Hormones Matter TM

How to Eliminate PMS

February 2, 2012  |  Mark Hyman, MD

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menstrual pain

SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT OF WOMEN SUFFER from headaches, mood swings, bloating, and other problems that threaten their relationships, work life, and well-being.

It’s a statement that most of us unconsciously accept without a second thought. But it doesn’t have to be this way …

It’s true that the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), like mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, fluid retention, bloating, breast tenderness, sugar cravings, headaches, and sleep disturbances, affect 75 percent of women. And in 20 percent of those women, the symptoms are so severe that they need medical treatment. About 8 percent have such extreme symptoms that the problem has been given a new name: premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

But just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you have to live with these symptoms. The real fact is that suffering related to menstrual cycles is unnecessary — and not caused by bad luck, but by bad habits, environmental toxins, and stress.

Of course, the drug companies don’t want you to know that! So the conventional treatments for PMS range from anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil or Aleve to birth control pills. And then there are the big guns…

These include prescription medications such as danazol, a drug that suppresses ovulation and causes increased facial hair, acne, and a deep voice. Newer, very expensive drugs called gonadatropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogs actually change brain chemistry to turn off the ovaries’ production of estrogen and progesterone — but they also lead to osteoporosis. Sometimes, diuretics like spironolactone are used to treat fluid retention. A drug called bromocriptine can be used to stop prolactin production and is used to treat breast tenderness. No wonder the drug companies want you to believe that PMS is inevitable. Recently, they even helped create a new disease — PMDD — and a new indication for a drug whose patent was running out: Prozac (now called Sarafem). What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s based on the assumption that the symptoms of PMS are an inevitable part of being a woman and require “medical intervention” with serious medication to correct them. Nothing could be further from the truth!

To think that 75 percent of women have a design flaw that requires medical treatment to live a normal life is just absurd.

If you are one of the many women that suffer from PMS, you can end your suffering using five simple dietary and lifestyle interventions. I will explain how to do that. But first, I want to tell you a story.

Curing PMDD Without Medications

This is the story of a patient of mine with PMDD who was barely able to work or function in her family — suffering three weeks out of the month. She was 37 years old (many women feel worsening PMS symptoms as they get into their later reproductive years). She was severely depressed, fatigued, and anxious, and suffered severe food and sugar cravings, which led to overeating and weight gain.

The real cause for PMS is simply this: Your hormones become unbalanced, your estrogen levels increase and progesterone levels decrease, either relatively or absolutely. She also had joint pain, breast tenderness, heavy bleeding, hot flashes, dry skin, acne, hair loss, memory problems, poor sleep, and no sex drive. She also complained of gas and bloating. What about her diet? Well, she didn’t drink alcohol, but was a big coffee drinker. And she started the day with a bagel and cheese, ate a cafeteria lunch, snacked on chocolates in the afternoon, and had a healthy dinner but binged later on ice cream, chips, and Cheerios. She also ate a lot of dairy.

Hers is a story that I hear all too often. But the good news is that I was able to give her a simple solution that didn’t involve taking medication.

We know that sugar, caffeine, alcohol, stress, and lack of exercise all contribute to worsening PMS. It is also true that dairy consumption can worsen hormonal imbalances because of all the hormones in milk. So I had her change her diet, take a few supplements and herbs, and start exercising — and within just one cycle, her life changed. The results were dramatic. All of her symptoms resolved, she lost weight, and dramatically increased her energy. Her mood stabilized and her acne and dry skin cleared up.

The approach I used to treat this patient is part of an approach called systems, or functional medicine. That means that I define the imbalance (in this case, severe hormonal imbalances), address the causes (diet and lifestyle), and then help the body repair and regain balance. Once this is done, the body’s natural intelligence takes care of the rest.

So what is the REAL underlying cause of PMS?

The Real Causes of PMS

The real cause for PMS is simply this: Your hormones become unbalanced, your estrogen levels increase and progesterone levels decrease, either relatively or absolutely. There are many things that promote these hormone imbalances, such as a high-sugar, refined carbohydrate diet, caffeine, stress, dairy, hormones in dairy products and meat, and estrogen-like toxins from pesticides and pollution. Alcohol also contributes to problems because it damages the liver and prevents it from excreting excess estrogen. Constipation and imbalances in the gut bacteria can worsen the situation, because they lead to the reabsorption of estrogen from the gut back into your blood, even after your liver has tried to get rid of it. Your body also needs exercise to help balance hormones. So if you aren’t moving your body enough, it’s likely this is part of the problem as well.

Fortunately, good research shows that there many ways to get hormones back in balance — without drugs. Here’s my plan for preventing PMS and PMDD. Even though some of my suggestions may seem severe, science shows that they work. Give them a try and you will see in just one or two cycles how much better you feel.

Read Dr. Hyman’s 5 Simple Steps to Eliminate PMS

Tell us what you think.

Reprinted with permission.