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Can botanicals help with the symptoms of PMS and Perimenopause?

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Up to 80% of menstruating women experience some form of premenstrual syndrome [PMS].

PMS can make life miserable, and for some women, it can last for 14 days each month until menstruation begins. PMS symptoms at one age can be very different than at another. Often women will notice these changes after life events like childbirth. PMS can also be aggravated by stress, sugar, alcohol and caffeine, and a deficiency in progesterone.

PMS is actually a collection of symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle. These symptoms typically occur one to two weeks before the menstrual cycle and often last until menstruation occurs. They include physical and emotional symptoms such as: mood swings, breast tenderness, abdominal bloating, weight gain from fluid retention, back ache, headache, food cravings, fatigue, irritability and depression.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS that can be disabling. Symptoms include severe depression, feelings of hopelessness, anger, anxiety, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and tension. The symptoms of PMDD typically begin a week before the period.

There are several medical approaches used to manage and relieve PMS symptoms. Drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for cramping and breast pain, oral contraceptives to stabilize hormones and prevent ovulation and antidepressants to relieve fatigue, food cravings and sleep problems. These treatments come with potential side effects including weight gain, migraine headaches, decreased libido, breast swelling and tenderness, nausea, vomiting, vaginal dryness, spotting, skin rashes, and depression.  Many women are concerned about these risks and seek out more natural ways to relieve their PMS symptoms.

Perimenopause. This is the phase that a woman goes through as she approaches menopause. This doesn’t happen overnight. It is the 5 to 10 years before menopause when a woman’s ovarian function is waning, resulting in fluctuating levels of estrogen causing the  ovarian function to decline and the menstrual cycle become erratic. This can start to occur in a woman’s 30s or 40s.

As ovulation becomes more erratic, the lower levels of progesterone may lead to longer and heavier periods. This can be accompanied by cramping and bloating. Some women find the intervals between their periods are shorter, flow more scanty and some periods are missed altogether. During this period before menopause, some women experience hot flashes, mood swings, irritability, depression, low libido and sleep disturbances.

Hormonal imbalance is a primary contributor to PMS and perimenopause. Cyclic changes in hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, are known to cause many of the symptoms of PMS and perimenopause. Other factors such as stress, diet and deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can also play a role. Fluctuations in serotonin may also be involved. This neurotransmitter plays a crucial role in regulating mood, sleep and emotional well-being.

Nature’s pharmacy can offer relief for women suffering with symptoms of PMS and peri-menopause. Chastetree berry has been used for hundreds of years for its hormone-balancing properties. Modern research has validated the benefits of this botanical product for treating the symptoms of PMS and perimenopause. Studies show that chastetree berry can reduce the symptoms of irritability, depression, headache and breast tenderness. Other botanicals can play a supportive role such as wild yam, red raspberry and skullcap, and milk thistle, in particular, can play a role in balancing hormones by supporting liver health.The liver is the key organ in the body that metabolizes or breaks down hormones. Milk thistle contains a range of valuable compounds including antioxidants that can help protect cells from free radical damage.

Lifestyle measures can also help improve health during the PMS and perimenopausal years:

Boost fibre intake. Several studies have shown that diets low in fat or high in fibre can help reduce symptoms. Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish. These foods are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, which may be depleted in those with PMS or perimenopause.

Get your greens. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage) contain indole-3-carbinol, which helps to balance estrogen levels.

Cut back on sugar. Women who eat sugary foods have been reported to have an increased incidence of PMS.

Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can affect hormone metabolism, and alcoholic women are more likely to suffer PMS than are nonalcoholic women.

Avoid caffeine. A preliminary study showed that women with heavy caffeine consumption were more likely to have a shorter cycle length compared with women who did not consume caffeine.

Limit the fat and increase the fiber. Several studies suggest that diets low in fat or high in fiber may help to reduce symptoms of PMS and perimenopause. Many doctors recommend diets very low in meat and dairy fat and high in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

Get moving. Women with PMS or perimenopause who jogged an average of 12 miles a week for six months experienced a reduction in breast tenderness, fluid retention, depression, and stress.

Give acupuncture a try. It may offer benefits for PMS by stimulating the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood.

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