Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a very common, and in some cases debilitating, condition that affects about one third of women. While it is most common in the 30-40 year old age group, women of all ages are commonly affected. PMS is defined as a complex of symptoms that occur in the 7-14 days prior to menstruation. Typical symptoms include fatigue, breast pain, irritability, depression, mood swings, bloating, food cravings, and altered sex drive.
There are actually four different subgroups of PMS that are characterized by anxiety, cravings, depression, and water retention, respectively. While some women fit neatly into one of these categories, most experience some combination of the four types. Although each of these four types has a slightly different cause, they all share hormonal imbalances as the major contributing factor.
Fortunately there are a variety of dietary, nutritional, and herbal treatments that can offer significant relief from this monthly menace.
Key dietary modifications include reducing the intake of caffeine, dairy products, animal fats, sweets, and refined carbohydrates such as white flour. Eliminating caffeine is especially important for those women that experience breast tenderness. In many cases eliminating coffee, tea, chocolate, and caffeine-containing sodas will dramatically reduce the severity of the breast tenderness without making any other changes.
Dairy products and animal fats promote the production of compounds known as prostaglandins that have been implicated in PMS, especially the subtype associated with food cravings. They also tend to increase estrogen levels in the body, which are generally already too high in most women with PMS.
Besides the fact that most women with PMS typically consume diets that are 62% higher in refined carbohydrates and 275% higher in sugar, eating these things can lead to an imbalance in blood sugar and insulin levels. Avoiding these foods is especially important for those women that experience cravings and water retention.
Two nutrients that are important for women with PMS are vitamin B6 and magnesium. Vitamin B6 affects the metabolism of several hormones and neurotransmitters that have been implicated in PMS including estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, serotonin, dopamine, and the prostaglandins. Studies have found vitamin B6 to offer significant relief to 60-80% of women when taken at megadose levels. Magnesium works very closely with B6 in the metabolism of prostaglandins, and is commonly deficient in women with PMS.
Another natural product that is commonly used to treat PMS is evening primrose oil (EPO). EPO significantly affects the metabolism of the prostaglandins that cause PMS in many women. One study found a 60-70% improvement with high dose EPO supplementation after five menstrual cycles.
Finally there are a variety of herbal medicines that can be very helpful in the treatment of PMS. Most of these herbal medicines contain plant analogues to estrogen and progesterone that help to balance these hormones in the female body. Examples of these plants include licorice, dong quai, black cohosh, chaste tree, and black haw.
The most effective approach to treating PMS
naturally generally includes a combination of the above dietary
modifications and an adequate dose of herbal and nutritional