Most women have experienced it in some form or another: you have a big presentation at work and you’re doubled over with cramps, or you have a celebratory occasion or date, and you’re so bloated you can’t feel good in your new outfit.
Although PMS (premenstrual syndrome) has been recognized for many years, the cause is still unclear. Generally, symptoms increase the week before the period and then decrease when the period begins. More than 150 symptoms have been associated with PMS including mood fluctuations, cravings, and physical discomfort. For some, symptoms might be mildly irritating but not limit activity, for others the pain can be so debilitating that you just want to crawl into bed.
Aside from anti-inflammatory medication and other comfort care measures, there are many things that you can do to naturally alleviate your symptoms. From an Ayurvedic perspective, PMS may indicate an imbalance in the three doshas, leading to different types of symptoms. Here’s a snapshot of common symptoms by dosha:
Vata-type symptoms are characterized by:
- Low backache
- Lower abdominal pain
- Mood swings
Pitta-type symptoms include:
- Breast tenderness
- Hot flashes
- Skin breakouts
Kapha-type symptoms involve:
- Water retention
- Weight gain
Dosha-balancing regimens are recommended depending on the doshic imbalances involved, but there are some things that you can do to relieve PMS symptoms in all dosha types. It may take up to three months to see a significant effect, but most of these recommendations will support general good health, too.
1. Clean Up Your Diet
- Eat a well-balanced diet rich in fiber and low in saturated fat. Total fat should be less than 20 percent of your total calories.
Make sure to include anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) in your diet by eating more wild fish like sardines, herring, and wild salmon. Krill is also another excellent source. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fats including flax, hemp, pumpkin and chia seeds and walnuts do not have the full complement of omega-3’s, containing mostly the parent fatty acid ALA. However, some species of algae do have small amounts of DHA.
Consume beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, which provide lignans, phytoestrogens, and fiber to help with estrogen balance.
Include cruciferous vegetables in your meals such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts, which can help with liver detoxification and estrogen metabolism.
Eat organic food, especially for animal products, to avoid environmental estrogens from growth hormones and pesticides.
Eat evenly throughout the day and don’t skip meals.
Don’t eat within three hours of bedtime.
Limit your intake of alcohol, salt, caffeine, and refined sugar products, especially 10 days before the onset of menses. Reduce dairy and consider eliminating foods that create sensitivities, such as gluten.
2. Supplement Your Nutrients
Magnesium chelate, citrate, or glycinate: Magnesium is involved in over 300 processes in the body and may be helpful for calming menstrual pains. Take 200 to 400 mg a day. Side effects may include diarrhea, low blood pressure, and fatigue.
Dietary sources include …
- Green leafy vegetables
- Whole grains
Calcium citrate or carbonate: Clinical trials in women with PMS found that calcium supplementation improved several mood and body symptoms such as bloating and cramps. Possible side effects include constipation and kidney stones.
Take 500 to 600 mg twice per day of elemental calcium. Avoid calcium products made from oyster shell, dolomite, or bone meal as they may contain lead. Avoid taking high dose calcium for prolonged periods of time. Do not take calcium at the same time as tetracycline, iron, thyroid medication, or corticosteroids.
Dietary sources include …
- Dark leafy greens
Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is an important cofactor for neurotransmitter production and may help with mood and energy. Take 50 to 100 mg a day of pyridoxine or pyridoxal 5-phosphate (P5P) along with 800 mcg of folate and 1,000 mcg of vitamin B12.
Dietary sources of B6 include …
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potato
- Sunflower seeds
EPA/DHA (omega-3 fats): Take 1,000 mg once or twice a day. Gamma-linolenic acid (and anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid) from evening primrose oil, borage oil, or black currant oil may also be helpful. These are anti-inflammatory, support heart health and brain and nerve function, and nourish the skin.
The easiest way to make sure you get all the nutrients you need is to take a good daily multivitamin sourced from plants and foods rather than synthesized in a chemical lab.
3. Get Moving
Exercise is important for balancing hormones and improving mood. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, 4 to 5 times a week. However, during your menstrual period it is important to honor the cycle of your body and rest if needed.
4. Address Stress
Dealing with stress is also critical. Take a hot bath at night, get a massage, try yoga, and learn deep breathing or meditation. These techniques and other stress-reducing strategies can help to to soothe your hormonal fluctuations and keep your mind and body in balance overall.
5. Consider Herbal Remedies
Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex agnus-castus) can help balance the hormones released by the pituitary gland, which controls your overall hormone function. Studies have found it effective for symptoms including breast tenderness, irritability, mood changes, cramps, and food craving. Recommended doses are 20 to 40 mg a day of chaste berry extract or 250 to 500 mg per day of dried fruit. Side effects may include upset stomach, rash, or dizziness. Do not take if pregnant, breast-feeding or have a hormone sensitive condition such as cancer. Vitex may interact with several medications including oral contraceptives and anti-psychotic medications.
Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) has been found effective at reducing the symptoms of anxiety, tension, and depression in women with PMS. Compounds bind to a type of serotonin receptor, which may be a reason why it has positive effects on mood. The German health authorities have approved black cohosh for premenstrual discomfort and painful periods. Take 20 to 40 mg of standardized extract twice daily. Possible side effects include gastrointestinal disturbance and headache. Those with liver disease should check with their healthcare provider before use. Do not take if pregnant, breast-feeding or have a hormone sensitive condition such as cancer. Black cohosh may interact with several medications.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) may be helpful for congestive symptoms such as fluid retention, breast tenderness, and weight gain. Use 80 mg twice daily from day 16 of one menstrual cycle through day 5 of the next cycle. Do not take if pregnant or breast-feeding. Consult with your healthcare provider before taking if you’re using anticoagulant medications including ibuprofen.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) is a soothing traditional Ayurvedic herb that may be helpful for irritability and excessive heat. It’s also said to increase the health of female reproductive tissue, however clinical studies are limited at this time. Use 500 to 1,000 mg twice daily.
There’s no reason PMS has to take over your world once a month. Set these practices in motion so that you can feel your best all month long.