Most women have experienced some symptoms or discomfort associated with their monthly periods. It may be nothing more serious than feelings of irritation or tiredness a few days before their period.

However, for some it can be more severe – depression, acute anxiety, food cravings, water retention, abdominal pain, or heavy bleeding which can turn the normal menstrual cycle into a misery – for the women concerned and for their families.

Premenstrual syndrome (P.M.S) as a collection of symptoms usually experienced in the two weeks before a period. Sore, “lumpy” breasts, sleep problems, a lack of interest in sex or a more keen interest in sex can be experienced

Causes of PMS

During this phase of the menstrual cycle levels of the sex hormones progesterone and oestrogen fall, affecting all parts of the body including the brain, which accounts for the wide variety of symptoms reported by women.

Hormonal imbalance is certainly a crucial factor, although it is unclear whether P.M.S. is caused by a deficiency of oestrogen or a problem with the way the body uses progesterone. Poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress undoubtedly aggravate the situation and may in some cases turn what might be a mild inconvenience into something much more distressing. There is also evidence that “oestrogen overload” is something of a modern epidemic caused by a combination of the contraceptive pill, poor diet, and stress.

How we can help

Conventional and complementary medicine alike recognize a link between menstrual problems and an inadequate diet too low in important nutrients.  Dietary factors can have a powerful effect on female hormone chemistry.  Shortage of Vitamin B and of essential fatty acids found in seafood, green vegetables and some dairy products, as well as a lack of minerals such as magnesium and zinc are implicated in the physical and psychological symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

Treatment starts with nutritional assessment – many busy women do not realize how poor their diet is until they have to compile a list of what they have eaten in the past week or so. A combination of changing your diet and taking supplements can have a significant effect on menstrual problems – but it requires time and commitment. The  diet should be low in salt, caffeine, sugar and animal fats.

There is also a range of herbal remedies that can be prescribed for specific symptoms such as heavy, painful periods, depression, and water retention, and for adjusting hormone imbalance. Products containing agnus castus or raspberry leaf may be recommended for heavy periods; burdock for water retention;  St. John’s Wort, ginseng or many others for depression.