Pre-Menstrual Syndrome or Tension (PMS or PMT)

PMS is the term used to describe a cluster of symptoms commonly experienced by women in the week leading up to menstruation.

Not every woman suffers from PMS but for those who do there seems to be no escape from its cyclical regularity. I’m talking about physical symptoms such as bloating, tiredness, swollen and tender breasts and headaches, lower back pain, abdominal cramps, water retention. These range from uncomfortable to extremely unpleasant.

For others, however, there are also emotional symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, anxiety, anger or violent outbursts, depression and even thoughts of suicide that the sufferer is unable to control, making her withdrawn and antisocial.

PMS questionnaire :

– Are your periods irregular?

– Do you crave chocolate before a period?

– Are you irritable, intolerant, or anxious prior to menstruation?

– Do you suffer from weight gain or water retention each month?

– Do you experience premenstrual cramps?

There are three main causes :

Glucose intolerance marked by a craving for sweet food and stimulants.

Oestrogen dominance and relative progesterone deficiency. These hormones control the monthly cycle and their changing levels affects women in as many ways as there are various symptoms.

Deficiency in essential fatty acids and vitamin B6, zinc and magnesium, which together create prostaglandins, which help to balance hormone levels.

Vitamin B6 is essential for all protein utilisation and it has been proved helpful in many conditions from PMS to carpal tunnel syndrome (strain condition affecting nerves in the wrist) and cardiovascular disease.

Magnesium is essential for many enzymes in the body. It works together with Vitamins B1 and B6, being involved in protein synthesis and therefore essential in the production of some hormones including prostaglandin of which higher level has beneficial effects on PMS.

Essential fatty acids are converted into prostaglandins with the help of Vitamins B3, B6, C and Biotin and minerals Magnesium and Zinc. So deficiency in any of these nutrients can also create the equivalent of hormonal imbalances.

Oestrogen dominance can be due to excess exposure to oestrogen substances, or lack of progesterone or a combination of both. But to help make sure it is not the earlier, it may be wise to eat less or avoid red meat and dairy products. Also, many pesticides, soft plastics used for wrapping and most birth control pill and HRT contain oestrogen and can participate in building up your oestrogen level and therefore making your PMS worse.

PMS symptoms can be eased by making changes to your diet and studies suggest that a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat is helpful. Eat little and often before menstruation, snaking on fruit but avoiding sugary treats and stimulants (coffee, tea, chocolate). Ensure that your daily diet includes 1 tablespoon of cold press vegetable oil rich in both Omega3 and Omega6 fatty acids (or supplement with cod liver oil capsules).

Good eating habits coupled with supplements can often relieve symptoms of PMS all together. So to help keep your hormones in balance :

  • keep animal fats very low in your diet.
  • choose organic vegetables and meat wherever possible to reduce pesticide and hormone exposure.
  • Don’t eat fatty foods wrapped in non-PVC cling film.
  • Reduce the use of stimulants such as coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar and cigarette. If you are addicted to any of these you will need to break the habit.
  • Do not let stress become a habit in your life. Make changes to your lifestyle to limit stress and the way you react to it.
  • Make sure you are getting enough essential fats from seeds, their oils or supplements of primrose or borage oil (omega 6) or flax oil (omega 3).
  • make sure your supplement programme includes optimal levels of vitamins B3 and B6, biotin, magnesium and zinc.

Helpful foods :

Spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables for magnesium and vitamin B6

Wholemeal bread and whole grains (brown rice, oat) for complex carbohydrates, vitamins B3 and B6, calcium, zinc and magnesium

Eggs, avocado, nuts and cold press virgin olive oil for vitamin E.

Fish (salmon, sardine, mackerel, herring, tuna) for Vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium and essential fatty acids (omega 3, 6)

If you have PMS or menopausal symptoms, consider using herbs such as lemon balm, sage, vervain, black cohosh, or St John’s Wort. These can relieve tension in various parts of the body by relieving liver tension and improving blood circulation and cardiovascular tone. Many women like to drink lemon balm tea because it is good for menstrual problems and cramps. It can also be added to food for flavouring.

Do not use herbs without checking first with a professional as it could interfere with any other treatment you may be taking.