PMS: Pre-Menstrual Syndrome
by Claudette Wadsworth
The complex interplay of hormones is often taken for granted until disruption manifests itself. However, our hormones are fundamentally important to our entire lives because hormones control our emotions and our emotions control and create our lives. What are emotions though? Emotion is simply energy in motion : e - motion, and as this energy arises out of the body, it has magnetic qualities, like a magnet, it arises and attracts either people or things or events in your life. That is how powerful our feelings, and thus our hormones, are. This is how powerful you are. This is why as a naturopath, I feel it is very important to treat all conditions holistically: that is, when treating the body, the emotions, the mind, and the spirit cannot be ignored.
What actually are hormonal disorders? A hormonal disorder is when there is an imbalance in the levels of hormones, such as oestrogen, progesterone or testosterone, which causes illness in the body, such as premenstrual syndrome, PMS, menopausal problems, and prostate enlargement (BPH).
All of our hormones are very sensitive and therefore, easily affected by our diet, lifestyle, environment and emotional and spiritual well being. Despite the complexity, the fundamental causes of hormonal disruption can be simplified to four factors:
Toxicity, Stress, Insulin, and Nutrition
(apart from structural abnormalities, eg. lack of nerve supply or retroverted uterus).
Toxins are substances that are poisonous to the processes that maintain life. We know we are toxic when our skin breaks out in pimples, we have terrible body odour or we are so irritable and moody we scream at everyone near us. Toxins can disrupt the hormonal balance by:
the liver not functioning properly as it must break down the hormones,
constipation so that are hormones are not excreted through the bowel,
heavy metals from cigarettes and amalgam fillings in our teeth,
potent synthetic hormones, called xenoestrogens, from our foods, eg. hormonally-fed animal meats, plastics and household cleaning products,
industrial wastes such as the enormous environmental clean-up that was needed at Homebush Bay due to hormonally-acting chemical, dioxin.
Stress is how we respond to various circumstances, particularly when we are frightened or rushed. Our adrenal glands are stimulated to release huge amounts of the stress hormones: adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, which cause racing of the heart, sweating and shaking all over, feelings of nausea, and urgency to urinate. If this was occurring on a slightly reduced or controlled scale everyday, as in most people living in the city, the adrenal glands eventually become exhausted. However, the body continues to produce these hormones by converting other hormones, particularly progesterone and pregnenolone, into cortisol in order to supplement the adrenals low reserves. Clearly, this depletes the levels of these hormones and the functions for which these hormones are needed. Furthermore, cortisol stimulates high blood sugar levels so that sugar will be immediately available for the "flight or fight" response. This in turn stimulates excessive insulin secretion which, when chronically elevated, contributes to insulin resistance.
When sugars & refined carbohydrates are eaten, such as white bread, chocolate and cakes, the pancreas, the organ that controls our blood sugar levels, goes into overload, secreting excessive amounts of insulin. This produces insulin resistance where the cells do not respond to insulin anymore and sugar can no longer get into the cells to be used to make hormones, regulate hormones or for energy production for the body. Insulin resistance also causes other hormonal disruptions, such as high levels of circulating androgens and decreased levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which both in turn further disrupt our hormones.
Nutrition is fundamental to all health. The body needs certain nutrients to actually make the hormones. The balance of other nutrients affects how the hormones act in the cells, such as the balance of calcium to magnesium, inside the cells. The liver needs certain nutrients to break down the hormones. The digestive system plays a role in oestrogen excretion, by needing adequate fibre to keep your bowels regular. Otherwise, with constipation, the oestrogens are reabsorbed back into the bloodstream.
Looking at these four factors: toxins, stress, insulin and nutrition, it is obvious that hormones do not work in isolation by themselves. All of these four factors we can address ourselves to make substantial impact on our hormonal health.
PMS: Premenstrual Syndrome
Most people have heard of the dreaded PMS or PMT that even husbands and boyfriends pick up on before a period! More than three quarters of women suffer from some form of premenstrual syndrome, PMS, occurring cyclically each month 7-10 days prior to their period. It is characterized by irritability, depression, anxiousness, headaches, breast swelling and pain, sugar and chocolate cravings as well as acne. There have actually been over 150 recorded symptoms of PMS.
When treating my clients, I get them to keep a menstrual symptom diary showing when they get their PMS symptoms (eg. 3 days before period), what particular symptoms they experience (eg. irritable, pimples) and how severe they are, so we can see what exactly we are dealing with, the progress and any triggers.
With PMS there is a relative excess of oestrogen, or, it maybe not enough progesterone to balance the oestrogen as these two hormones work together to regulate our fertility and menstrual cycles. This imbalance occurs via our four causes mentioned earlier: toxins, stress, insulin and sugars, and nutrition.
Compared to symptom-free women, PMS patients consume 62% more refined carbohydrates, 275% more refined sugar, 79% more dairy products, 78% more sodium, 53% less iron, 77% less manganese & 52% less zinc.
Diet is the foundation of all good health so treatment must always start here for all PMS conditions.
Eat small regular meals: preferably 5 small meals a day to maintain even blood sugar levels and energy levels.
Reduce sugars & refined carbohydrates, including sweets, white flour products, honey, dried fruit, soft drinks, alcohol, fruit juice, which produce excessive insulin secretion.
Eat protein every meal to balance blood sugar levels and increase the liver's detoxification of oestrogen, eg. organic hormone-free chicken & lean red meat, fish, beans, legumes, nuts, dairy, eggs. Eat more vegetarian protein as vegetarian proteins attract less bad gut bacteria that produce B-glucuronidase, an enzyme that causes oestrogens to be reabsorbed into the blood again, instead of being excreted via the bowel.
Avoid foods that cause inflammation in the body: fried and animal fats, sugars, alcohol, margarine, white flour products, caffeine, including caffeine, chocolate, Cola drinks and guarana.
Eat more anti-inflammatory foods which contain essential fatty acids, also called Omega 3 and 6 oils, which are used to make hormones, decrease inflammation and for cell-to-cell communication. These include cold water oily fish eg. cod, salmon, mackeral, sardines, herring, trout 4 times a week, a handful of walnuts and sunflower seeds daily, 1 Tb of flaxmeal or ground flaxseeds daily on cereal or in a smoothie & ¼ avocado each day.
Eat phytoestrogen foods which have a weak (200 times weaker) amphoteric effect on estrogen receptors on body cells in that they regulate the amount of oestrogen entering the cells (if too much oestrogen already, they block the receptors from more powerful synthetic oestrogens and if too little, they gently stimulate them). These have now been called Selective Oestrogen Receptor Modifiers, eg. GMF-free soy products, beans & legumes, seeds, alfalfa, mung bean sprouts & whole grains.
In terms of herbs, Chaste tree is specific for PMS. Chaste tree (Vitax agnus-castus) corrects the relative deficiency of progesterone, enhances the function of the corpus luteum, inhibits prolactin and helps reduce lumpy ropey breasts. It is best taken between 6-9am each day when the pituitary gland is most active.
The most important nutrients for PMS are Magnesium and Vitamin B6 . Magnesium reduces sugar and chocolate cravings as it is needed to bind insulin to cell receptors so that sugar can enter the cells and be used for energy. Magnesium also alleviates cramps, headaches and fluid retention and balances mood swings as it is needed for dopamine production, the feel-good hormone, and relaxes the muscles of the body. Recommended dosage is usually 400mg per day, unless under supervision of a practitioner. Vitamin B6 has been shown to improve depression and anxiety associated with the Oral Contraceptive Pill and alleviates fluid retention and swollen breasts as well as being necessary for normal function of the pituitary gland, the mother of all hormonal glands. 100mg per day is a safe dose that should not be exceeded unless supervised by a practitioner due to neurotoxicity signs of pins and needles and numbness.
Perhaps our lifestyle is having a detrimental effect on our body as we rush to keep up with our hectic schedules. Making time for exercise is very important to increase circulation to the reproductive organs, such as to the ovaries that produce oestrogen and progesterone, reduce excess body fat, as an outlet for bottled-up stress and for a feeling of wellbeing! Believe it or not 50% of Australians do not do enough exercise: most people drive everywhere sit all day at computers and desks. It can be hard to find the time to exercise that is why it is important to choose an exercise that you enjoy. Then you will be motivated to do it! It could be swimming, walking, yoga, dancing, even physical activity like sex is exercise! Longer duration moderate exercise is best, 1hour 3-4 times per week, rather than strenuous exercise for less time.
Another essential factor when treating PMS is to reduce our stress. This may be achieved by having an emotional outlet for built-up tensions such as playing sport, screaming into a pillow, counseling as well as relaxing the mind and body by meditation, massage, listening to relaxing music in a hot bath, or even letting your creative juices flow by putting your passions and emotions into art, gardening, cooking, dancing, singing, writing.
Of course, avoiding exposure to environmental toxins plays a vital role in PMS treatment. Simple measures to ensure this include eating organic foods, filtering your water, using environmentally-friendly cleaning products as they are usually more human-friendly too, wearing a mask and gloves when using toxic chemicals at work, and reducing exposure to all forms of radiation, including mobile phones that have been shown to disrupt hormonal communication pathways. Keep them switched off when not in use, otherwise they still attract radiation to your body.
Perhaps allow yourself to be a little more unreasonable throughout your cycle rather than relying on menstruation to restore this useful quality to your life! Express the cranky, bitchy, mean parts of yourself in less threatening ways, such as role play or kick boxing classes! Question whether you are taking on too much and therefore preventing others from doing their fair share. You may be blaming them unnecessarily for not taking on more responsibility. Remember, life is about balance. Put some fun and play back into the simple things in your life!
Article provided by:
BA, BHlthSc, AdvND, DN, DRM, AdvNFM, MATMS
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