PMS—How to get off the hormonal rollercoaster

By Kindreth Hamilton, L.Ac., Director of Integrity Women's Health.

You’re tearing up during silly commercials, you can’t stop eating, your pants feel tight and uncomfortable, your breasts are sore and you’re easily irritated (to say the least!).

Does PMS creep into your life like a stealthy bandit trying to rob you of your sanity? Or does it hit you like a freight train with migraines and debilitating mood swings?

There are simple, natural treatments for relieving PMS that will mellow your mood and reduce bloating, inflammation and cramping. Read on to learn how to finally learn how to get off the monthly hormonal rollercoaster that is PMS.

What causes PMS?

PMS is one of the most common complaints in reproductive age women. Nearly 25% of menstruating women experience PMS and 5% experience symptoms so severe they feel their world is being turned upside down. What causes these symptoms? The delicate balance of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, at various times in your cycle can greatly impact how you feel. You can think of estrogen as your yang hormone that has a stimulating effect on your nervous system. If estrogen is too high you will feel irritable, over stimulated, suffer headaches and breast pain. Progesterone, on the other hand, is your yin hormone and has a sedating effect. If progesterone levels are healthy in the second phase of your cycle, after you ovulate, it will be a calming buffer for you against the decline of estrogen as your period approaches.

There are two types of PMS depending on estrogen levels. If you tend towards higher estrogen levels you will experience irritability, breast pain and generally feel over stimulated. In practice, I tend to see these PMS symptoms most often. If estrogen is low you will notice night sweats, vaginal dryness, depression or feeling blue.

If PMS is disrupting your life your doctor may prescribe drugs such as antidepressants, or other mood balancing medications, or hormonal therapy such as oral contraceptives. These treatment options may cause side effects that are unacceptable to you. I’d like to share with you some natural treatments to alleviate the symptoms of PMS.

Acupuncture for PMS: I may recommend a combination of treatments depending on your specific set of symptoms. I love hearing patients tell me, with surprise and joy, that their period just arrived.

Chinese herbal medicine:  Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, a variation of Xiao Yao San, is one of the most commonly prescribed formulas to treat excess estrogen PMS. This formula was named for the Taoist desire for fluidity of thought, “going with the flow,” and is often translated as “Free and Easy Wanderer.” Jia Wei Xiao Yao San treats the Chinese medicine pattern of Liver Qi stagnation with Spleen and blood deficiency and heat, which can be understood as a metaphor for feeling emotionally stuck (angry/irritable), experiencing headaches, dizziness, bloating and breast pain. Jia Wei Xiao Yao San has mood stabilizing effects which may explain how this herbal combination can calm you physically and mentally.

Acupuncture for PMS:  Acupuncture is a gentle and safe way to eliminate PMS symptoms. PMS occurs because of fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone that can lead to chemical changes responsible for mood, relaxation and sleep. Acupuncture has been shown to relax uterine muscles, produce an anti-inflammatory response and to regulate the area of your brain responsible for hormones and mood balance. Acupuncture creates a calming effect by flooding your body with endorphins that relax your nervous system. Endorphins are the chemicals released during exercise and cause a euphoric feeling or the classic “exercise high.”

Vitamin B6:  Vitamin B6 boosts brain chemicals that that control your mood and your perception of pain. It also aids in the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals, which may be low if you suffer from PMS. Vitamin B6 regulates fluid balance and can reduce bloating and swelling of the extremities.

Magnesium Glycinate:  Magnesium, known as the “relaxation mineral,” is one of the most essential minerals in the body and is responsible for health of the cardiovascular, digestive and endocrine systems in addition to the formation of strong bones and joints. When you are stressed, emotional or physical, your body excretes more magnesium and can leave you vulnerable to changes in mood, migraines, muscle cramps, eye twitches and poor sleep. Taking magnesium glycinate, which is less likely to cause a laxative effect, 3-4 days prior to your period can dramatically help with sleep, cramping and mood.

Diet:  Dietary changes can be simple and are often so over-looked! Being mindful of your diet and problem foods can reduce bloating, cramping and breast pain. You may want to experiment with eliminating dairy and refined sugar, which have been shown to increase inflammation. Start eating magnesium rich foods such as such as kale, collards, spinach, avocados, black beans and bananas. Think twice before you pour another cup of coffee! Remember, caffeine robs your body of magnesium and may cause you to feel more irritable and anxious.

If you suffer from premenstrual breast pain you may want to try incorporating more iodine, found in seaweed, into your diet. Your breast tissue has an affinity for estrogen and an overload of estrogen can cause breast pain. Iodine decreases the amount of estrogen that can build up in breast tissue, thereby helping to alleviate breast tenderness.

PMS it is your body’s way of telling you something is out of balance. It may be that your body is just whispering to you, or perhaps you’ve been ignoring symptoms and now your body is shouting. It’s time to listen and create changes so you can have a healthy, non-eventful period.