Holistic Approaches to PMS

Premenstrual syndrome, more commonly known as PMS, is a disorder that affects a majority of menstruating American women. This all too common condition affects an astounding 75% of menstruating women. It usually occurs a week or two before bleeding begins and is characterized by a wide range of symptoms, including but not limited to bloating, breast tenderness, emotional changes, cramps, and fatigue. Some women with PMS experience just one or two of these symptoms and find them quite mild and tolerable; others are hit with several symptoms, each so intense as to be incapacitating. Most women’s symptoms exist somewhere between the two extremes, producing a moderate level of discomfort and at least some disruption of daily activities.

At the root of the problem is hormone imbalance. Typically there is a situation where progesterone levels are too low compared to estrogen levels. This is known as estrogen dominance. Factors that contribute to this estrogen dominance include:

  • Poor diet
  • Food sensitivities
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Thyroid problems
  • Environmental toxins (e.g. pesticides, parabens)
  • Poor liver function
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Dietary improvements can improve symptoms dramatically. A diet that’s too high in meat, fat, sugar, and salt will promote hormone imbalance and intensify the symptoms of PMS. It has been shown that vegetarian women have much less circulating free estrogen in their blood than nonvegetarian women do. This does not mean you have to become totally vegetarian. However, studies suggest that a diet bountiful in plant foods leads to less circulating estrogen, thus decreasing one’s susceptibility to PMS. A good, wholesome diet can significantly reduce or even eliminate problems altogether.

One of the biggest dietary culprits is refined carbohydrates or simple sugars. Studies show that women who consume more sugar also suffer from more severe PMS symptoms. A study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine that included 853 female university students investigated the impact of a high-sugar diet. Researchers found a strong correlation between high sugar consumption and PMS.

Vitex has a balancing effect on progesterone levels, as well as on the hormone prolactin. A two-month study compared the effects of vitex to those of the pharmaceutical antidepressant Prozac. Both were found to be beneficial overall for the treatment of PMS. Researchers noted that vitex was more helpful for physical complaints and Prozac more beneficial for psychological symptoms. Of course vitex does not carry the serious side effect profile as does Prozac.

A number of nutrients have been shown to help reduce PMS symptoms. A formula containing calcium and magnesium is important. Research shows that most women do not consume enough calcium and magnesium on a daily basis.

As well, numerous double-blind, clinical trials on vitamin B6 have been conducted over the last twenty years. In one six-month, double-blind, crossover trial, 84% of the women undergoing vitamin B6 treatment reported greater improvement than they did during treatment with a placebo. Another study found that vitamin B6 supplementation improved premenstrual acne flare-ups in approximately 75% of women.

For older women with more severe symptoms, a holistic doctor may consider prescribing natural progesterone cream two weeks before menses. This directly balances the estrogen dominance problem.

Holistic approaches to PMS work very effectively. They are certainly a better option than conventional medicine’s focus on birth control pills and antidepressant medications.

Contact the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine to speak with a doctor about natural treatments for PMS symptoms.