Menstruation and the menstrual cycle form the rhythm of a woman’s life, from puberty to menopause. In some cases, the arrival of menstruation is accompanied by physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms. This is known as premenstrual syndrome or PMS. This phenomenon varies from woman to woman and is essentially related to the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. There are several methods to alleviate PMS symptoms and face this often dreaded period with more serenity: diet, exercise, herbal medicine, aromatherapy, and medications. In this article, Gilmore Health will demystify and tell you everything you need to know about premenstrual syndrome.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual syndrome can occur from the first menstrual period until it stops at menopause. Approximately 75% of women experience it every month. Of these women, 20-30% suffer from irritating symptoms that interfere with their daily, social, professional, emotional, and sexual lives.
The causes of PMS are still poorly understood. However, it seems to be closely linked to ovulation and the menstrual cycle. The hormonal fluctuations that occur during the second part of the cycle may be responsible for premenstrual symptoms. After ovulation, the amount of estrogen decreases, while the amount of progesterone increases and returns to a standard level when there is no pregnancy. Normally, progesterone helps to relieve the discomfort caused by estrogens, such as water retention and breast swelling. Based on this assumption, the main hypothesis is that PMS symptoms are related to an excess of estrogen and/or a deficiency of progesterone.
In addition, the hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle are perceived by the brain. Some researchers suspect that similar variations occur in neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, which is associated with mood management and a state of happiness and well-being.
In most cases, PMS is benign and does not affect fertility. It can however be aggravated by many factors, including smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, lack of sleep, obesity, caffeine and alcohol consumption, and stress.
What are the symptoms of PMS?
More than 200 symptoms can be attributed to PMS. They occur between two and seven days, or even fourteen days, before menstruation and disappear spontaneously when menstruation arrives or in the following days. The clinical picture of PMS in each woman is unique, and the intensity and duration of symptoms vary.
Physical well-being is particularly affected by PMS. The hormonal changes cause fluid retention, swelling of the lower abdomen, and tender, sensitive breasts. Severe fatigue, headaches, abdominal cramps, hot flashes, and heavy legs are also symptoms of PMS. Some women experience muscle and joint pain, especially in the lower back. A slight change in weight and an acne breakout are also common signs of menstruation.
Psychological and emotional symptoms
PMS affects mood and emotions to a greater or lesser degree. Many women suffer from mood swings, irritability, and even aggression. Hyperemotionalism, crying attacks, anxiety, and stress are also common symptoms of PMS. The days before menstruation can also be characterized by difficulty concentrating, despondency, or feelings of depression. All these changes can cause or aggravate sleep problems, decreased libido, and eating disorders such as bulimia.
Premenstrual dysphoria disorder
For 3-8% of women, premenstrual syndrome takes a severe form, with very pronounced psychological and emotional manifestations. This is known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). It reflects a high sensitivity to hormonal variations and manifests itself in a very unstable, even depressed, mood and high anxiety. Women with PMDD often react impulsively to situations that would be insignificant at other times in their menstrual cycle. Their interest in their usual activities wanes and they are more inclined to think critically about themselves. In very rare cases, the intense psychic tension that characterizes PMDD can lead to obsessive disorders and dark thoughts.
How can PMDD be prevented?
It is possible to prevent PMDD occurrence, or at least reduce the intensity of its symptoms by adopting the correct reflexes during the menstrual cycle. Diet, physical activity, and stress management are the main approaches.
Diet to reduce PMS
Hippocrates said it best: “Food is our first medicine”. This idea can be applied to many situations, including PMS. In general, good eating habits are essential throughout the cycle, not just when PMS occurs. For example, eating a variety of balanced meals at regular times is recommended. Avoid skipping meals as much as possible and make sure you get enough calcium (dairy products, spinach, broccoli, green beans) and magnesium (white beans, dark chocolate, almonds, walnuts). Second, since caffeine tends to accentuate PMS symptoms, we advise you to limit its consumption in any form: coffee, tea, chocolate, cola drinks, energy drinks, etc.
During this complex phase of the menstrual cycle, focus on slow carbohydrates and fiber to prevent cravings for sugary foods, which are very common during PMS. These nutrients are found in whole grain bread, fruits, and vegetables, whole grain pasta, and cereals. Limit your intake of salt, which can cause water retention, and replace it with spices and herbs to season your dishes.
In general, physical activity is a good way to stay fit and prevent problems before and during menstruation. To help your body during PMS and to reduce its intensity, don’t hesitate to do twenty to thirty minutes of physical activity three to five times a week. Walking, swimming, cycling, running or dancing will help regulate the fluctuation of hormones that cause PMS. These activities also provide a sense of physical and mental well-being, reducing stress levels through the release of endorphins.
Stress is a factor in the onset of PMS and can intensify its symptoms. It is therefore important to learn about different techniques to combat it. As a first step, try to avoid stressful situations whenever possible and rearrange your schedule if necessary. Resort to relaxation therapy, yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation, which are known to help manage stress, anxiety, and negative emotions. Take time for yourself and don’t hesitate to seek psychological support.
How can PMS symptoms be alleviated?
Preventive measures are not always enough to avoid PMS. When it does occur, it’s a matter of finding solutions to reduce symptoms and regain comfort.
Herbs for premenstrual syndrome:
Herbal medicine is widely used as a natural treatment for PMS. Several herbs are known for this indication.
Chaste berry is considered the medicinal plant par excellence for alleviating female complaints related to menstruation or menopause. Due to its progesterone action, it improves various symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, including headaches, irritability, sore breasts, intestinal bloating, and feelings of depression. Chaste also helps regulate the menstrual cycle and reduces uterine cramps.
Raspberries act as a hormone regulator during the menstrual cycle and help balance estrogen/progesterone levels. As muscle relaxants and antispasmodic, they relieve uterine contractions during PMS. The plant can be consumed as an herbal tea.
Evening primrose oil is also used to relieve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome as it contains gamma-linolenic acid, which is a precursor of prostaglandins. These regulate certain hormonal functions and prevent excessive estrogen production. Evening primrose oil has anti-inflammatory properties and, thanks to the phenylalanine in its composition, it is also pain-relieving. Several studies have shown that it reduces breast tenderness, headaches, and mood disorders. It is available in capsules and is often combined with borage oil to target the skin symptoms of PMS and specifically acne breakouts.
Yarrow and Lady’s Mantle are often used for premenstrual cramps because of their anticonvulsant effects.
Thermotherapy: the benefits of heat
Uterine cramps are one of the many symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. They herald the arrival of menstruation and can cause lower back pain. These cramps are often painful and can prevent women from living a normal life. Heat therapy, specifically the use of heat, is a good way to relieve these premenstrual pains. For example, you can start with a hot bath to help relieve uterine cramps and overall tension caused by PMS. During the day, you can use a dry or moist hot water bottle, a microwave heating pad, or a special heating patch for your lower abdomen.
Essential oils for PMS
Another natural remedy for PMS is aromatherapy. Essential oils can actually affect both the physical symptoms and emotional states associated with this period. Sage can be used to massage the lower abdomen to relieve menstrual cramps. Simply mix two drops of essential oil with four tablespoons of vegetable oil of your choice. Sage can be used orally only on the recommendation of a doctor. For headaches, it is ideal to massage peppermint essential oil into the temples or soles of the feet.
If non-medicinal remedies are not effective enough, your doctor may prescribe individual treatment. For example, Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen can be used to relieve headaches, cramps, and other painful sensations associated with PMS.
For women who are deficient in calcium and/or magnesium, supplementation is considered. Calcium reduces the incidence of mood disorders and has a positive effect on serotonin levels. Magnesium prevents appetite, helps reduce stress and fatigue, improves sleep, and reduces the risk of depression.
For severe and worsening PMS, continuous oral contraception may be a solution. This method puts the menstrual cycle on “hold”, prevents ovulation, and does not involve hormonal changes, so there is no PMS. Due to the potential side effects, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before choosing this option.
Premenstrual syndrome, closely linked to the menstrual cycle and hormone fluctuations, affects many women. Its symptoms affect the whole body, but also the mind and emotions. For example, PMS causes fatigue, uterine cramps, headaches, anxiety, stress, and even depression. In some cases, the emotional manifestations are very intense, which is called premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Treatment of PMS may be based on natural therapies such as herbal medicine, aromatherapy, or thermotherapy. Sometimes medication is required. If you suffer from PMS and you cannot reduce your symptoms, do not hesitate to consult your doctor.