The majority of American women suffer from headaches, mood swings, bloating and other problems that threaten their relationships, work life and well-being. Most unwillingly accept these discomforts as normal. But it doesn’t have to be this way …
The symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), like mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, fluid retention, bloating, breast tenderness, sugar cravings, headaches and sleep disturbances, affect 75 percent of women. In 20 percent of those women, the symptoms are so severe that they need medical treatment. About 8 percent have such extreme symptoms that the problem has been given a new name: premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
But being a woman doesn’t mean you have to live with these symptoms. The real fact is that suffering related to menstrual cycles is unnecessary and not caused by genetics or bad luck — but by bad habits, environmental toxins and stress.
The real causes of PMS
The real cause for PMS is simply this: Your hormones become unbalanced, causing your estrogen levels to increase and progesterone levels to decrease, either relatively or absolutely.
There are many things that promote these hormone imbalances, such as a high-sugar, refined carbohydrate diet, caffeine, stress, dairy, hormones in dairy products and meat and estrogen-like toxins from pesticides and pollution. Alcohol also contributes to problems because it damages the liver, which prevents it from excreting excess estrogen.
Constipation and imbalances in the gut bacteria can worsen the situation because they lead to the reabsorption of estrogen from the gut back into your blood, even after your liver has tried to get rid of it.
Your body also needs exercise to help balance hormones. So if you aren’t moving your body enough, it’s likely this is part of the problem as well.
Fortunately, good research shows that there are many ways to get hormones back in balance — without drugs. Here’s my plan for preventing PMS and PMDD. Although some of my suggestions may seem severe, science shows that they work. Give them a try and you will see in just one or two cycles how much better you feel.
5 simple steps to eliminate PMS
1. Clean up your diet
- Stop eating refined flour, sugar and processed foods.
- Cut out caffeine.
- Stop drinking alcohol.
- Balance your blood sugar by eating protein, such as a protein shake, eggs and nut butters for breakfast.
- Eat evenly throughout the day and don’t skip meals.
- Don’t eat within three hours of bedtime.
- Cut out all dairy and consider eliminating other common allergens for a few months, especially gluten.
- Increase fiber in your diet by eating more vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. Two tablespoons of ground flax seeds a day are especially helpful in correcting constipation and balancing hormones. Put them in a shake or sprinkle them on salads or food.
- Increase omega-3 fats by eating more wild fish like sardines, herring and wild salmon, as well as omega-3 eggs and walnuts.
- Eat organic food, especially animal products, to avoid environmental estrogen from pesticides.
2. Take supplements
A number of supplements have been shown to help ease PMS symptoms by improving metabolic function and hormone metabolism. Here are the superstars:
- Magnesium citrate or glycinate — Take 400 to 600 mg a day.
- Calcium citrate — Take 600 mg a day.
- Vitamin B6 — Take 50 to 100 mg a day along with 800 mcg of folate and 1,000 mcg of vitamin B12.
- Evening primrose oil — Take two 500 mg capsules twice a day.
- EPA/DHA (omega 3 fats) — Take 1,000 mg once or twice a day.
- Taurine — Take 500 mg a day to help liver detoxification.
- Take a good daily multivitamin (all the nutrients work together).
Herbs and phytonutrients can also be very helpful. Here are the best studied and most effective:
- Chasteberry fruit extract (Vitex Agnus-astus) can help balance the hormones released by the pituitary gland that control your overall hormone function. Studies of over 5,000 women have found it effective. Take 100 mg twice a day of a 10:1 extract.
- Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) and cramp bark (Viburum opulus) can help regulate cycles and relieve menstrual cramps.
- Dandelion root can help with liver detoxification and works as a diuretic.
- Isoflavones from soy, red clover or kudzu root improve estrogen detoxification by boosting the activity of specific detox enzymes. They can be taken as supplements or consumed in the diet.
- Flax seeds contain lignans that help balance hormone metabolism and block the negative effects of excess estrogens.
- Chinese herbal formulas may also help. One of the most effective is Xiao Yao San, or Rambling Powder. It contains: Bupleurum Root (Bupleurum chinense), Chinese Peony Root (Paeonia lactiflora), Dong Quai Root (Angelica sinensis), Bai-Zhu Atractylodes Root (Atractylodes macrocephala), Poria Sclerotium (Poria cocos), Ginger Rhizome (Zingiber officinale), Chinese Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) and Chinese Mint Leaf (Mentha haplocalyx).
- Replacing healthy bacteria in the gut also helps normalize estrogen and hormone metabolism. Take 5 to 10 billion live organisms in a daily probiotic supplement.
- For intractable cases, I will occasionally prescribe topical, natural bioidentical progesterone in the last two weeks of the menstrual cycle. The usual dose is 1/2 tsp (20 to 40 mg) applied at night to thin skin areas for the last two weeks of the menstrual cycle.
3. Get moving
Exercise is very important for balancing hormones. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, four to five times a week.
4. Address stress
Dealing with stress is also critical. Take a hot bath at night, get a massage, try yoga, learn deep breathing or meditation. These techniques and others can help balance hormones.
5. Try alternative therapies
Therapies such as acupuncture and homeopathy may help. One clinical trial showed that individualized homeopathy is effective in treating PMS. Five homeopathic medicines were used: Lachesis, Natrum muriaticum, Nux vomica, Pulsatilla and Sepia.
Remember, women are not defective. You can thrive and be healthy by paying attention to a few natural laws of biology. You don’t need to live with monthly discomfort or need drugs to survive!
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.