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Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) involves a variety of physical, mental, and behavioural symptoms that occur in the 1-2 weeks before a woman's period. A significant portion of menstruating women are believed to suffer from this syndrome. Symptoms often vary between women and typically become more intense in the 2-3 days prior to the period then resolve around the start of menstruation. Common symptoms include acne, tender breasts, bloating, water retention, tiredness, sugar and food craving, irritability, anxiety and mood changes.
PMS occurs around the time that is known as the luteal phase, which is the latter phase of the menstrual cycle. At this time, an egg is released from the ovary during which the level of a hormone called progesterone increases in the body, while the level of another hormone, estrogen, begins to decrease. The shift from estrogen to progesterone may cause some of the symptoms of PMS.
Although the specific causes of PMS are not clear, several factors may be involved. The changes in progesterone and estrogen can have an affect on the level of serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates many functions, including mood and sensitivity to pain. Compared to those who do not have PMS, some women who experience PMS have lower levels of serotonin in their brains prior to their periods. (Low serotonin levels are commonly associated with depression). Also chemical changes in the brain, stress, and emotional problems, such as depression, do not seem to cause PMS but they may make it worse.
Bloating and water retention is another common symptom of PMS. This may occur because of cycling in hormones that affect the kidneys, the organs that control the balance of water and salt in the body. Fluid overload ma y cause some of the symptoms of PMS, especially swelling and weight gain, and may also aggravate some negative self-perceptions, and thus worsen emotional symptoms at this stage of the menstrual cycle. It is never a nice feeling looking down at your belly and feeling like you have gone up a dress size.
Low levels of vitamins and minerals, high sodium, alcohol, and caffeine can exacerbate symptoms of PMS. The good news is that there are many herbal preparations available that may assist in replenishing the body around this time.
Vitamin B6 This important vitamin plays a vital part in synthesising certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that control your mood and behaviour. It is helpful for PMS sufferers experiencing tiredness, mood swings and food cravings.
Magnesium is classed as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’ and so is vital in those aspects of the pre-menstrual symptoms which relate to anxiety and tension. A magnesium deficiency can cause blood vessels to go into spasms so if you suffer from menstrual migraines and or abdominal pain magnesium can be useful in preventing these spasms.
Chaste Tree (Vitex Agnus Castus) is the herb of choice for PMS and all the symptoms that can arise. It has a balancing effect on the female hormones.
Black Cohosh supports the female reproductive system providing help for common symptoms of PMS including menstrual cramps and bloating.