Originally published in September-October 2006
What is PMS?
There is controversy within the medical profession about how to define and treat PMS. In the medical literature, there are reports of trials of many different drugs. Some of these show a benefit to some women and others show no benefit compared with a placebo dummy pill). Different researchers get different results using the same drug, so it becomes impossible to draw conclusions. The reason for this confusion is that PMS is not a disease like diabetes or flu. It is a mixed bag of individual responses to an ordinary event: the menstrual cycle. The word PMS lumps together a vast collection of symptoms which have little in common besides their timing.
How are women affected?
The way women experience these changes varies considerably. Some women suffer intensely and feel desperate. Some aren’t aware of anything other than menstruating. Some women only experience premenstrual symptoms once they stop taking the Pill or have a baby. Premenstrual symptoms can continue even after a hysterectomy. Many women find that with every cycle they experience different symptoms, or that the intensity of the symptoms varies from cycle to cycle. If you suffer PMS you are not neurotic, a hypochondriac, or a malingerer (as some old fashioned medical text books have claimed). It is also clearly not “all in your mind.”
The value of good nutrition
Lack of certain vitamins and minerals is said to affect the level of the hormones of the menstrual cycle. Some researchers claim that women with PMS have either an imbalanced diet or existing deficiencies in their body which are not being corrected by their diet. A typical diet includes a great deal of sugar, processed foods, additives and salt, and is not a good source of vitamins and minerals. These researchers claim that a change in diet and the use of certain vitamins and minerals have been highly effective for many women. Women with chronic deficiencies may need dietary supplements but there is no single vitamin or mineral which is appropriate for all women. The exact supplements and their quantities depend on each woman’s individual symptoms.
According to the Women’s Nutritional Advisory Service, it is necessary to find out the exact nutritional cause of PMS in each woman and then to work out a nutritional programme to overcome her symptoms. Tip for women whose premenstrual symptoms include hunger headaches, fatigue, and cravings for sweets and fried foods: Eat frequent (every 2, 3 hours) wholesome snacks and small meals.
If a wholesome diet on its own is not helping, you may find that dietary supplements have an effect. These are not a substitute for a wholesome diet and it’s still best to take them only under the supervision of a qualified doctor or complementary practitioner.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 has a role in the functioning of nerves. The advice on how to try Vitamin B6 varies, and it is best to consult a sympathetic doctor about the best dose for you. It seems safest, when experimenting with Vitamin B6, to stay in the lower dose range and to give it up if you notice no improvement after several months. Some researchers suggest that a magnesium supplement enhances the absorption of vitamin B6.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil contains an essential fatty acid called gamma linolenic acid that is needed for the synthesis of a hormone called prostaglandin. Evening primrose oil is very effective in relieving premenstrual breast pain. There are no major reported side effects, but occasionally women experience nausea, headaches and indigestion. Taking the capsules with or after food can lessen these effects. Another possible side effect if you have food or other allergies is that you may develop skin rashes.
Some women find that vitamin E supplements are helpful, particularly for premenstrual anxiety and depression.