If, like 85% of women you experience some degree of premenstrual syndrome, you really don’t need me to describe the symptoms here, though they can range from the mild to the crippling.
A recent survey discovered just how badly some women are affected, with around 8% suffering from what’s called premenstrual dsyphoric disorder – many of whom report being prescribed antidepressants or even misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder.
These women report feeling vindicated by new US research proving that in fact they carry a particular set of genes that affect how they respond to the female hormones that fluctuate in the weeks before menstruation.
The survey also found that 88% of sufferers have successfully treated their symptoms, using medications and/or natural remedies. Basically, the aim is to balance the hormones and to reduce inflammation.
If your symptoms are mainly emotional, it’s likely caused by levels of oestrogen dropping (as they should), which means levels of the feelgood neurotransmitter serotonin fall also. Part of the solution to this is to eat foods that are rich in tryptophan, which is converted in the body into serotonin, and they include eggs, organic poultry, fish, dairy, soya, nuts, avocadoes and bananas.
Consuming a typical Western diet, containing processed foods, can actually lead to an excess of oestrogen, and contributes to the fact that our experience tend to be worse than those eating more traditional, wholefoods.
Blood sugar imbalances equal hormonal imbalances, and Dr Marilyn Glenville, who is a world class expert on hormonal health, advises that ‘the most important dietary change you can make is to keep your blood sugar levels steady’ by cutting out sugar and refined/white grains.
Processed foods have an inflammatory action, and many of the symptoms of PMS are related to inflammation. Eat plenty of fibre (wholegrains, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, vegetables), which mop up extra circulating oestrogen for excretion. Foods that have a particularly potent ability to do this are broccoli and the cabbage family, beetroot, and those containing vitamin B6, which also boosts production of the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter serotonin.
Plant oestrogens, or phytoestrogens, actually lower blood levels of oestrogen where it is too high, with the richest sources being fermented soya and linseeds. While you’ll need to avoid highly inflammatory trans/hydrogenated fats, eating plenty of healthy fats would be vital.
Those in oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocado and wheatgerm, virgin coconut or olive oil are anti-inflammatory and hormone balancing, and will increase the bio-availability of the nutrients in everything you eat. Other potent anti-inflammatories include the spices, especially turmeric and ginger.
A raft of research has shown that circumin, the active compound in turmeric, also modulates neurotransmitter activity to such an extent that participants reported a drop of 59 points in the severity of general symptoms.
It can reduce cramping too, by 58%. For cramps, headaches and breast tenderness, 83% of women given ginger reported an improvement to match that of NSAID medication.
When it comes to specific nutrients, along with the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish and the vitamin B6 already mentioned. Vitamin B1 supplementation has been demonstrated to reduce physical and emotional symptoms. All of the B vitamins, calcium and magnesium are very helpful, calming on both a physical and mental level and regulating oestrogen, and you need vitamin D (recently shown to be essential for hormonal balance) to absorb calcium and magnesium—they work synergistically. Vitamin D is increasingly being recognised for its role in reducing inflammatory cramps and pain, and women taking a supplement proved to experience a 41% decrease in premenstrual symptoms.
Calcium supplementation reduced them by a full 50%, while B6 brought about improvement in a massive 85% of women and Vitamin E supplementation also eased both physical and emotional symptoms after two months; it protects the nervous and neurotransmitter systems and prevents oxidation of those crucial healthy fats, which include the omega-3s and tried-and-tested Evening primrose oil. Dr Glenville points out that ‘magnesium, also known as nature’s tranquiliser, helps to reduce anxiety and tension’, but make sure to take it in the form of magnesium citrate, as cheaper versions are simply not absorbed. The herbal supplement, Agnus castus, has an amazing ability to balance oestrogen with its counterpart, progesterone.
Dr Glenville also explains that stress hormones can make matters much worse, and research being published as I write, from our own UCC, has further demonstrated the direct link between gut bacteria and issues of stress and anxiety.
To ward off fluid retention, cut down on salt and, just as importantly, balance it with more potassium (most fruit and veg). Don’t forget the water, which also combats fluid retention, or make your fluids work for you in the form of herbal teas— dandelion, nettle, chamomile or ginger will work against fluid retention, anxiety and insomnia, sluggishness and digestive disturbances. And outside of nutritional considerations, orgasm is one of the best remedies for those cramps, while any gentle exercise really will help here.