Almost all women will experience PMS at some point in their lives. While the symptoms are mild and infrequent for many, for others PMS can be a veritable nightmare. It’s likely this complex condition has multiple causes, with fluctuations in hormone levels and nutritional deficiencies playing key roles. The good news is that there are natural solutions that can help reduce or eliminate the symptoms.
Keep reading to learn more about PMS and find out which lifestyle and diet modifications and supplements can relieve PMS symptoms.
What is PMS?
Common physical symptoms include:
- Breast tenderness
- Muscle aches
- Sleep problems
- Acne and skin blemishes
- Stomach pains
- Cravings for chocolate or sweets
So what is PMS exactly and why do symptoms vary so much between women?
Women’s bodies normally undergo cyclic changes in order to prepare for a potential pregnancy. Estrogens and progesterone, hormones produced in the ovaries, control these changes. These are, in turn, stimulated by the hormones LH (luteinizing hormone), FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), and GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone), which are produced in the brain.
These cyclic changes are believed to play a key role in PMS symptoms. However, there’s more to PMS than hormonal changes and researchers are still unclear about causes it. While changes in hormone levels during a monthly cycle may play a role, there are also other factors involved. For example, although hormone fluctuations can cause swelling, breast tenderness and pain, and weight gain, they may not be a factor in the emotional symptoms women often experience [R, R].
PMS symptoms may be related to how the brain interprets physical changes during menstruation. Women that have differently-wired brains may have a more difficult time coping with hormonal changes affecting their bodies [R, R].
Up to 95% of women of reproductive age will experience some degree of PMS. While most will only experience a mild form, around 5% of women may experience a more severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD. PMDD is considered a depressive disorder in which symptoms are severe enough to affect normal work, academic, or social activities [R].
Possible Causes of PMS
Estradiol (E2) is the most active estrogen in the body. It’s important not just for reproductive function, but also for brain and thyroid function, bone health, and maintaining a healthy weight [R, R].
If you have higher blood estradiol levels during the second half of your menstrual cycle, this can result in more severe PMS symptoms. Additionally, hormonal therapy with estradiol can also increase the severity of PMS symptoms [R, R].
If your PMS is interfering with your life, it’s wise to check and monitor your hormone levels. You can do this with a simple blood test. The estradiol (17-beta estradiol, E2) test is the most commonly used estrogen test, but you may also want to check your estrone (E1) levels.
Progesterone is another hormone that plays an important role in reproduction. This hormone helps regulate the menstrual cycle and helps prepare the body for pregnancy [R].
Like estradiol, increased blood progesterone levels are linked to more severe PMS symptoms [R]. In a study of 18 women, high progesterone levels throughout the menstrual cycle were associated with more severe PMS symptoms. Increases in progesterone levels preceded symptoms by 5 – 7 days [R].
You can monitor progesterone levels by getting regular blood or urine tests.
High Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is produced in the brain and signals the ovaries to produce estradiol and progesterone. It also causes the ovaries to release an egg (ovulation), and supports the early stages of pregnancy [R].
You can check your LH levels by doing an LH blood test. If your LH levels are out of balance, check out Lab Test Analyzer. It will tell you what your results mean and provide you with lifestyle, diet, and supplement recommendations to help you get back on track and relieve your PMS symptoms.
There are also conflicting results regarding the association between PMS symptoms and other hormones, such as [R]:
In a large study, eating an iron-rich diet was linked to a 31% lower risk of developing premenstrual syndrome [R].
If you have a tendency towards anemia, you should monitor your iron and ferritin levels, in addition to your hemoglobin levels. If your PMS goes away or decreases when your iron levels improve, you’ve found the culprit for your symptoms.
Another factor that may be causing or aggravating your PMS symptoms is a lack of magnesium. Magnesium is important for nerve and muscle function, both of which can be affected in PMS [R].
Several studies show that magnesium supplements can improve PMS symptoms. You can check if yours are low by doing a simple blood or a 24-hour urine test. Magnesium deficiency is easy to correct, but it may take some time for the effects to show (2 months) [R, R, R, R].
Low Manganese and Calcium
Women with PMS can have low blood manganese and calcium levels [R].
In a small study of 10 women, low dietary manganese and calcium intake increased mood and pain symptoms during PMS [R].
You can check your manganese levels by doing a simple blood test.
Natural Ways To Relieve PMS Symptoms
1) Relaxation Techniques
Yoga can also help relieve physical symptoms, and especially aid with reducing pain [R].
5) Quit Smoking
Your PMS symptoms may improve if you quit smoking. Women who smoke report more problematic PMS symptoms [R].
Diet and Supplements
6) Eat Less Salt and Carbs
Women experiencing PMS often crave salty or sweet foods. But these foods may actually aggravate your symptoms. Eating less salt and carbs can prevent swelling in women who experience this symptom [R].
7) Drink Less Alcohol
8) Eat an Iron-rich Diet
In a study of 116,678 US nurses, eating an iron-rich diet was linked to a 31% lower risk of PMS [R].
Make sure your diet contains enough iron. These foods are rich in iron:
- Meat and poultry
- Green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli
- Beans and lentils, if properly soaked to remove phytates and other anti-nutrients that reduce iron absorption
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruits
Low dietary manganese can worsen your mood and aggravate pain symptoms in PMS [R].
To increase manganese in your diet, consume more:
- Whole grains
- Sweet potatoes
- Leafy vegetables, such as spinach
One of the oldest uses of saffron is for the treatment of PMS [R].
When women were exposed to the smell of saffron for as little as 20 minutes, this significantly reduced symptoms of PMS and improved their irregular periods. This effect occurred through a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol [R].
Additionally, in another study (DB-RCT), saffron supplementation daily for two months reduced symptoms of PMS [R].
11) Chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus)
In one study (DB-RCT), women with PMS treated with chasteberry over 6 months experienced significantly reduced breast pain and tenderness, swelling, constipation, irritability, depression, and migraines [R].
Chasteberry may alleviate PMS symptoms by decreasing prolactin, which restores estrogen levels. Additionally, chasteberry reduces progesterone levels, normalizing the ratio of progesterone to estrogen. These hormonal adjustments may provide significant relief from symptoms during PMS [R].
12) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In a study (DB-RT) of 70 women, krill oil reduced stress, depression, irritability, and the reliance on pain relievers [R].
This herb reduced the severity of symptoms in 90 young women with moderate to severe PMS (SB-RCT) [R].
Other Supplements That May Help
- Vitamin D [R, R]
- Vitamin E [R, R]
- Brewer’s yeast [R]
- Saint John’s wort [R]
- Ginkgo biloba [R]
- Royal Jelly [R]
- Tryptophan [R]
- Myoinositol [R]
Irregular Hormone Results?
If you’re having a hard time with PMS, but haven’t tested your hormones, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor about them. If your hormone levels are normal, you should test for nutritional deficiencies. Also, if you already have your blood test results and you’re not sure what to make of them, Lab Test Analyzer can help.
LabTestAnalyzer helps you make sense of your lab results. It informs you which labs are not in the optimal range and gives you guidance about how to get them to optimal. It also allows you to track your labs over time. No need to do thousands of hours of research on what to make of your lab tests.
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