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Natural Treatments for PMS

Supplement This Key Nutrient

Q:

I experience irregular periods, premenstrual bloating and irritability, and breast tenderness before my menstrual cycle.  Are there any researched natural remedies that can assist?
Chantal, Toronto.

A:

The constellation of symptoms referred to as Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) include changes in mood, fatigue, forgetfulness, foggy thinking,  mastalgia or fibrocystic breasts, bloating, cramping, headaches, bowel changes, water retention, insomnia, and cravings.  These symptoms can be attributed to a condition known as estrogen dominance: a relative increase in the hormone estrogen in relation to progesterone.  While PMS is common – affecting 30-85% of women -  it is not normal or ideal, as it can profoundly affect a woman’s quality of life and well-being. 

In women, the ovaries produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.  If a woman does not ovulate or ovulates late in her cycle, there is a decrease in production of the hormone progesterone after ovulation.  This, coupled with an increased conversion of testosterone into estrogen in peripheral fatty tissue, changes the progesterone to estrogen ratio in the body.  Xenoestrogens (estrogen mimicking chemicals in our environment) compound the problem, and exert a significant estrogenic influence on tissues. 

When treating PMS, attention must be paid to a woman’s diet and digestive health.  A diet high in fiber, vegetables, fruits, nuts/ seeds, and lean proteins promotes healthy hormonal balance, while excess carbohydrates, sugars, dairy, and red meat exacerbate pre-menstrual symptoms by promoting  inflammation and unstable blood sugar.  The dietary incorporation of ground flaxseeds and fermented foods can manage constipation and ensure the  excretion of harmful estrogens through the bowel.  Numerous natural remedies have been studied and found to exert a beneficial effect on these common but often debilitating symptoms.

Chaste-Tree (Vitex Agnus Castus)  is traditionally used to treat hormonal imbalances. Vitex exerts its effects by acting on the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian axis, and changing the progesterone/estrogen ratio.  Vitex has been demonstrated to be as effective as some anti-depressants  in the treatment of PMS associated tension and depression and in the treatment of cyclical breast pain, tenderness, swelling or lumpiness. 

Indole-3- Carbinol (I-3-C) – Naturally occuring in cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage, arugula, watercress, and mustard greens , I-3-C is a potent anti-cancer compound that supports liver detoxification pathways, helping to convert and excrete harmful estrogens from the body. 

Vitamin B6 – Numerous studies confirm the ability of this vitamin to reduce water retention, irritability, depression, headaches, breast tenderness, bloating, nausea, constipation, and acne by increasing progesterone and the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.  It is most commonly prescribed with the anti-spasmodic, relaxing mineral magnesium, to reduce symptoms of PMS, alleviate menstrual cramps, and ease tension and anxiety.

Vitamin D – This fat soluble vitamin is a precursor to other steroid hormones in the body.  It regulates normal cell growth and is a useful addition for women who suffer from painful breasts or who have risk factors/family history for estrogen dependent cancers. 

Black Cohosh  (Cimicifuga racemosa) – Initially thought to be phytoestrogenic, this herb modulates the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.  Black cohosh is recommended for the treatment of premenstrual discomfort, painful menstruation, and poor mood associated with hormonal imbalances.

 

Dr. Suzanna Ivanovics, ND operates a naturopathic practice in downtown Toronto and a consultant at the Big Carrot.