PMS 101 – What It Means & What You Can Do About It

It’s that time of the month. You’re grumpy, perhaps teary or irritable. You might feel bloated, constipated, tired, overwhelmed and your skin is breaking out. Your breasts might be sore, and you might have uncontrollable cravings…You’re PMSing and you know it. According to Australian statistics, up to 85% of women experience PMS (or premenstrual syndrome) at some point in their life, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe.

So what exactly is PMS?

PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome, and it refers to a variety of symptoms that may occur in the week or two preceding menstruation, and that typically ease with the onset of the period. There’s over 150 symptoms that have been linked to PMS and they can affect women of all ages during their reproductive life. These symptoms may include:

  • Mood swings or moodiness (grumpiness, irritability, teariness etc)
  • Sore or swollen breasts
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Acne
  • Cramping
  • Food cravings
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Depression, and more!

These symptoms may present at any point in a woman’s reproductive life, and can be absent at other times. They can also vary in intensity and the impact they have on one’s day-to-day life. It’s important to remember though that PMS that interferes with daily life is not normal and may point to an underlying nutritional deficiency, hormonal imbalance or other cause.

What causes PMS?

There are many theories about what causes PMS and researchers have yet to agree on a single cause. What they do know is that PMS is linked to a change in our reproductive hormones in the second half of the menstrual cycle; most notably, fluctuating levels of two sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone), along with declining levels of serotonin (a brain chemical associated with feelings of happiness and wellbeing).

Symptoms of PMS can also be related to and affected by a variety of other factors such as:

  • Nutritional deficiencies (e.g. breast tenderness is commonly associated with iodine deficiency)
  • Poor blood sugar control
  • Dietary habits
  • Hormonal conditions like PCOS and endometriosis
  • Stress
  • Thyroid disorders (such as overactive or under-active thyroid function)
  • Hormonal changes as we approach menopause

Working with a naturopath is a great way to investigate why you might be experiencing PMS. PMS is not something you should mask by taking the Pill, nor is it something you should just put up with; it is something you should solve. So often the cause is related to modifiable factors that a woman may be unaware of. Using blood tests, clinical and nutritional assessment, we work to address contributing factors such as diet, lifestyle and nutritional deficiencies.

Is PMS normal?

Importantly, whilst PMS is very common, this does not mean it is normal. PMS can relate to changes in our hormonal profile, thyroid function, diet, stress levels and other factors that can affect what symptoms we experience and when. Severe PMS or symptoms that interfere with daily functioning should be seen as something that needs to be addressed, not lived with.  Examples include painful premenstrual cramps, severe mood swings, nausea, depression, drastic fluctuations in weight and/or severe breast tenderness, to name but a few. Symptoms that appear suddenly or become more severe with time should also always be investigated thoroughly so they can be addressed.

Daughters often look to their mothers for an indication of what is normal regarding menstruation and premenstrual symptoms. As a result, they often consider PMS symptoms as “normal” simply because their mother (or sister) experienced them too. Because of this, they’re less likely to investigate their own symptoms, and so the cycle continues. Conditions like endometriosis can often run in families, and can lead to symptoms like severe pain and cramping prior to (and during) menstruation – this is why it is so important to reinforce the fact that such symptoms are not a normal part of a healthy menstrual cycle, and should be explored by a qualified health professional in order to identify and address the cause!

What can you do about it?

The first thing to do is recognise that in most cases, symptoms of PMS can be reduced or eliminated with natural treatment. PMS is a complex matter, due to the number of the symptoms that can be experienced, along with the variety of causes and contributing factors. For this reason, it is so important to work with a qualified health professional who is experienced in the domain of female reproductive health.

At Perth Health & Fertility, our naturopaths are highly trained and experienced in investigating, identifying and addressing hormonal conditions such as PMS, and getting to the root cause of your symptoms. We use pathology testing and clinical investigation to determine the cause of dysfunction, and then prescribe a holistic treatment approach to manage the condition. This may include dietary recommendations, nutritional supplementation and/or herbal medicine, along with extensive patient education and resources to help you along the way. As a team, we are so passionate about the field of women’s reproductive health and want to empower women to understand and address their symptoms, rather than simply putting up with them month-to-month. If you or someone you know suffers debilitating PMS, now is the time to work out why and put in place strategies to get it sorted!

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