What causes PMS?


PMS is by far the most common women’s health complaint. For some women, it disrupts their whole lives. PMS seems to be partly a consequence of our modern lives. In times past, our diets consisted of more whole and fresh foods than they do today. Our environment wasn’t full of chemicals, nor our foods full of junk. The modern woman’s lifestyle seems almost made to order for stress and imbalance. Today’s foods and our environment are full of chemicals that clearly affect hormone balance. 90% of premenopausal American women experience some degree of PMS. Over 150 symptoms have been documented - new ones are being added all the time. Symptoms like headaches, adult acne, food cravings, bloating, irregular bowel movements, and mood swings can last anywhere from 2 days to as long as 2 weeks! Some women say their cycles make them feel out of control most of the month! While most women try to grin and bear PMS aggravation, up to 10% have symptoms serious enough to seek professional help.

What's happening to our bodies?

The hormone shift in estrogen/progesterone ratios during the menstrual cycle is the major factor in PMS symptoms. (Women report the most symptoms in the two week period before menstruation, when the ratios are the most elevated.) Low brain serotonin, low thyroid, excess estrogen along with prostaglandin imbalance because of poor liver malfunction, and a diet loaded with too much salt, red meat, sugar and caffeine are all implicated in PMS. Most women who get PMS don’t get enough regular exercise. Many have low B vitamins, don’t get enough quality protein and have several mineral deficiencies. Stress or long term emotional distress can be a big factor.

But drugs and chemical medicines to take care of the symptoms, standing as they do outside a woman’s natural cycle, usually do not bring positive results for women. The medical establishment, with highly focused “one-treatment-for-one-symptom” protocols, has not been successful in addressing PMS. For example, contraceptive drugs, regularly given to reduce symptoms, make PMS worse for some women. Antidepressant drugs, the new rage for PMS treatment, mean insomnia and shakiness for many patients instead of relaxation.

PMS symptoms tends to get worse for women in their late thirties. Hormone imbalances after taking birth control pills, after pregnancy, and just before menopause magnify symptoms. For some women, a PMS problem becomes an endometriosis diagnosis as they move into their thirties. Switch from tampons to pads if you are very congested. Some research also shows that tampons may raise the risk of endometriosis. Up to 60% of women with severe PMS also struggle with allergies, especially to yeast. When the immune system attacks an allergen it produces inflammatory prostaglandins that trigger menstrual pain. Clearly there is no one cause and no one treatment for PMS. A holistic approach is more beneficial and allows a woman to tailor treatment to her own needs. See next page, Liver Cleansing page 211 and Hypoglycemia Diet page 470 for more information.

Do You Get PMS? Check out the following most common signs of PMS to see if they apply to you.

  • Are you unusually irritable, depressed, argumentative or tense at certain times each month?

  • Do you experience cyclical water retention, bloating, and constipation each month?

  • Do you feel a noticeable energy drop before your period… to the point where you don’t want to get out of bed or do anything?

  • Do you get regular monthly headaches or lower back pain before your period?

  • Do you get sore, swollen breasts before your period?

  • Do you get nausea attacks and heavy cramping just before and during your period?

  • Do you get food cravings for salt and sweets before and during your period? Do you tend to binge during certain times of the month?

  • Do you get acne and skin eruptions before and during your period?

  • Do you get pre-period mouth sores? (Mouth sores with mood swings mean probable low progesterone or thyroid levels.)

To Life-long health,

Linda Page, Ph.D., Traditional Naturopath