How To Treat Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder with Natural Remedies
Premenstrual syndrome or PMS for short refers to a cyclical and recurring set of symptoms that occur 7 to 10 days before the onset of menstruation. Affecting up to 75% of women, PMS crops up in a predictable pattern, although individual symptoms (and their intensity) can vary from month to month.
There’s a pretty solid chance you’ve had some type of premenstrual symptom at some point in your life. PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is having one or more symptoms that immediately precede or happen concurrently with your period. A lot of women have similar PMS symptoms, like:
- Mood swings
- Breast tenderness
- Food Cravings
- Abdominal cramps
- Joint pain
- Acne flare-ups
- Fluid retention
- Mood swings
- Changes in appetite
- Poor concentration
- Social withdrawal
- Libido changes
Although the exact cause of PMS is unknown, several biological factors have been identified that increase PMS symptoms. These include hormone fluctuations, reduced levels of serotonin in the brain, heightened inflammation, lower levels of calcium and magnesium in the body, and an increased sensitivity to prolactin.
While the symptoms of PMS usually subside on their own within the first four days of a woman’s period, experiencing PMS for a stretch of 10 to 14 days each month can have a massive impact on quality of life during one’s child bearing years. On average, a woman will endure 500 periods over the course of her lifetime.
Conventional treatment for premenstrual syndrome include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to manage pain and anti-depressants to combat mood related symptoms. But these medications, taken over the long-term, carry their own drawbacks and worrisome side effects.
Long used as a natural anti-depressant, St. John’s wort is an herbal remedy that possesses anti-inflammatory properties. It also influences serotonin receptors in the brain that help to regulate mood.
To investigate the effects of St. John’s wort on the symptoms of PMS, researchers recruited 36 women with mild PMS to receive either 900 mg of St. John’s wort supplements or placebo for two menstrual cycles. The 2010 study found that St. John’s wort improved physical and behavioral symptoms of PMS, such as food cravings, bloating, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, and crying spells.
Mood and pain related symptoms, like anxiety, irritability, cramping, and breast tenderness, were not significantly relieved with St. John’s wort. However, some pain related symptoms appeared to improve towards the end of the treatment period, leading researchers to speculate that taking this herb for more than two months may have a beneficial effect on these types of symptoms as well.
Since one of the biological factors of PMS is deficient levels of calcium within the body, supplementing with calcium may help relieve many of the mood-related symptoms of PMS.
Published in Obstetrics & Gynecology Science, a 2017 study involved 66 women who were randomly assigned to receive 500 mg of calcium daily or placebo for two months. Compared with baselines and control groups, those who supplemented with calcium had significant reductions in anxiety and depression; this group was also less emotional, retained less water, and experienced a reduction in somatic symptoms like bloating, breast tenderness, and joint pain.
The recommended daily intake for calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most adults. To ensure you are getting enough calcium in your diet, try to include calcium rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products into your meals. Other sources include leafy greens, seafood, tofu, and legumes. You can even eat eggshells for a quick calcium fix.
Native to the Mediterranean and Central Asia, chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus) refers to the fruit of the chaste tree. First used by monks in the middle ages to decrease sexual desire hence the name, chasteberry is now taken as a supplement for a range of women’s health conditions like infertility, menstrual problems, and menopause.
In a 2012 systematic review of its impact on a variety of female reproductive issues, researchers analyzed eight clinical trials that involved using chasteberry extracts to treat premenstrual syndrome. Of these, seven studies found that chasteberry was superior to placebo.
Overall, chasteberry helped improve both the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS. It reduced headaches, nervousness, restlessness, depression, breast pain, bloating, back pain, menstrual pain, fatigue, irritability, and sleep disturbances with minimal adverse effects.
Since this herbal remedy interacts with hormones and dopamine receptors in the brain, be sure to speak with your doctor before taking chasteberry if you use birth control pills, antipsychotic medications, or hormone therapies.
Check your regularity
One of the ways your body eliminates excess estrogen is through the bowels. If your digestive system is sluggish, the estrogen that the liver excretes into the bile has extra opportunity to be reabsorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal tract.
You should have two to three solid (not hard) bowel movements every day. If you’re not, you can help things along by:
- Piling on the veggies for extra fiber
- Drinking more water to accommodate the extra fiber
- Taking a shot of apple cider vinegar before meals
- Having a functional medicine doctor evaluate your stomach acid production
- Checking your microbiome with an at-home analysis like Viome
- Considering adding magnesium to your stack
- Adding resistant starch for microbiome support
If your elimination is slow, you have estrogen compounding on itself every time your body releases some. You could have excess estrogen for other reasons, but good digestion is key to eliminating estrogen and keeping your hormone levels stable.
Add omega-3 fats to your diet
Research shows that adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet reduces common PMS symptoms.
Research shows that the longer people supplemented, the more their symptoms decreased. In other words, if you want to see benefits, make it a consistent part of your long-term PMS treatment plan.
The best thing to do is to eat plenty of wild salmon and get a high-quality omega-3 supplement. Krill oil packs an extra punch it was more effective than omega-3 fish oil at treating PMS symptoms, likely because of its fatty acid profile and antioxidant content.
Exercise regularly to help treat PMS too
Getting out and getting moving will increase your circulation, elevate your mood, and help you sweat out some of that bloat. If you’re too uncomfortable for high-intensity cardio, just a brisk walk, or even a stroll, around the neighborhood will make a big difference.
Avoid these things if you’re prone to PMS and PMDD
Damaged fats, sugar, and foods you don’t tolerate cause inflammation in the body, which can worsen PMS symptoms that are dependent on inflammation like:
- Mood changes
- Joint and muscle pain
Conventional table salt
Conventional table salt contains aluminum-based anti-caking agents that can make water retention worse. A high-quality sea salt or Himalayan pink salt doesn’t have the aluminum compounds that tamper with your body’s natural water balance.
Sometimes, life comes at you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Other times, you know situations have a high stress potential, and you can avoid them.
Better still, have a few stress management tools at the ready so that you can work through things as they come. Here’s a box breathing video that will help you keep your cool when it all hits the fan. Exercise and meditation will help, but they’re not the only stress-reduction techniques you can try. Laughing and connecting with friends and family also helps a lot.
If you suspect your PMS symptoms are more severe for you than others’, your midwife, gynecologist or functional medicine doctor can help. Choose a naturally-minded care provider for this. The medical model dictates that the birth control pill is the one-size-fits-all answer to any hormonal issues, and there might be more to it than that.