Symptoms of PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, affect somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of menstruating individuals in the five days before their period each month. These can include physical symptoms, such as bloating, breast tenderness, and insomnia, and mental health symptoms like depression, confusion, and irritability. Between three and eight percent of this population have symptoms classified as clinically significant. This means that symptoms occur at least three cycles in a row, are intense enough to interfere with normal activities, and end four days or fewer after the period starts.
PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, has many of the same features as PMS but affects far fewer individuals. Symptoms occur during the same time frame, from five days before the start of menstruation to four days after, and differ mainly in number and intensity.
While clinical PMS can be diagnosed with just one or two symptoms, individuals must present with at least five symptoms to be diagnosed with PMDD. The psychological shifts, in particular, are more severe for those who are suffering from PMDD, and bouts of extreme anxiety, depression, or anger are frequently reported. Those in the throes of PMDD also have feelings of being out of control, overwhelmed, or depleted. These feelings can be so severe that they can result in episodes of rage, paranoia, and clinical depression.
Unfortunately, the medical community is not clear on what causes the time before menses to be more difficult for some women than others. Fluctuating hormones certainly play a role, but neither PMS nor PMDD seems to be related to overall hormone deficiencies or excesses. Researchers believe sufferers are more sensitive to progesterone and estrogen but have not been able to pinpoint how or why.
Some circumstances may increase the chances of someone developing PMDD, such as previous bouts with depression or anxiety, a history of clinical PMS, or a family history of mood disorders, clinical PMS, or PMDD. Lifestyle choices may have an effect on the chances of developing PMDD as well. Being sedentary, smoking, drinking alcohol, or missing sleep all seem to increase the chances of PMDD becoming an issue, although no studies have proven them to be a primary cause.
Medications such as antidepressants are often helpful in controlling the symptoms of PMDD, but they are not your only line of defense against the mood swings and discomfort that it triggers. Here are five natural methods that can be used to minimize the symptoms of PMDD.
While tiredness doesn’t directly cause PMDD, lack of sleep can exacerbate the symptoms. Aim to go to bed at the same time each night and avoid caffeine, TV, and computer screens before bedtime.
The emotional reactions triggered by PMDD can be intensified by stress. Using stress-busting tools like meditation, yoga, and mindfulness can help reduce the intensity and duration of PMDD symptoms.
Although there are no major studies of exercise as a treatment for PMDD as of yet, the positive effects of aerobic exercise for individuals who are suffering from PMS are well documented. Not only does exercise help counteract physical discomfort, but it also improves mood by increasing serotonin levels.
Studies have indicated that adding a dose of calcium as low as just 500 mg per day to your diet can reduce the severity of premenstrual symptoms. Calcium supplements can have a significant impact on water retention, sleep quality, and mood stability. Magnesium, particularly when combined with vitamin B6, has also been shown to counteract symptoms, and this combination seems especially effective against the symptoms of depression, insomnia, and forgetfulness.
Herbal remedies have been employed to neutralize premenstrual symptoms for centuries. While very few studies have been completed regarding herbal supplements and PMDD, many have been conducted regarding herbal supplements and PMS. A few of the more commonly cited herbal remedies include:
Evening Primrose Oil–Studies are mixed as to the efficiency of evening primrose oil against PMDD as a whole. While some studies indicated that it helped fight water retention and breast pain, others showed it to be no more effective than a placebo.
St John’s Wort–While it might seem natural that St. John’s Wort, dubbed “nature’s antidepressant,” would be effective against the mood swings of the menstrual cycle, the studies researching its effectiveness have been inconclusive. In addition, St. John’s Wort may interfere with oral contraceptives and increase insomnia and photosensitivity.
Chasteberry–One of the most studied herbal supplements for PMS is Vitex agnus castus, better known as chasteberry. Three different preparations of this plant were tested as a way to reduce both the physical and psychological symptoms related to the menstrual cycle, and all proved to be more effective than the placebo.
Ginkgo Biloba–Although studies exploring the benefits of ginkgo have been small, they have been promising, showing a significant decrease in symptoms compared to a placebo. These benefits are believed to be related to ginkgo’s ability to improve blood circulation and neurotransmitter function.
The mechanisms that trigger the premenstrual cycle to transform from a minor inconvenience into a major nightmare are still not well understood. What is known is that PMDD is a colossal struggle for upwards of six million people worldwide, interfering with their careers and their relationships and, in many cases shattering their self-image for a week or more out of each month. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the disruption to our lives. Some of those include making an effort to get enough sleep and exercise, supplementing your diet with the right vitamins, minerals, and herbs, and developing stress-reducing habits.