Any of these ring a bell?
- Rage the kind that encourages you scream and then burst into tears
- Abdominal bloating like you’ve just eaten an elephant
- Breast tenderness
- Fluid retention
- Jackhammer headaches
- A mood that is the lowest you have ever felt
- Nausea “Just to top it off”
If so this portrayal probably lacks humour. That’s because PMS or PMT isn’t funny at all, particularly if you are the sufferer.
For so many women PMS (or premenstrual syndrome) is considered normal or something “I just have to deal with”. There are some who find it a manageable inconvenience. But for others it can be a debilitating, traumatic ordeal that lasts for days. And many women may experience something in between. Chinese medicine considers any adverse symptom as a sign that the body is not operating as it should. So in Chinese medicine terms, relief from PMS – at whatever level – is a more than reasonable request. First let’s look at what we really mean by the term ‘PMS’, then consider some alternatives to just coping with it.
What is PMS?
Premenstrual syndrome , PMS, or sometimes known as Premenstrual tension, PMT’ is a wise range range of symptoms that occur prior to the period or menses. It can include one or many of the symptoms below. Chinese medicine views PMS as a failure of the body to perform it’s role correctly. Symptoms are often associated with an imbalance of hormones due to Liver detoxification not functioning effectively, poor circulation to the uterus and ovaries, high systemic inflammation and fluctuations in neurotransmitters in the brain.
What are the symptoms of PMS?
- Abdominal bloating
- Low back pain
- Mental confusion or fogginess
- Poor concentration
- Reduced self esteem or confidence
- Bouts of anger or rage
- Rapid mood swings
- Emotional sensitivity, teary
- Reduced libido
- Food cravings, particularly carbohydrates
- Fluid retention
- Breast tenderness and swelling
- Insomnia or increased desire to sleep
PMS has no specific tests for diagnosis apart from the symptoms.
What are the causes?
The cause from a western perspective is not known however there are factors that are seen to contribute to the severity and duration of the symptoms. These include heightened stress, high inflammatory diet, increased weight, smoking, alcohol consumption and caffeine intake to name a few.
In Chinese medicine terms PMS can be broken up into a range of different pathologies depending on the symptoms. The important thing to note is that these pathologies were identified and named several thousand years ago. In our western society they may seem strange. Just think of them as a way of explaining what is going on. In general premenstrual syndrome is seen as the function of the uterus and ovaries not operating as they should.
Different pathologies may include:
- Stagnation indication by pain, constipation, depression or mood swings
- Damp which can result in fluid retention, diarrhoea, poor mental clarity and depression
- Deficiency leading to fatigue, decreased libido, low motivation and depression
What can you do to help?
- Diet – yes that old chestnut. Diets high in sugar and processed foods put far more load on our bodies and ensure distressing symptoms are more likely to continue. A diet high in fresh vegetables, lean protein and low carbohydrates keeps inflammation to a minimum reducing premenstrual and menstrual symptoms. Check here for some useful recipes.
- Exercise – While it may seem like the last thing you want to be doing exercise can help in improve symptoms of PMS in many ways. By keeping our cardiovascular system in good health a positive blood supply to the uterus is more likely reducing the likelihood of clots and stagnation. Exercise also helps to reduce nervous system excitability helping to relieve emotional symptoms. Endorphins are released during exercise and help to reduce pain while also creating a more positive mindset.
- Acupuncture – The most recent systematic review in 2016 (1, 2) suggests the research to date while showing promise is unclear as to the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of PMS.
- Chinese herbal medicine – A meta-analysis 8 acupuncture and 11 herbal medicine studies (3) revealed a success rate of 50% or greater for the reduction of PMS and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). A more recent study suggested herbal medicine had a positive effect on PMS symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, back pain, anxiety, mood swings, irritability and depression (4).
Can a different kind of normal be better than the current one? Looking for support with women’s’ health in Newcastle?
- Jang SH, Kim DI, Choi MS. Effects and treatment methods of acupuncture and herbal medicine for premenstrual syndrome/premenstrual dysphoric disorder: systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014;14:11.
- Hofmeister S, Bodden S. Premenstrual Syndrome and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Am Fam Physician. 2016 Aug 1;94(3):236-40.
- Chou PB, Morse CA, Xu H: A controlled trial of Chinese herbal medicine for premenstrual syndrome. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 2008, 29(3):185-192.
- Jang, Su Hee, Dong Il Kim, and Min-Sun Choi. “Effects and treatment methods of acupuncture and herbal medicine for premenstrual syndrome/premenstrual dysphoric disorder: systematic review.” BMC complementary and alternative medicine 14, no. 1 (2014): 11.
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