Natural remedies to treat PMS
PMS sucks. There’s no sugar coating it. There’s the bloating that makes you look about three months pregnant and means you’ll want to hang out in track pants for three days straight. Then there’s the pain that can be so debilitating for some that they can’t get out of bed. And let’s not forget about the mood swings. One minute you’re feeling on top of the world and then you realise that someone ate the last block of chocolate and you find yourself somewhere between fire-breathing rage and ugly crying.
And while there are a variety of medicinal ways that you can treat PMS, have you ever considered trying to alleviate your symptoms in a more natural way?
We spoke to Dr. Vicki Kotsirilos, GP, author of the textbook A Guide to Evidence Based Integrative & Complementary Medicine, and speaker at the BioCeuticals Research Symposium to fill us in on PMS, the symptoms, and how you can treat them naturally.
What causes PMS?
PMS is caused by an imbalance of your natural hormones. It can be due to an excess or deficiency of estrogen, or an excess or deficiency of progesterone. Due to the hormone imbalance, it can cause a range of symptoms including psychological, behavioural and physical symptoms. PMS may occur prior to and during the onset of menstruation. Up to 90 per cent of women can experience PMS but for two to ten per cent of women, it can be quite severe and incapacitating.
What are the most common symptoms?
Psychological symptoms – irritability, anger, depressed mood, tearfulness, feeling anxious, tense, mood swings, difficulty concentrating and feeling overwhelmed. Some women have difficulty sleeping, have changes in libido, food cravings and food binging.
Physical symptoms – low abdominal pelvic pain, back pain, headaches, fatigue, breast swelling and tenderness, abdominal bloating, weight gain, constipation, fluid retention, joint pain and nausea.
What lifestyle things can you do to help reduce the symptoms?
Resting at times of PMS and not pushing yourself, having nice warm baths and getting to bed early help to restore sleep patterns and reduce symptoms. Exercise has also been shown to help reduce the symptoms of PMS.
Improving your diet can also help. Eating a more Mediterranean-style diet and avoiding alcohol will reduce PMS symptoms. It is best to consume a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, legumes, low fat dairy, and water to keep yourself well hydrated. Avoiding salts and reducing coffee has also been shown to be helpful in improving symptoms of PMS.
Vitamin D deficiency can also be a risk factor for hormone imbalance, so it is important to correct vitamin D levels through adequate and cautious sun exposure.
What other things can you do to help reduce the symptoms?
If you’ve tried the above and it hasn’t worked, you may want to explore natural remedies.
Vitamin B, particularly Vitamin B1 and B6, has been shown to help stabilise mood. One needs to be careful of the dosage however, as more that 50mg/day of Vitamin B6 can cause toxicity that may cause nerve problems, such as tingling, burning and numbness of limbs.
Calcium and magnesium have been shown to help symptoms of pre-menstrual mood changes and cramps. Magnesium has a muscle relaxant effect, while calcium is also useful and can be obtained from diet. Studies have shown that women who have an adequate source of dietary calcium and vitamin D had reduced PMS. It is best to consume low-fat dairy products in your diet, and if your dietary calcium intake is low you may want to consider a calcium supplement combined with magnesium.
Studies have shown that fish oil can also help reduce the pain of PMS such as period cramps, although more research is required in this area. It’s also been shown that applying a heat pack to the lower abdomen can assist with abdominal/pelvic discomfort.
Amongst the herbs, the most well researched herb is vitex agnus-castus, also known as chasteberry. There have been trials to show it may reduce symptoms associated with PMS such as breast discomfort, mood problems, headaches, anger and irritability. Another herb that may be of use, particularly for women that suffer from depression associated with PMS, is St John’s wort, made from the plant species hypericum perforatum.
Are the results comparable to non-natural remedies?
The results are different. From my clinical experience, having worked over 22 years in this area, some women respond extremely well to the lifestyle and natural methods, however some do not. It is really quite variable. When women address lifestyle factors such as reducing stress, improving sleep, exercising and diet, they feel better overall and this does seem to have a positive benefit on their hormones. There are times when some women need medication such as pain killers and hormone therapies like the oral contraceptive pill or progesterone treatment, although there may be risks and side-effects with their use, they are generally well tolerated. Women should speak to their GPs if they wish to trial hormone therapies.
Do you suffer from PMS? What remedies do you use to try alleviate the symptoms?