10 Ways to naturally treat PMS
Let’s start with an interesting thought – your monthly period shouldn’t make you feel like a different person. And yet, PMS (Pre-menstrual Syndrome) can make you feel like you’ve become someone you don’t even recognise (a quick check in the mirror to make sure it’s still you doesn’t always help!).
Many menstruators experience symptoms in the days leading up to their monthly period. Moods and emotions can swing so wildly you feel like a trapeze artist. Your mind can be overcome with anxiety, depression, teariness and irritability. And your body? Well, you can experience bloating, fluid retention, breast tenderness, headaches, painful menstrual cramps, pimples, weight gain and IBS. On top of that, your regular patterns can be out of whack: changes in appetite (hello chocolate cravings or salty chips), insomnia or disturbed sleep. Symptoms can vary for almost every menstruator and even from month to month. (An even MORE severe form of PMS is called PMDD – premenstrual dysphoric disorder).
If you DO suffer from PMS, you’re not alone. Between 75-90% of menstruators experience PMS each month. That’s like… a LOT.
Hormones gone wild?
PMS is due to very real biological and chemical changes that take place during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle. Your body is made up of a complex network of glands and organs known as your endocrine system that uses hormones to control your body’s metabolism, energy, mood and more. PMS arises due to fluctuations within this hormonal system.
A Quick Lesson in Female Hormones
Oestrogen & Progesterone
Oestrogen is a female sex hormone that has many roles, but generally works hard to oversee the reproductive system. Progesterone is a hormone released by the corpus luteum in the ovaries to help regulate your cycle. Levels of oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate or drop during the week before your period. This fluctuation may trigger the symptoms of PMS. (Low oestrogen can mean low mood or insomnia, high oestrogen can cause irritability).
Our brain produces a hormone called serotonin that regulates our mood and can make us feel good. Research has shown that low levels of serotonin can be the result of a reaction to changes in oestrogen and progesterone. When serotonin levels are low, depression and anxiety can occur, thus why you may feel flat, depressed or anxious around the time of your period.
After ovulation, our adrenal gland produces a chemical called aldosterone (this is when the ovaries release a mature egg for possible fertilisation). Aldosterone can contribute to PMS symptoms such as headaches, water retention and breast tenderness.
Our body produces other chemical hormones called endorphins. Happily, endorphins mask pain and discomfort. Sometimes, painful periods, PMS and depression can occur when our body doesn’t produce enough endorphins. HOT TIP: Exercise can release endorphins (they call it ‘the runner’s hormone’).
Prostaglandins help regulate our menstrual cycle, ovulation and induction of labour and are released at the time of our period. They help break down the uterine lining and cause muscular contraction. Overproduction of prostaglandins can cause painful periods, cramping, headaches and vomiting.
Balancing your hormones (as well as your yin and yang)
So, PMS is your body’s way of communicating that your hormones are unbalanced. As menstruators, we’re balanced when we’re in a healthy flow. Chinese Medicine takes a holistic view of the body and menstrual cycles. Similar to the waxing and waning of the moon, the ebbs and flows, changes of season within nature, your body has its own internal rhythm. When your internal rhythm becomes disrupted through lifestyle changes, stress, environmental toxins, consumption of processed foods or lack of sleep, the balance of yin and yang loses its harmony within your body. Your time of the month should be an easy transition and a healthy menstrual cycle should arrive and go with ease. When a Tai-chi master moves, they are fluid and graceful. In essence, your period should be like that. It should just flow – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Treatments that mask the symptoms
The most common treatments for PMS are hormonal contraceptives and antidepressants. Hormonal birth control (aka the Pill) is usually a combination of both hormones, oestrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone). After ovulation, if an egg isn’t fertilised, oestrogen and progesterone levels drop signalling menstruation, but a continuous stream of these two hormones through the Pill stops the pituitary gland in your brain from signalling the ovaries to release an egg, stopping ovulation, and ‘ending’ your period. This would also end your PMS symptoms. However, once you stop taking the Pill, your PMS symptoms can return and even worsen.
A more natural way to free your flow
To say goodbye to PMS and help ease your symptoms, here are 10 all natural ways to help ( we like all natural things at All Natural Pharmacy, obviously!). And they’re all really simple ‘hacks’ to help get those hormones in harmony.
- STRETCH & BREATHE: Gentle yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can help balance your hormones, calm your mind and de-stress you.
- ENDORPHIN HIT: Keep your body moving and increase your heart rate with gentle cardiovascular exercise such as walking or cycling. (Happily, a nibble of dark chocolate also releases endorphins).
- MAGIC MOXA STICK: Wave a moxa stick over your stomach at the time of your period. It’s a stick or cone made of ground mugwort leaves, known to improve the flow of energy in your body, thus helping to ease period pain, cramping and create a healthy menstrual flow.
- ESSENTIAL MAGNESIUM: Magnesium is one of the most essential minerals to help balance hormones and therefore minimise PMS symptoms. Foods that are magnesium-rich include whole grains, dark, leafy greens, nuts or avocados.
- EAT CLEAN: Avoid foods high in sugar, as well as coffee, alcohol & processed foods. Eating organic, whole foods and clean foods will help your body maintain homeostasis. Foods high in sugar can spike your blood sugar levels, creating an increase in insulin levels which then affect your hormonal balance (like decreasing that lovely serotonin).
- ACUPUNCTURE: Acupuncture helps to reduce PMS by balancing your neuroendocrine axis – your hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenals (HPA axis), which in turn helps to regulate and balance your hormonal (endocrine) system.
- FOOT BATH: A warm relaxing foot bath can help to relieve a headache or assist with relaxing the body and ensuring a more solid, sound sleep during your monthly cycle.
- FEEL THE HEAT: A classic PMS treatment (and arguably still one of the best) is a hot water bottle on your stomach or heat pack to ease cramps. Hot herbal teas such as ginger, chamomile or rose petal tea can also be good for warming or calming the body and reducing unsettled emotions or discomfort associated with PMS.
- FOOD FOR MOOD: Specific foods can minimise your PMS symptoms. Foods high in fibre will help relieve constipation and detox your hormones out of the body. Flaxseed contains phytoestrogens that can help reduce PMS as it acts as an oestrogen blocker. Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, brussel sprouts, bok choy or kale) are high in phytochemicals and potassium which help to minimise oestrogen dominance. Vitamin B6 has been shown to help synthesise the brain’s feel good chemicals, so foods such as sweet potato can help to ease PMS symptoms too.
- ZINC IT UP: Zinc, an essential mineral in your body, helps your immune system, growth and metabolism. Recent trials show that zinc can also significantly improve PMS symptoms including irritability, fatigue, bloating and headaches.
As your 5th vital sign, your menstrual cycle gives precious feedback about your overall wellbeing. PMS is your body’s way of communicating that your hormones are unbalanced. But getting your body’s internal rhythm back in flow so your menstrual cycle comes and goes with ease is possible.
Another all natural PMS blaster
ANP’s PMS tincture is like your period’s BFF. It helps to support and balance your hormones throughout your entire cycle. With a blend of four ‘power herbs’, it works on your liver Meridian, maintaining your body’s internal rhythm and the health of your period. It helps to keep your hormones in balance… and when they’re in balance, well, happy days. And that’s the goal all month long, right?