Coping with PMS


By: Maureen Mc Donnell, RN

When we develop symptoms (could be anything… headache, heartburn, PMS, depression, joint pain, you name it) what do we typically do?   Because we want relief as soon as possible, we often reach for a quick fix.   Once in awhile, I don’t think that’s a problem.   But when we continually try to drown out the messages our body sends us in the form of symptoms, we lose our connection with the innate wisdom of the body.   I know… this is where my friends tell me I get a little high and mighty.  So, let me state in my defense, I’m not perfect in any way and I don’t mean to sound judgmental of anyone who pops a pill.    I just think that as a culture, and especially as women, we’re becoming disconnected from our inner guidance system which when listened to, helps us live more balanced and healthier lives.
Let’s look at what PMS might be telling us and see if there are wiser choices to be made in dealing with its symptoms: 
Premenstrual syndrome is a term that describes a combination of symptoms which may include some or all of the following: anxiety, irritability, cramping, fatigue, tender breasts, bloating, headaches, altered sex drive, swelling, mood swings (including angry outbursts), food cravings, etc.  It occurs in the second half or luteal phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle (which is right after ovulation) and lasts until the menstrual flow begins. 
It’s estimated that 40% of women have PMS symptoms severe enough to interfere with daily life

What conditions can cause or contribute to PMS?

An underactive or overactive thyroid could interfere with hormone imbalance.  
Progesterone deficiency leading to “estrogen dominance”
Extreme fluctuations in blood sugar levels caused by a high carbohydrate/sugar diet can trigger food cravings, irritability, fatigue etc.
Alcohol consumption.  Alcohol can deplete the body of certain nutrients needed for energy and mood stabilization. 
High stress levels
Most of these conditions are self-explanatory, but the term “estrogen dominance” may not be as familiar, yet when it comes to PMS (and many other female issues such as infertility, insomnia, menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis) it can be extremely significant.  
What is “Estrogen Dominance” and why would it be important to control it when dealing with PMS?    When examining a normal menstrual cycle (see chart below), it’s easy to see that the hormone estrogen is the dominant hormone for the first half of the cycle.  Then, during the ovulation phase (around day 12-14) our ovaries produce progesterone.   When our system is in good working order, progesterone should be the dominant hormone for the second half of the cycle.   Right before we begin to bleed, both of these hormones decline.

According to the physician John Lee, MD (who coined the phrase “Estrogen Dominance), several factors  set a woman up for an overproduction of estrogen and or interfere with our body’s production of progesterone, thereby allowing estrogen to remain the dominant hormone throughout the entire cycle.  
What can cause hormonal imbalance and lead to
estrogen dominance? 
Hormone disrupting chemicals like Bisephenol A:  (BPA) can mimic estrogen and throw off this balance. BPA and many other toxic chemicals in our personal care products, food, air and water share a common structure with estrogen and produce a false or alien type of estrogen molecule which unnaturally stimulates the body’s estrogen receptors.

Stress can increase the production of estrogen

Ovarian tumors or cysts can lead to an over production of estrogen

Obesity increases the production of estrogen

If we don’t ovulate (because we either are taking the pill or other forms of hormonal based birth control that interfere with ovulations or because we are near age 40 when we naturally slow down or stop ovulating) then we no longer produce enough progesterone to balance our body’s estrogen or these “false” estrogens caused by toxic chemicals.

Progesterone is a very vulnerable molecule that can be weakened or destroyed by stress and exposure to various chemicals.
If we can’t breakdown estrogen properly (either due to the fact that our liver isn’t functioning optimally or because we lack adequate amounts of probiotics (friendly bacteria) in our intestines) then the wrong kind of estrogens can circulate in our system.  
In addition to hormonal imbalances, studies have shown that women who suffer from PMS consume more carbohydrates and refined sugar and almost 80% eat more dairy and higher amounts of sodium than the women who do not suffer from symptoms of PMS
In Summary:   If you have symptoms of PMS, your body may be trying to send you a message.  Be still and listen!  You may be lacking certain nutrients or your personal care products may contain too many hormone disrupting chemicals or your diet may contain too much refined sugar and or processed food.  
That same innate wisdom that has us cycling every month, is capable of transforming an egg into a new human being and then produce the perfect milk for that child to thrive, that’s the same inner guidance system that gives us symptoms like cramping and tender breasts when we are out of balance.   We live in a very crazy, polluted world, but women are being called to lead the shift to a saner world.   To do that, we have to be balanced and healthy ourselves!

Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 34 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.)   She is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences and is the co-founder of  Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet.  Her published articles on autism and health can be found at   In addition to writing a monthly column Common Sense Approaches to Women’ Health., she is the owner of Nutritionist’s Choice multi vitamin:  www.   Presently Maureen is the Medical Coordinator for the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer.   She and her husband H Hanson have five grandkids and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of WNC

1. Role of B6 compared to Placebo in PMS, British Medical Journal May 22, 1999;318: 1375-138.
2. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), An introduction to probiotics,, (Accessed April 1, 2008)



14 Tips for easing symptoms of PMS


1. Minimize consumption of sugar, foods with a high glycemic index (that means they cause a quick rise in blood sugar levels) and processed carbohydrates (all the white foods; white bread, bagels, pizza, white rice, pastries, cookies, etc).


2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol (at least try it during the second half or your cycle!).


3. Minimize foods high in sodium to reduce water retention (such as smoked cheeses and smoked salmon, chips, etc).


4. Eat lots of salads and fresh organic veggies and have a bit of organic protein (fish, chicken, beans, nuts, Tempeh, eggs) every few hours to balance your blood sugar level and prevent it from going into extreme highs and extreme lows.


5. Take a good comprehensive multi vitamin with adequate amounts of B vitamins (especially B6).  In one study, researchers reviewed 9 published trials that included 900 women with PMS.  Doses of B6 (up to 100mg) were seen to be effective in relieving PMS symptoms and depression.


6. Magnesium: Check to see you are getting enough Magnesium. Magnesium has over 300 functions in the body and is a very calming mineral.


7. Calcium, an important mineral from green leafy vegetables (not dairy products), can be helpful.


8. Vitamin D plays a major role in your hormonal system.  Have your D3 level checked and discuss with your naturally oriented health care provider a proper dose of Vitamin D.  Also getting out in the sun (without sunscreen) for at least 20 minutes a day is a great way to optimize your Vit. D level.


9. Estrogen Dominance: Check to see if estrogen dominance may be playing a role in your PMS symptoms and discuss the use of a “Natural” (not synthetic) progesterone cream with an educated naturally oriented health care provider.


10. Exercise increases circulation and increases your body’s production of endorphins which can help.


11. Taking probiotics (good friendly bacteria) can help in the process of breaking down excess estrogens.  Besides taking these in pill form, some fermented foods can help rebuild the population of good friendly bacteria.  They include Miso, Kefir, Tempeh, plain organic yogurt, Kimchee, Natto, etc.


12. Stress: Learn to manage stress by doing yoga and or learning meditation techniques. Remember fatigue is often triggered or made worse by worry and negative self talk rather than physical exertion.


13. If overweight, consider a comprehensive health and weight management program.


14. Chinese herbs have been shown to decrease PMS symptoms including cramping.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker