Over 80% of women suffer some form of pre menstrual syndrome (PMS) in some form or another. However, carefully chosen food choices along with a selection of herbs, mineral, vitamin and food supplements can help the hormonal and chemical imbalances characteristic of this problem.
There are as many theories about PMS as there are treatments. Some see hormones such as progesterone, oestrogen and the milk producing hormone prolactin as the culprits. For others, vitamin and mineral deficiencies lie at the heart of the problem. Many sufferers have been placed on long-term antidepressant medication or hormone treatments in an attempt to resolve the associated mood swings and depression. In the majority of cases these measures are ineffective and often cause more long-term problems.
The syndrome can be split into four subtypes, although many women have symptoms that fall into all four categories.
Most commonly associated with high oestrogen and low progesterone levels, the main symptom suffered by this group is anxiety, something that over 80% of sufferers experience. Type-A sufferers commonly complain of mood and emotional disturbances. Related changes in the hormones adrenaline, serotonin and noradrenaline trigger the irritability, tiredness, water retention and palpitations so commonly reported.
Oestrogen can also affect mood. This hormone can actually block assimilation of vitamin B6, preventing the vitamin working in the liver to produce the hormone serotonin. This may explain the difficulties that PMS-A sufferers experience in keeping blood sugar levels balanced. Excessive oestrogen may aggravate the problem by increasing the release of prolactin, causing water retention.
Over 60% of PMS sufferers gain up to 3lb in weight over their period, a characteristic associated with this second group PMS-H. With symptoms of breast tenderness and a swelling of the abdomen, legs, arms, hands and face, the H in this group represents hyper-hydration (excessive water retention). Such a fluid problem can only be hormonal. The prolactin connection has been established in only a handful of studies, but what cannot be contested is the role of another hormone, aldosterone. This hormone increases the amount of fluid held in the body, which is vital to health. A number of aggravating factors such as excessive oestrogen, deficiency of dopamine and stress in the lead-up to the period, however, can mean an uncomfortable excess of water.
40% or more suffer from craving certain foods, in this group. Associated with PMS-C is an increased appetite, often for very sweet or savoury foods. Sufferers also complain of headaches, fatigue, fainting spells and palpitations. When tested for their ability to handle sugars in their blood, women with these symptoms showed a temporary inability to produce a balanced insulin-output. There is, so far, no adequate explanation for this problem, although a deficiency of both magnesium and chromium may be indicated.
Depression is a serious problem for this group. Thankfully it only accounts for 5% of PMS symptoms reported. It is thought that low levels of brain chemicals and oestrogen are responsible. Other theories hold that it is due to an excessive amount of progesterone, itself a central nervous system depressant. This sub-group is chemically opposite to PMS-A.
Self help plan
Start by mapping out your symptoms. Take the first day of your menstrual period as day one and make a daily record of your feelings, both emotional and physical. As the month passes by and you go through ovulation (about day 14 in a 28 day cycle) you may start to notice change in mood and physical symptoms. As you do, grade them using a simple rating system where one is a mild symptom and three means you are totally unable to function.
After a couple of cycles you will start to notice a trend; familiar symptoms will appear and disappear with predictable regularity. This will help you monitor your response to a natural treatment program and any dietary changes.
The nutritional status of PMS-A women is quite unique. Studies of their eating habits have shown that they consume far more dairy and sugar-based foods than other women. Both types of food can cause the body to lose significant amounts of magnesium, which can lead to deficiency states.
Mood changes have long been associated with changes in brain chemistry. Vitamin B6 is involved with the production of the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine has a calming effect on the nervous system and a deficiency of vitamin B6 may result in reduction of dopamine production. This situation can put the nervous system on edge.
Vitamin B6 may be responsible for additional benefits such as helping to increase the magnesium levels in the body’s cells, increasing progesterone levels and helping to reduce oestrogen levels.
There are other brain chemical involved in mood balancing. An amino acid found in green tea, L-Theanine, has a calming effect on the brain, enhancing the calming alpha waves, soothing the nervous system and relaxing the muscles. Known as Elthea-100, this can effectively help to control mood and reduce the number and severity of panic attacks and has no known toxic effects.
True PMS-C sufferers cannot avoid binges. The foods most often taken during the binges are sweet foods like chocolate, but a minority crave savoury foods. We do know that hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) is at the seat of many craving episodes. It has always been recommended that complex sugars like rice, pasta and potato are eaten at this time and simple sugars (sweets, honey, chocolate, cakes and so on) are avoided.
This makes good sense but the addition of a good quality chromium supplement, such as ChromaTab, which can regulate blood sugar levels can make all the difference. It builds a chemical bridge between the insulin and the cells of the body. By doing so, chromium can help improve its function.
For those suffering from PMS-H a daily dose of magnesium with Parsley Leaf and celery seed extract will help. (Anyone taking diuretics or suffering from kidney disease should consult their health professional before supplementing their diet.)
In cases of PMS-D, consider increasing your vitamin B6 intake along with a balanced herbal aimed at hormonal irregularities and containing Maca root.
Top tips for beating PMS
Reduce your intake of dairy foods
Reduce your intake of animal fats and meat
Increase your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables
Increase you intake of pure water (at least 1.5 litres per day)
Increase your exercise level – start brisk walking or swimming three times a week
Avoid foods containing caffeine
Avoid foods containing sugar
Eat more complex carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice or potatoes
Cut down on meal size – eat smaller meals more regularly
Cut out added salt
Learn to relax and take some time to unwind
Hadley Wood Healthcare’s Well Woman Range