The Natural Choice for PMS

Author: Kim Sigurdson, Nutritionist

Millions of American women take drugs for PMS. And of those who seek professional medical treatment, three out of four believe their doctors either don’t take their problem seriously or don’t have the knowledge to adequately treat their PMS.

Understanding PMS

PMS (premenstrual syndrome) is a recurrent cyclic disorder most often occurring 7 to 10 days prior to menstruation, and disappearing when the period starts. Up to 90% of women experience some physical, emotional, or behavioral symptoms, and as they age, their symptoms often become worse. Physical symptoms may include bloating, cramps, back pain, change in appetite, weight gain, breast tenderness, and headache. Behavioral changes may include anxiety, lethargy, insomnia, depression, irritability, anger, and social withdrawal. Although PMS was once considered a psychological problem, researchers now believe that PMS has a hormonal or biochemical basis.

 GLA deficient?

Women with PMS are frequently deficient in GLA. Furthermore, their ability to convert LA to GLA is often impaired. Studies have demonstrated that supplementing with GLA may have a significant effect on PMS symptoms. GLA has been shown to improve many symptoms including headaches, depression, irritability, and bloating. It may also relieve premenstrual breast pain and tenderness. Research shows that women deficient in this EFA are over-sensitive to the hormone prolactin, which contributes to breast pain. GLA creates hormone-like compounds that “switch off” some of the effects of prolactin, resulting in less breast pain. A deficiency in GLA may also be responsible for other symptoms such as depression, irritability and fluid retention.

Other EFAs and EFA combinations

GLA is not the only EFA that has been linked to the relief of PMS symptoms. EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid, helps relax muscles by stimulating the production of anti-spasmodic prostaglandins. In one study using a fish oil supplement, 73% of the patients rated it as moderately effective in relieving menstrual cramps. Low consumption of ALA has also been associated with PMS. ALA has numerous health benefits, including improving blood flow and relieving cramps, nervous tension and bloating. The body also converts some ALA to EPA.

Several other herbs relieve PMS symptoms and may be combined synergistically with EFAs. One of these is cramp bark. Traditionally used to treat cramps and spasms, it is a favorite with herbalists for treating menstrual cramps. It may also ease other symptoms such as bloating, nausea and sweaty chills. Chaste berry also works well with EFAs. It helps balance the hormonal system and is effective at reducing symptoms like breast tenderness, bloating and moodiness. It may also help manage menstrual irregularities like lack of menstruation or heavy menstrual flow.

A recent clinical trial evaluating over a dozen PMS symptoms found that a patented combination of EFAs and herbs was effective at reducing PMS symptoms. The most dramatic improvement occurred within the first month, with overall symptoms being cut in half. Symptoms continued to improve over the remaining two months of the trial, being reduced by an average of 67%. All the women experienced a reduction in one or more symptoms, and 85% experienced a clinically significant benefit. Results of the trial were published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.

Many women who either prefer not to take drugs to treat their PMS, or find over the counter medications ineffective, are turning to natural products like EFAs. Evening primrose oil, a source of GLA, is one of the most popular sources of EFAs for PMS. Other good sources are borage oil and black currant oil. Unlike conventional treatments, GLA is a safe and effective natural supplement with virtually no side effects.