The Doctor Is In: Dealing With The PMS Blues

pms cramps

Q: I have been getting extremely horrible PMS symptoms. I’m incredibly moody – sometimes to the point that I can’t get out of bed – my cramps are awful and I keep breaking out. Is there anything I can do to fix this?

A: I’m so sorry your menstrual cycles have been torturing you.  Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can definitely turn the sweetest angel into the evilest monster around that time of the month.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. If your PMS is seriously affecting your well-being, relationships, job, or life, you may have a more serious form of PMS called PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), so you may benefit from seeing a doctor.  But until then, here’s some tips:

Improving your PMS symptoms naturally:
– Eat a whole foods diet. You’ve heard it before, but it really does help. That means cutting back on sugar, refined carbohydrates, dairy, caffeine, processed foods, and saturated and hydrogenated (trans) fats, and instead adding fruits, veggies, and whole grains, especially during the luteal phase (second half) of your cycle. Sorry, but that means bye-bye chocolate.

– Increase essential fatty acids by eating nuts, seeds, and fish.

– Manage your stress effectively. Try yoga, meditation, massage, or guided imagery CD’s.

– Engage in regular aerobic exercise. A good, long hike helps regulate your hormones and your stress, and it builds up happy-making endorphins.

– Take a multivitamin and 1200mg of calcium/day.

– Talk to an integrative medicine doctor about how to use supplements to help your PMS symptoms. Alternative medicine therapies like acupuncture can also help.

Improving your PMS symptoms medically:
If you’ve tried everything and nothing helps, don’t despair. Apologize to your friends and family for chewing their head off, but blame your hormones. Talk to your doctor about how bioidentical hormones or birth control pills can help. If you have the more severe form of PMDD, you can blame your brain chemistry. If the serotonin levels in your brain are low, you may benefit from taking an anti-depressant, either daily or during the last two weeks of your cycle. To meet criteria for this diagnosis, you must experience five or more of the following symptoms during most of the week before your menses, and they must interfere significantly with your daily life and relationships. At least one of the first four symptoms must be present:

1. Significantly depressed mood, hopelessness, self-deprecating thoughts
2. Significant anxiety, tension, feeling irritable, uptight.
3. Sudden mood changes of sadness, weepiness, or easily feeling rejected
4. Anger or irritability or increased conflict with others
5. Lack of motivation for usual activities
6. Difficulty concentrating
7. Lethargy, easily fatigued, low energy
8. Changes in appetite, overeating, food cravings
9. Sleeping too much or insomnia
10. Overwhelmed, feeling out of control
11. Additional physical symptoms, such as breast tenderness, swelling, headaches, join or muscle pain, bloating, weight gain

Improving your PMS symptoms mentally:

Some theorize that PMS is nature’s way of making you slow down and take stock of your life. We can’t be Superwomen all the time, and maybe your body is telling you it’s chick-flick night, and you need some personal, quiet time. So if you can, take this time to listen to your body, write in your journal, and reflect. Is there something else going in in your life that might need to be addressed? Do you really hate the direction your life is taking? Are you unhappy in a relationship? Do you have some things in your past you might need to address with a therapist? Are you not living authentically? Our bodies are often the mirrors of our souls and psyches, so take stock, and make sure you’re not ignoring some glaring issue in your life.

If you’ve checked deeper and all is well, don’t worry.  If you’ve tried everything natural and nothing helps, talk to your doctor about a trial of continuous birth control pills, which will also help your acne breakouts. By taking the Pill every day and skipping your cycle, you can often eliminate PMS symptoms altogether.  If that doesn’t help, antidepressants may be necessary.  You don’t have to be a complete mess before your period. Take charge of your life and your health, and help your body help you by treating it like the temple it is.

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