Food & Herbs for PMS

Food & Herbs for PMS

The symptoms of PMS and PMDD (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder) can be life-disruptive for many women. Symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, mood swings, fatigue, lethargy, depression as well as bloating, GI upset, cravings, sore breasts, cramping, headaches, backaches, acne and edema plague many women.

The primary hormonal disruption that happens with PMS is that estrogen is elevated and progesterone is reduced during the luteal phase. The luteal phase starts after ovulation and goes for about 14 days until menstruation begins. This change in hormone ratio leads to impaired liver functioning, reduced serotonin levels, lower endorphin levels, impaired Vitamin B activity and alterations in other hormone levels.

How can your diet help you ease the intensity of your symptoms? Food recommendations for this time are to increase plants foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Consume very little meat and dairy (eat a mostly vegetarian diet), reduce fat, especially saturated fat. (Recommended is 4 to 6 oz animal protein per day and choose fish, skinless poultry and lean cuts of meat. Reducing your white sugar intake, eliminate caffeine and lower your salt intake to ease PMS symptoms. Eating organic will also help reduce the environmental estrogens you’re taking in by avoiding pesticides and herbicides.

When high sugar foods are eaten alone, blood sugar levels rise quickly, straining blood sugar control. Sugar, especially when combined with caffeine, has a detrimental effect on PMS symptoms. Unfortunately, the most symptom producing food is chocolate. Sugar also impairs estrogen metabolism. Your body’s ability to metabolize or process excess estrogen is impaired with sugar intake. As hard as it is to ignore sugar cravings, you are doing yourself and your body a favor by finding other sweet treats that don’t involve processed sugars.

Caffeine should be avoided during PMS, especially in women with breast tenderness and fibrocystic breasts. There is strong evidence that caffeine is related to the severity of PMS symptoms. It is significant in symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, insomnia and depression.

Excessive salt stresses the kidneys’ ability to maintain proper fluid volume. High salt intake can cause high blood pressure or water retention. Both of these lead to uncomfortable symptoms that can be avoided by lowering your salt intake.

Supplementing with Vitamin B6 and Magnesium as well as a good quality multivitamin can be very helpful for women with PMS and PMDD. The therapeutic dosage of B6 is 50-100 mg daily. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to PMS symptoms. Magnesium deficiency in PMS shows up in excessive nervous sensitivity, generalized aches and pains and a lower premenstrual pain threshold. Better results are shown when Magnesium is combined with Vitamin B6. Magnesium dosage is 12 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight for women with PMS. However, Magnesium can give you loose stools, so start slowly and gradually increase your dosage to bowel tolerance. Magnesium aspartate, malate, succinate, fumarate or citrate are the preferred forms of supplementary Magnesium.

Calcium supplements at 1000-1336 mg daily show improvements in symptoms of PMS. Nervous tension, headaches, fatigue, depression and insomnia were improved by Vitamin E supplementation. 400 IU daily is recommended as d-alpha-tocopherol.

Herbs that can be helpful for symptoms of PMS are Angelica or Dong Quai, Licorice root, Black Cohosh and Chasteberry. Dong Quai is helpful for painful menses, hot flashes, abnormal menstruation, amenorrhea. Licorice is used to lower estrogen levels while raising progesterone levels. It is also useful in reducing water retention. Black Cohosh is used for cramps and menopause symptoms. Chasteberry is useful for breast pain, infrequent periods or ovarian cysts.

Making sure your gut is healthy is vital to hormone balance. Take a probiotic daily at 30 billion or higher CFU. Work with a nutritionist on more serious gut issues. For mood issues, about 90% of serotonin is made in the gut, so if your gut health is compromised, you will feel this in your moods.

Hypothyroidism or low thyroid function is common in women who have PMS. For information about testing your thyroid, get the full panel of testing recommendations here.

Stress also plays a role in PMS. Extreme stress triggers biological changes in the brain, mostly resulting from altered adrenal function and endorphin secretion. Stress management through yoga, meditation, exercise can be extremely helpful for the symptoms of PMS and PMDD.

Studies have shown that women who exercise regularly don’t suffer as often from PMS as sedentary women. Pay attention to your body and don’t over do exercise when you feel exhausted during certain times of your cycle. Gentle and regular exercise such as walking, yoga or other forms of exercise that you enjoy can be very helpful with managing symptoms.

Diet, stress management, exercise and herbs can all be helpful in managing symptoms of PMS and PMDD. If you’ve tried all of these lifestyle and diet tips and still need further relief, contact an alternative or integrative health practitioner for further advice. Getting to the bottom of the causes of hormone imbalance can be life changing for many women.