The average menstrual cycle takes approximately 28 days to run its course. During this time, a series of hormonal activities occur in order to prepare the body for a potential pregnancy. For some women, around the 14th day of the cycle, a group of troubling symptoms start to develop and can last up to a week after the onset of menstruation – This condition is known as Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS.
PMS is a very common condition with approximately 90% of women claiming to experience some sort of symptom(s) related to it.
PMS generally presents with symptoms such as:
– Mood swings
– Tender breasts
– Fluid retention
For the majority of women, symptoms are generally mild to moderate. Around 30% of women report moderate to severe symptoms and a small percentage report extreme symptoms which may be classified as Premenstrual Dysphoric Syndrome (PMDD).
What causes PMS?
The official cause of PMS is unknown, however, there appear to be links between PMS and changes in sex hormone activities as well as serotonin levels. It is a known thing that estrogen and progesterone play a significant role in multiple aspects of neurological function especially in parts of the brain responsible for PMS symptoms. Serotonin levels can also play a role in the development of many of these symptoms which is why many doctors prescribe anti-depressants to patients with this condition.
Certain people may be more prone to experiencing PMS depending on certain risk factors such as:
– History of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia
– Family history of PMS
– Family history of depression
– History of physical or emotional trauma
– Substance abuse
PMS treatment often involves anti-depressants (SSRIs), however, it is important to keep in mind that these drugs often have serious and unwanted side-effects such as personality changes, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal complaints. The better option is to use clinically-proven natural alternatives that tend to have little or no side-effects while offering the same benefits. One of the most popular alternatives to anti-depressants is St. John’s Wort – This is due to the fact that this herb has been used extensively in clinical research.
The following have been proven effective for treating PMS in clinical trials:
I strongly recommend using these remedies under the supervision of a holistic/Ayurvedic doctor and to make sure that you do not ever take these along with pharmaceutical drugs (unless advised by your doctor).
Long term PMS relief comes from both remedies such as those mentioned above as well as diet. Nutrition has to be determined based on specific symptoms being experienced and potential mechanisms behind them. However, some general interventions can be used to keep hormones in balance (in otherwise healthy individuals).
Fats & Cruciferous Vegetables
In my experience, the key to balancing one’s hormone lies in a good balance of healthy fats/cholesterol and cruciferous vegetables. Fats and cholesterol provide the building blocks for hormones while cruciferous vegetables help keep the estrogen under control. The key constituent in cruciferous vegetables is known as indole-3-carbinol (ID3). This substance converts to an enzyme known as Diindolylmethane (DIM) which works with the liver to remove excess estrogen. This should be avoided in patients with high levels of testosterone and low levels of estrogen – again, consult a doctor to get the specific dietary guidelines required for your specific condition.
B-Vitamins & Amino Acids
For maintaining and improving serotonin levels, it is crucial to get a good amount of B-vitamins and amino acids in your diet. Both of these can be found in animal products such as eggs and meat. The key nutrient for serotonin is an amino acid known as “Tryptophan”. In some cases, a practitioner may recommend you supplement this nutrient, however, I strongly advise against combining Tryptophan with herbs like St. John’s Wort (unless advised by your doctor) as too much serotonin can result in adverse symptoms.
Nutrition for PMS is a subjective topic as symptomatic management is usually part of the goal. For example, mood swings, cramps, and sleeplessness may be reduced with magnesium. When preparing to see a practitioner, make a list of symptoms that you experience and discuss each of them with him/her. You may find that a simple adjustment in diet or the addition of a nutritional supplement may go a long way in relieving your symptoms.
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(Always use medicinal herbs under the supervision of a doctor)
by Dr. Nishal R.
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