Many women suffer severely from premenstrual syndrome with period pain, but there aren’t many GPs or gynaecologists who really take these problems seriously. Nutritional and lifestyle changes, as well as neutriceuticals and herbal remedies, provide many options to manage your health challenge.
DEFINITION OF PMS
A varied group of physical and psychological symptoms, including abdominal bloating, breast tenderness, headache, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and depression, that occur from 2 to 7 days before the onset of menstruation and cease shortly after menses begins.
I receive many questions from women regarding painful periods and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). All want to know if it is possible to relieve this condition with nutrients and a more natural approach. The answer? Absolutely!
Start off with 20 minutes of daily relaxation and stress management techniques and breathing exercises to reduce your stress levels – the single most important treatment of all! The stress triggers in our busy daily lives, as well as deep subconscious memories such as the belief that one has to be perfect, perform well, do everything to be acceptable and approved of, lie at the root of painful periods and PMS. It’s essential to make this emotional load conscious, to accept and transform wrong beliefs based on perceptions formed when we’re very young and vulnerable, then to surrender and consciously let them go.
TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR LIFESTYLE
Next, let’s tackle some lifestyle issues. Cut back on caffeine and chocolate, and reduce saturated fat and sugar consumption. Focus on unsaturated fish oils (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel) and plant oils (e.g. avocados, extra-virgin olive and grapeseed oils) for the essential fatty acids we all need. Drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day, and eat lots of fruit (aim for 3 to 4 portions a day) and veggies (aim for 5 portions a day) and a handful of nuts, seeds and legumes. Try to eat soy bean foods (e.g. burgers, sausages, yoghurt and tofu), chick peas and linseed at least 3 times a week.
Regular gentle exercise such as walking, swimming, dancing or yoga is incredibly beneficial – aim for at least 20 to 30 minutes 4 times a week.
- Take dong quai (Angelica sinensis), black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) or chastetree berry (Vitex agnus castus) according to product recommendations. Be aware, however, that Vitex might lead to low libido.
- Use St John’s wort for depression (not together with prescription antidepressants, however!) or Rescue Remedy, flower remedies, valerian, lavender and chamomile tea for anxiety, insomnia and tension.
- Take a probiotic combination of Lactobacillus acidophyllis and Bifidobacterium bifidus if you have leaky gut and/or candida infection.
- Take a calcium (1 000 mg) and magnesium (500 mg) supplement at night.
- Take an essential fatty acid food supplement (1 000 mg evening primrose or 500 mg starflower oil with 500 mg cold water salmon oil).
You’ll need a multivitamin and antioxidant combination that includes the following in one supplement:
- Vitamin A with 60% in the form of beta and other mixed carotenes or carotenoids: about 1.5 mg of vitamin A and a minimum of 15 mg mixed carotenes, such as lycopene, luten and xeaxanthin.
- Vitamin C. Your multivitamin complex will probably contain about 250 mg of vitamin C. The total daily requirement for vitamin C is about 500 mg. If the multivitamin contains too little vitamin C, remember that you should also be obtaining it via your calcium supplement. In any event it is advisable to take vitamin C more than once a day. Take calcium and magnesium in the evenings at bedtime, so you’ll have vitamin C in the morning with your multivitamin and in the evening with your calcium and magnesium.
- Vitamin E, 80 mg a day, preferably in all four forms of vitamin E (alpha, beta, delta and gamma) and also in the natural d form (such as d-alpha tocopherol).
- Vitamin B complex, about 25 mg of each (B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6 occur mainly as a group). For PMS take additional B6 to ensure a total of 100 mg a day. Remember that folic acid is also a B vitamin (200 mcg a day). Vitamin B12 is usually taken in a quantity of about 25 to 50 mcg a day. Choline, lecithin, inositol and para-amino benzoic acid (PABA), 25 to 50 mg of each a day, and biotin (25 mcg a day) are also included in the B-complex vitamins.
- Minerals. You’ll need selenium (100 – 200 mcg), plus take all the following together: chromium 200 mcg (stabilises blood sugar), zinc 15 mg, copper 2 mg, iron 15 mg (for premenopausal, pregnant and breast-feeding women only), and manganese 10 mg.
- Plant nutrients such as the bioflavonoids, extracts from berries, broccoli, mustard, tomatoes, grapeseed, pine bark, sprouts, blue-green algae, barley grass, medicinal mushrooms, can be taken as part of an anti-oxidant combination or as superfoods in a salad or smoothie.
THE ROLE OF STRESS
Stress, and especially deeply subconscious emotional distress linked to old memories, plays a significant role in PMS, painful periods, menopausal symptoms and also infertility! The hypothalamus and pituitary are glands inside the brain and the first to process stress after the reptilian brain has been put on red alert. These glands then send hormonal and nerve messages to the rest of the body via neuropeptides or informational substances. If the hypothalamus and pituitary become disturbed and exhausted through chronic unrelenting stress, this will definitely influence the female hormonal cycle via the female hormones prolactin, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH). Stress is a major aggravating factor in most disturbances of the female urogenital system. It is important to remember that stress triggers include feelings of inadequacy, having to prove oneself constantly, perfectionism, time urgency, excessive job pressure, time constraints, and the perceptions you yourself have of all these possible stress triggers.
A general herbal combination for menopausal symptoms, painful periods, premenstrual tension, female infertility and a tendency to miscarry, as well as when trying to fall pregnant, would include dong quai, black cohosh and chastetree berry. Use the recommended dosages as provided in the instructions of reputable herbal supplements, or visit a phytotherapist, health practitioner knowledgeable on herbal remedies.
Refer to my books Stress Solutions, Herbal Remedies and Health & Happiness (HSM Publishers, also available in Afrikaans) for more information and further reading.