Taking Control of PMT

Menstruation is a natural event in our lives  Premenstrual tension is not.  The symptoms of PMT, like all symptoms include depression and mood swings, fatigue, headache, swelling and sensitivity of the breasts, along with other forms of oedema, backache and lower abdominal pain.  These symptoms are so varied that we know the whole system is being affected.  Under these conditions inadequate nutrition is a prime suspect.

With any illness or disease, the first place is to the stress factors in our lives.  PMT is no exception.   We need to look to the external stresses we are internalising and to how we are dealing with them.  Our bottom line defence against PMT is providing ourselves with the sustenance we need to combat stress.  Poor nutrition decreases our resistance to stress.  Furthermore poor nutrition can cause stress.   What we eat can be either part of the solution or part of the problem.

The menstrual cycle is the result of interactions between the ovaries, the pituitary and the hypothalamus.   The ovaries are particularly vulnerable to stress.  The stress inhibits normal ovary function upsetting the entire system.  One result of poor nutrition combined with hormonal imbalance is the periodic flare-ups of acne, eczema and/or herpes that many women experience.  Oedema (water retention) can also be traced to a stress-related hormonal imbalance.   Stress causes the adrenal glands to release an increased amount of salt-retaining effect of insulin so we retain water.

A known cause of PMT is an imbalance in the ratio of oestrogen to progesterone where not enough progesterone is present to inactivate the oestrogen. When nutrition is not adequate to handle stress, we can secrete undesirably high levels of oestrogen, because oestrogen functions as a stimulant to the central nervous system, excess oestrogen can actually produce stress reactions in the body.

Any stress is an indication that we need to increase our vitamin B complex intake.  Sufficient B-complex helps to normalise oestrogen levels.  On the other hand, an increase in oestrogen can cause symptoms of vitamin B deficiency.   An example of this effect can be seen in the use of oestrogen-based birth control pills use of which results in deficiencies in vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid.

Pyridoxine, vitamin B6, is the B vitamin most associated with women’s disorders.   It has been used to treat PMT since the 1940’s.  B6 assists in the proper metabolism of oestrogen, restoring the progesterone/oestrogen balance.   It is important for the normal functioning of the pituitary and for the metabolism of unsaturated fatty acids.   Both of these activities affect the production of the sex hormones.   Pyridoxine is effective in treating the PMT symptoms of tension, aggression, depression and irritability.   The alleviation of mental symptoms by B6 may support the theory of some scientists that a lack of neurotransmitters figures into the PMT puzzle.   B6 acts as a co-enzyme with the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin and is necessary for the beta endorphins to work properly.

B6 is probably best known for its action as a natural diuretic.   It helps reduce water retention (and swelling, soreness and headaches which may accompany it) without the side effects of diuretic drugs.  It helps to preserve blood levels of magnesium and taken in high doses of vitamin C (as much as a gram of each daily according to Carlton Fredericks) is frequently effective in overcoming the premenstrual sweet tooth.

Dr. Guy Abraham a doctor specialising in PMT, has found that up to 84 percent of his patients get relief from their PMT symptoms with B6 in doses of 50-300mg per day.  In some individuals large doses of B6 produce a sense of nervousness or irritability.  This is particularly liable to happen if the other B-complex vitamins are in short supply.  This effect will occur within about an hour after taking the supplement. Should you have this experience, simply cut back on the amount you are taking.   Dr. Abraham recommends starting with 50mg per day and building up from there. Increasing dosage gradually will act to desensitise you to any negative reaction.

B12 and folic acid are two more B vitamins which are needed to balance oestrogen levels.  They also work in the formation of red blood cells.  A B12 deficiency results in the development of pernicious anaemia. Because the primary natural sources are meat and dairy foods, it is an especially important supplement for vegetarians.  It can take as long as five years for the symptoms of B12 deficiency to appear, and a diet which is low in B1 and high in folic acid can actually mask a B12 deficiency.

B12 is measured in micrograms and is usually taken in amounts of 5-100mcg daily.   Because it is difficult to assimilate B12 in supplement form, we recommend a sublingual form of B12 which allows the vitamin direct access to the bloodstream by being absorbed under the tongue.

Besides vitamin B several other nutrients are necessary to the production of sex hormones.   These include the essential fatty acids vitamins E and A and protein.  You will recall that protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals are the basic nutrient classifications.

We need fat in its unsaturated form to provide us with essential fatty acids, EFA’s just as we need whole proteins to provide us with the amino acids our bodies cannot synthesise for us.   Essential fatty acids are needed for the production of steroid hormones and prostaglandins as well as for the formation of all body membranes, including the brain cells.

Vitamin D, the male and female sex hormones, cortisone (an adrenal hormone) bile salts, and cholesterol are all steroids. We need the steroids to synthesise sex hormones and we need the fatty acids to synthesise the steroids.  EFA’s also make calcium available for tissue use and elevate our blood calcium levels).  There are three essential fatty acids.    If linoleic acid is present the body can use it to produce the other two.  Safflower, sunflower, sesame and almond oils contain linoleic acid and are all recommended in moderate amounts (two tablespoons per day) to meet this need.  Essential fatty acids are also available in capsule form.

Some women suffer from PMT as a result of an imbalance of prostaglandins.  (Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances which are synthesised as needed at the cell site)  Low levels of a particular prostaglandin PGE can cause premenstrual tension.   As mentioned, essential fatty acids also figure in the production of prostaglandins.  In order to make this change, plus the stress of the oncoming menstrual flow can cause a GLA deficiency.   However GLA supplements are available and one of these is evening primrose oil.   Except for mother’s milk evening primrose oil is one of the few naturally occurring sources containing GLA in substantial amounts.

Evening primrose oil taken one to three times per day for 2/3 months can soothe physical discomfort, pain and mood disorders brought on by PMT in 60/80 percent of cases.

Many of us realise that the minerals calcium and magnesium are important to us as women.   Magnesium is needed for the metabolic processes connected with the healthy female reproductive system.

Not surprisingly, most women with PMT have reduced levels of intercellular magnesium throughout the month and this amount is further reduced during menstruation.

Do not think that you have all the bases covered because you are using supplements.  You must eat a well rounded diet of whole fresh foods.   Supplements are supplements, not substitutes.  Stay away from sugar, alcohol, white flour, caffeine, chocolate, processed foods and nicotine, and minimise salt, red meat, fats and dairy products, especially during the time that you usually experience PMT.   These non-nutrient substances will use up your supplements and still leave you short of the nutrients to bring your glandular and reproductive systems into balance.

Some herbs can help – the oriental herb – Don Quai can help to improve circulation especially in the pelvic region, it nourishes the blood and regulates liver function.

Herbal diuretics including alfalfa leaf, burdock, dandelion and chicory.  Alfalfa is especially valuable because it is a potent nutrient itself, providing large amounts of both magnesium and calcium.  Although there are many herbal diuretics burdock, dandelion and chicory are mentioned here because they also act to normalise liver function.

Herbs can also be used for the nervous tension and anxiety that can accompany PMT, nervous tension and for constipation.  Tranquillising herbs include valerian and chamomile. Laxative herbs include aloe vera, cascara bark and senna leaf or pods.  You do need to relieve constipation during this time.   Not only does it add to the general aggravation of PMT, it makes matters worse by producing toxins that are not eliminated but released back into the system.

Stretching exercises and relaxation such as yoga, also provide help.  Daily massage of the breasts and ovaries helps to release tension and relax the reproductive system. These two massages can be done before we even get out of bed in the morning.  Ending the morning shower with a cool rinse provides a natural massage that is excellent for circulation, stimulates the lymphatic system and is very good for the skin.

There is a lot of information here,  Much of it may conflict with the way you are currently leading your life.  You may even feel that the amount of change you need to make is too overwhelming even to take the first step.  I don’t want you to feel that way, but do make some efforts to some changes which will ultimately free you from the miseries of PMT and generally improve the quality of your life.