clinically proven to assist with hormonal balance and may prevent or reduce the symptoms of PMS when taken over several menstrual cycles
Deficiencies of essential fatty acids (such as those found in evening primrose oil) and B Complex vitamins (especially vitamin B6) are associated with PMS
Cramp bark and black cohosh are antispasmodic herbs which may help to relieve symptoms associated with cramping pain; magnesium may also be of assistance
The mineral chromium helps to relieve blood sugar imbalance, and may help to alleviate symptoms of sugar and carbohydrate cravings
Hypericum is indicated to relieve depression and anxiety associated with PMS
Dietary changes have been shown to effectively reduce PMS symptoms in some women. Excessive intake of sugar, salt, honey, dairy products, white flour and fatty foods can sometimes aggravate PMS symptoms. Instead, eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain bread and cereals.
Take regular moderate exercise – PMS symptoms tend to be more severe in women who do no exercise.
To relieve cramps, try applying heat to the pelvic region by using a hot water bottle or taking a warm bath. This improves blood flow and relaxes muscles.
Avoiding caffeine is particularly important in the prevention and treatment of PMS. Research shows that women who regularly consume caffeine are up to four times more likely to experience severe PMS symptoms. Give up slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms, and aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fresh filtered water each day.
Many women find that including foods rich in phytoestrogens (or isoflavones) in their diet helps to prevent PMS – the best dietary sources are soya products such as miso, tofu, and soya-enriched breads and cereals. Soy supplements may help.
Maintain optimum nutrient levels in your body by taking a women’s multivitamin and mineral formula, preferably one containing vitamin B6, magnesium and calcium; daily supplementation with 3000mg evening primrose oil may also help to prevent PMS.
Severe PMS symptoms may be an indication of an underlying problem such as endometriosis. If your PMS symptoms are severe, or are not relieved by the remedies suggested above, consult your healthcare professional.