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Help for premenstrual syndrome

Women's Health | December 9, 2016 | Author: Naturopath

women's health

Help for premenstrual syndrome

Do you crave chocolate, suffer headaches and experience bloating leading up to your period? Do you also have angry outbursts, feel irritable or even depressed? You could be suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) like 85% of other menstruating Australian women. Luckily there is a lot natural therapies can do to help women cope with that time of the month.

What is PMS?

PMS is defined as a recurrent set of behavioural and physical symptoms that occur 7-14 days before a period and are mostly relieved within a few days of menstruating. The most common psychological symptoms of PMS include irritability, anxiety, depression, mood swings, lack of concentration, low self-esteem and a sense of being unable to cope. Physical symptoms include headache, abdominal bloating, back pain, breast tenderness and swelling, fluid retention, nausea, joint pain, clumsiness, insomnia, fatigue and food cravings (especially for carbohydrates).

What causes PMS?

The cause of PMS is multifaceted and complex, as a definitive dominant cause has not yet been established. Possible influences have been suggested and these include:

  • Hormonal imbalances: Too much or too little oestrogen or progesterone and too much prolactin.
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances: Abnormal responses during changes that take place before a period
  • Disordered aldosterone function: This leads to retention of sodium and water in the body
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Magnesium and B6 (pyridoxine) have been implicated
  • Environmental factors: Stress can be a major factor
  • Carbohydrate intolerance: Low blood sugars

PMS free diet

Adopt a low glycaemic index diet with small regular meals to balance blood sugar levels. It has been shown the body is more sensitive to insulin in the lead up to a period.

Eliminate sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine. Increase intake of fibre by eating wholegrains and a range of vegetables especially broccoli, cabbage and Brussel sprouts to increase clearance of excess oestrogens. Avoid soy products if oestrogen dominance is suspected. Reduce intake of saturated, trans and hydrogenated fats.

If you experience period pain reduce intake of red wine, animal proteins and foods low in fibre as all these factors have been implicated in dysmenorrhea.

Women with PMS have also been shown to consume more dairy products and high-salt foods. Foods high in sugar such as chocolate have been shown to worsen the symptoms of PMS.

Increase foods rich in tryptophan as lowered levels have been associated with aggression in women during the premenstrual phase. Foods high in this amino acid include turkey, bananas, legumes and pumpkin and sesame seeds.

Lifestyle factors

Engaging in regular physical activity has been associated with a lower risk of premenstrual symptoms due to its role in improving mood and normalising hormones.

Lifestyle factorsQuality and quantity of sleep is important. This means 7 to 9 hours of good sleep each night.

Relaxation therapies have been shown to be beneficial for PMS.

One study found that yoga performed in the 1-2 weeks before a period in women with PMS increased concentration and promoted a more peaceful mental outlook.

Acupuncture is another therapy that has shown positive improvements in premenstrual symptoms, especially in physical symptoms.

Supplements to help


Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) has demonstrated efficacy in treating a wide range of PMS symptoms in multiple studies. A review of these studies found that chaste tree showed more than a 50% improvement in both physical and psychological symptoms.  It helps to balance what is referred to as the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis which in return can normalise hormonal levels. Vitex is best taken at a lower dose (120g) per day compared to a high dose.

St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)  is useful in women who have depression and anxiety in relation to PMS. It was shown to be helpful for crying, fatigue, headaches, insomnia and poor coordination.

Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) may be helpful for women who find that stress worsens their PMS. Withania can help to gently increase energy levels and reduce the effects of stress and anxiety.

Herbs that help support the nervous system such as Valerian officinalis, Piper methysticum, Melissa officinalis and Passiflora incarnate have been traditionally used to treat PMS.

Ginkgo Biloba was found to reduce the congestive components of PMS such as fluid retention, breast pain and fluid retention.

Taraxacum Officinale (Dandelion leaf) is a gentle herbal diuretic which may be helpful in women who retain fluid.


Calcium supplements have been shown to reduce the symptoms of PMS  mainly fatigue, changes in appetite and depression. In both studies participants took 1000mg of elemental calcium daily.

Magnesium has been shown reduce the retention of fluid when taken consistently for at least 4-6 weeks.  

Vitamin B6, when combined with Magnesium, was shown to be very helpful in reducing nervous tension, mood swings, anxiety and irritability.

Evening Primrose Oil, vitamin E, zinc and B complex have all been found to help supporting stress, energy levels and metabolising carbohydrates.

Chromium may be indicated in women who get sugar cravings and need assistance in supporting healthy blood sugar levels.

The symptoms that each women experiences with PMS can vary significantly, so too can its severity. Incorporating a diet that is rich in brassica vegetables, high in fibre and low GI, while excluding salt, sugar, caffeine, excess saturated fat and processed foods is recommended. Specific nutrients and herbs can be used to provide additional help if required.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, Churchill Livingstone, Australia

Sarris J, Wardle J (2016). Clinical Naturopathy 2e: An evidence-based guide to practice, Churchill Livingstone, Australia

Wu WL et al. The acute effects of yoga on cognitive measures for women with premenstrual syndrome. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Jun;21(6):364-9

Die V, et al. Vitex agnus-castus extracts for female reproductive disorders: a systematic review of clinical trials. Planta Med. 2013 May;79(7):562-75

Jang SH, et al. Effects and treatment methods of acupuncture and herbal medicine for premenstrual syndrome/premenstrual dysphoric disorder: systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014;14:11

Fathizadeh N, et al. Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2010 Dec;15(Suppl 1):401-5

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