PMS Solutions

Our holistic health experts explain how to tackle the symptoms of PMS naturally

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is thought to affect between 30 and 40 per cent of women. The term is used to describe all symptoms that occur after the middle of the menstrual cycle and stop almost as soon as a woman’s period arrives. Typical symptoms range from irritability, depression and headaches to altered sex drive, lack of energy, pain in the breasts, back and abdomen as well as bloating and water retention.

Whilst many women manage to cope with their symptoms, some experience emotional and physical symptoms to such a degree that their quality of life is severely disrupted. Fortunately, there are several steps that can be taken to address this problem naturally.

The sugar connection

“Diet appears to play an important role in the development of PMS in many women,” says holistic osteopath Marcus Webb (www.supersupps.com). “Arguments over what came first, the hormonal disruption that caused the food cravings or the food cravings triggering a hormonal disruption still rages on. However, data does indicate that the consumption of refined sugar can deplete the body’s reserves of key nutrients such as magnesium, manganese, zinc and chromium along with many of the B vitamins. We know that these nutrients are intimately involved in the regulation of a balanced carbohydrate metabolism and ultimately a balanced blood sugar level. Combine this with the tendency of sugars to induce a roller-coaster hyper-hypoglycemia reaction particularly over the premenstrual phase and this may go some way to explaining the increase in reported symptoms such as irritability, headache and overwhelming fatigue.

There is little hard research into the sugar-PMS relationship but work performed back in the early 1980s notes that a high sugar intake combined with a high salt intake can trigger fluid retention. It is thought that this follows insulin release (in response to the sugar load) that in turn decreases the kidneys’ ability to clear excessive salt (sodium) from the body resulting in the retention of body fluid. To combat all these factors I tend to suggest a low GI/low GL style diet while supplementing with glucose-balancing nutrients such as chromium, B vitamins and vanadium along with cinnamon and bitter melon in the lead up to the onset of PMS symptoms.” Good foods to eat include oily fish, fresh green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, soya foods, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

Top up on vitamins and minerals

“Supplements are the best way to make sure you have enough of the essential nutrients to balance your hormones,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist and the author of The Nutritional Health Handbook for Women (www.marilynglenville.com). “Certain nutrients can be hugely beneficial when it comes to reducing PMS symptoms. Both magnesium and vitamin B6 are very important when it comes to controlling your mood and behaviour. Vitamin B6 supports production of dopamine and serotonin (a ‘happy’ hormone) and magnesium is classed as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’ as it helps to reduce anxiety and tension.

“Zinc is an important mineral as it is a component of more than 200 enzymes. It may help balance female hormones as it plays a main part in the proper action of many of them, including insulin and sex hormones. Many women who suffer from PMS have been found to have a problem with converting linoleic acid (LA) to GLA, a plant-derived omega-6. There are many factors that can prevent that conversion, like stress, a high-sugar diet or low levels of vitamin B6, magnesium and zinc. To provide our body with an efficient amount of GLA you can supplement these essential fatty acids in the form where the conversion has already happened – by taking evening primrose oil, borage oil and starflower oil.”

Take steps to reduce stress

“Stress is a big factor in PMS, as it uses up valuable nutrients,” says Emma Robson, PMS expert with A.Vogel (www.avogel.co.uk/health/pms/). “It is therefore worth tackling causes of stress and supporting the nervous system with stress-relieving remedies such as valerian, passiflora, or avena sativa.

Many women who are suffering from some of the most common symptoms of PMS choose to take agnus castus to help achieve a better monthly cycle. However, you should not take agnus castus if you are on hormonal contraceptives or other hormonal medication or are pregnant or breast-feeding. If you are being treated for any condition of the endocrine system, you should consult your GP or specialist before using any herbal remedies.” If you find yourself suffering with stress, try some relaxation techniques, yoga or meditation. Exercise can help to beat stress too. “When you exercise your body produces ‘happy’ hormones; endorphins,” explains Dr Glenville. “They help us to feel happier, calmer and more alert. If you exercise regularly you are more likely to reduce stress levels, anxiety and depression, which are common PMS symptoms.”

Try This!

If you suffer with water retention dandelion tea may help. Dandelion is a natural diuretic, which allows fluid to be released without losing vital nutrients at the same time. It is one of the best sources of potassium and contains more minerals and vitamins than any other herb. In addition, it is known to support the detoxifying process in the body.

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