Let’s Talk About PMS (aka Please Make it Stop)

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arlier this week we celebrated International Woman’s Day and I hope that on that day (and every day!) you honoured yourself and/or the women around you!  In keeping with the theme of celebrating women and fighting gender stigma, it seemed relevant to talk about PMS.  Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS for short) has a terrible reputation – the name itself often triggers feelings of embarrassment or shame, and has become synonymous with words like “crazy”, “moody”, “a loose cannon”, etc., none of which are very empowering.  The truth is that PMS is a phenomenon that women have very little control over; it is a completely normal process that is the result of a complicated relationship between four separate hormones.  PMS becomes abnormal only when the symptoms become intolerable and interfere with daily life  causing a  negative impact.  

There are four female reproductive hormones, all of which play a role in the occurrence of PMS: estrogen, progesterone, lutenizing hormone (LH), and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).  Each of these hormones has their own, individual rhythm during a woman’s 28-day cycle (although in reality many women do not have a consistent 28-day cycle).  Each hormone has periods of time during this cycle in which its levels are elevated,  times when levels crash, and times when it is almost undetectable.  When you multiply this process by four, there is a lot going on!  

Everyone experiences PMS differently. There are a variety of symptoms and each individual experiences these symptoms to different degrees due to each woman’s natural hormonal pattern.  PMS occurs  when there are the most pronounced hormonal changes.  As its name suggests, one of these times is just before the onset of a woman’s menstrual flow but another common (and less known) time for PMS to occur is right around ovulation.  Both of these times are defined by a drastic surge and then drop in hormone levels and it tends to wreak havoc on our bodies, and on our minds.

‘Hormonal imbalances’ are quite common in women and simply mean that their body’s natural rhythms have become exaggerated or out of whack.  But the result of  imbalance can be more intense PMS symptoms, skin changes (acne), sleep disturbance, and even digestive changes.  From a naturopathic perspective, there are many interventions that can help to regulate the reproductive hormones and help to alleviate some of these concerns.  

Below are a few of the well researched, and commonly used, naturopathic treatments for PMS symptoms:

  • Botanicals:  (Vitex agnus-castus, Angelica sinensis, Actaea Racemosa, Viburnum opulus).  Symptoms of PMS can become exaggerated when there is a relative excess or deficiency of one hormone compared to another. Herbs can be used to stimulate the release of hormones when levels have become too low, or to help slow the release of hormones that are in excess.
  • Liver Support:  The liver processes and detoxifies everything that we put into our bodies, as well as everything that our bodies naturally produce.  Hormones can become unbalanced when our livers are “sluggish” and not processing as quickly as is required.  By supporting the liver, we can increase the processing speed and rebalance hormones. This can be accomplished by utilizing herbs that promote liver function and through lifestyle modification (for example, decreasing or stopping the intake of caffeine and/or alcohol).

The important thing to remember is that when utilizing a naturopathic approach, hormonal changes do not take place over night –  you have to be patient, and give your body the time that it needs to gain balance.  Before initiating any new treatment/supplementation, we always advise that you contact a medical professional for guidance, and to ensure any new treatment/supplementation is safe to take in conjunction with any other medications you take.

If your PMS is intense, it is worthwhile to talk to your MD or ND to rule out a much lesser known condition is called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).  PMDD is a very severe form of PMS that typically requires management in partnership with a health professional.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us anytime!

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