In this series of articles, we’re going to discuss PMS symptoms, irregular periods, painful periods, and abnormally heavy periods. You’ll learn about the reasons for these conditions as well as the treatments you can use to help relieve them.
Before we discuss these conditions, I want to start with some anatomy. This picture is showing the major female reproductive organs. The ovaries, the two little glands on the side, are held into place by a ligament. The ovaries are connected to the fallopian tube, which is connected to the uterus. And then right at the tip of the uterus, or the entry point, is our cervix. We get to the cervix through the vaginal canal.
This is important as we talk about different abnormalities that you may have within the uterus, within the ovaries, and how that affects your cycles. Some of the topics we’re going to talk about: PMS, irregular cycles, menorrhagia, which is a medical term for prolonged or excessive bleeding, and dysmenorrhea, which is the medical term for painful periods.
Normal vs. Common Symptoms
I like to start by addressing the terms abnormal vs. common because I see that several women may have PMS, for example, and think that that’s a common condition because so many people experience it, but that doesn’t mean it is normal.
Similarly, with irregular cycles, I have women who come in and say, “I skipped two months without a period. And that’s just my normal, and that’s common.” They may have girlfriends who skip two periods a year, or three, or four, so to them, that’s common and normal because that’s what their environment has. But that doesn’t mean that medically it’s normal.
Discussing these abnormals opens the conversation to bring more awareness around our cycles, being more empowered about knowing what’s happening with our body. When we do have those abnormals, even if our friends are having those abnormals, or the other women in our lives have those abnormals, we’re able to articulate that with our doctor to figure out what’s happening.
Symptoms of PMS
Some of the symptoms of PMS include:
- Mood swings, low mood, increased anxiety, feeling weepy
- Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
- Acne or oily skin
- Food cravings: wanting more salt or sugar
- Abdominal bloating
- Loose stools
- Cramping before the period
These are all symptoms that happen before we start menses or before we start bleeding. This is called premenstrual syndrome, and it’s how we differentiate between PMS and symptoms that you have on your cycle. If they’re happening before the bleeding, we categorize that into the PMS window.
Typically, many of the symptoms occur, either during a period or premenstrual, and the thyroid can be off. But mostly, it’s the hormonal imbalances, particularly between estrogen and progesterone. As women, we hold on to our estrogens a lot longer than we do with progesterone. Progesterone decreases much faster, especially with our environmental burdens and our stress. Whenever we have that imbalance right before our period, progesterone cannot do its job of keeping the hormones and symptoms at bay because we don’t have enough progesterone. Then estrogen becomes the dominant hormone, and we typically call that an estrogen dominance picture or an estrogen-driven picture. Estrogen has a lot to do with PMS, and you’ll continue to see that as we talk about the different irregularities and how progesterone and estrogen relate to each other.
How Do We Treat PMS?
As naturopathic doctors, we have many tools. Whenever I have a patient that’s presenting with PMS, getting a good history is crucial because it lets me know what symptoms the patient is experiencing, how they are experiencing it, when do they start experiencing it, and how long does it happen. The second step is making sure that we address all the underlying factors that could be contributing to that imbalance.
The number one thing I like to do is support the liver. Why is the liver important when we’re talking about hormones? The liver is our master metabolizer; everything that we put in our mouth, on our skin, in our hair eventually goes to our liver, then it goes through the bloodstream into the kidneys, and then we filter it out, either through urine or through our feces, or our stool. The liver is essential for hormones because if we don’t have a functioning liver or have a sluggish liver, we’re not getting rid of any excess hormones we are either making or getting from our environment.
Supporting the Liver
Some of the ways we support the liver include:
- Castor Oil Packs: as a naturopath, I like to suggest castor oil packs. They are a super cost-effective, easy way to treat yourself and give yourself a liver detox. You can use castor oil from Whole Foods or Sprouts and apply it to the abdomen using an old t-shirt or rag you don’t care about. I put that on top of my stomach, and then I’ll put a heating pack on top of that to drive that oil in. Over time, castor oil helps decrease any inflammation in the liver. It also stimulates mild contraction so that the liver can properly detox any excess estrogens that we may have.
- Botanical Intervention: using herbs that are supportive to the liver.
- Dietary Modifications: increasing fiber. Fiber is great because it helps us grab onto any excess lipids or estrogens, and then we release it through the stool.
- Address Nutritional Needs: consuming fewer sugars, less simple carbs, decreasing the dairy, and decreasing the sodium in the animal fats. All of these things are inflammatory and will make the symptoms worse.
- Avoiding Caffeinated Beverages: cutting out coffee and soda.
- Adding in More Micro Nutrients: micronutrients help us with the inflammation process, which helps release some of those crampings. Even the cognitive symptoms that we may have, anxiety and moodiness: zinc, magnesium, fiber, iron, and Omega 3’s can help.
- Nutritional and Botanical Supplements: coming back to the herbs, Vitex is a great herb, Dong Quai, Black Cohosh, wild yam, and licorice are some that I use.
- Calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, and, again, B vitamins can also be beneficial.
- Exercise: exercise is helpful for several reasons, but it’s really helpful for PMS, particularly because you keep your metabolism going, getting good circulation, and making sure that we’re getting rid of any excess hormones that may be hanging around.
These are just my foundational things when I’m presenting or approaching treatment with a patient that has PMS.
If you’d like to discuss natural treatments for your PMS symptoms, schedule a free brief meet and greet with one of our naturopathic doctors by calling 480-588-6856.