PMT & Period Pain
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Over 90% of women experience some symptoms of PMS at some point in their lives, with a third of women saying that their symptoms seriously affect their lives, and 5 to 10% of women classing their symptoms as severe. There are over 100 recognised symptoms which are considered to be part of PMS, although luckily most women only experience a few at any given time. The symptoms include:
Irritability and tendency towards aggression
Mood swings and sudden loss of temper
Crying for no particular reason
Bloating or abdominal swelling
Headaches or migraine
Loss of confidence
Breast tenderness and heaviness
PMS is caused by fluctuating hormones, which are entirely normal. Some women experience a reduction in seratonin levels as part of their symptoms, which helps to explain some of the emotional-based symptoms. Many women find that recognising PMS symptoms for what they are and anticipating them and planning for them helps them to manage without needing medical assistance. However, if you are concerned, seeing your GP may be useful if only to ensure that your symptoms are not caused by something else. As always, if you are in any way worried, see your healthcare provider.
There is no cure for PMS (other than the arrival of your period, of course!), but there are plenty of ways to help manage the symptoms and reduce their impact on your daily life. There are some conventional drugs and even surgery which are used in a handful of severe cases but, in terms of natural and home-based treatment, here are some suggestions and recommendations:
A good balanced diet including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables helps keep many women on an even keel, and reducing salt levels can ease bloating.
Vitamin B6 supplements can be useful in reducing irritability and mood swings, but care should be taken not to exceed the RDA.
The swollen ankles, bloating and heavy breasts can be caused by water retention. It’s important to keep drinking plenty of water, but natural diuretics such as herbal teas with dandelion or nettle.
Gentle exercise can help improve serotonin levels and reduce symptoms, so a walk in the fresh air might be just what the doctor ordered!
Chasteberry (Agnus Castus), either as supplements or taken as a tea, can be useful in all complaints which are caused by fluctuating levels of the female sex hormones. Black and blue cohosh and raspberry leaf can also help.
Magnesium has been shown to help reduce bloating, weight gain and breast tenderness. The body absorbs it better through the skin, so baths with Epsom salts are a good way to improve your magnesium intake. If you do take supplements, be careful not to exceed the RDA and see your doctor first if you have diabetes, or heart or kidney problems.
Lavender, Rosewood, Ylang Ylang, Geranium, Bergamot and Palmarosa can help with emotional symptoms such as irritability, tearfulness and mood swings.
The medical term for period pain is dysmenorrhoea, and it is caused in most cases simply by the contractions of the uterus as it sheds its lining each month. Cases of secondary dysmenorrhoea can be caused by other problem with the womb, and these tend to occur more in your 30's and 40's so, if your periods get worse as you get older, seeing your healthcare provider to rule out other causes may be advisable. The pain is usually felt in the lower abdomen, but it can radiate to the lower back and top of the legs as well. Some women also experience headaches, tiredness, light-headedness and breast tenderness.
While anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen help many women, there are also plenty of natural options to help you manage the symptoms:
Many women find a source of heat on the affected area/s helpful, such as a wheat bag, hot water bottle or heat patch. A hot bath may also be helpful. It is believed that the heat interferes with the pain signals being sent from the nerves.
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. A TENS machine is a small portable device which provides a small electrical current to the area where you place it. They are said to work by interfering with pain signals which are sent to the brain from the nerves, in a similar manner to how we believe heat works.
Localised massage to the lower stomach can help reduce the cramps. A massage oil which includes lavender is a good idea, as there have been studies which suggest that lavender can interfere with the centre of the brain which processes pain sensations.
The following herbs, taken as supplements or in teas, may help: Chamomile is an anti-spasmodic, relaxing muscles and helping to reduce the intensity of uterine cramps, which is most effective when combined with Calendula, better know as ‘pot marigold’. Calendula has been used medicinally since ancient Egypt, and has a mild estrogenic action often effective in reducing menstrual pain and regulating bleeding. Raspberry leaf is a popular uterine tonic, which can help tone the uterus, regulate menstrual flow and reduce muscle cramps. Feverfew has been traditionally used to help with labour pains due to its analgesic and muscle tension-reducing qualities. Ginger has been shown to reduce period pains, and parsley can help to regulate menstrual flow.