By Mary Vincent, L.Ac.
Most women experience at least some form of PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) at some point in their lives. It is estimated that 3 out of 4 women experience symptoms of PMS with each menstrual cycle. This means that the majority of women are all too familiar with a variety of uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms occurring before every single menstrual cycle we have. The symptoms of PMS typically take place in a predictable fashion, presenting at about the same time (7-10 days) before each menstrual cycle, and then disappearing with the onset of or shortly thereafter the onset of menstruation. Signs and symptoms can vary from month to month in intensity, and typically include a handful of the following emotional or physical presentations:
- Mood swings (especially irritability and/or anger)
- Depression and/or increased bouts of crying
- Increased appetite and/or food cravings
- Breast tenderness/pain
- Weight gain/bloating (usually due to water retention)
- Diarrhea or constipation (sometime alternating)
There is no clear understanding of what causes PMS to occur. Some of symptoms are thought to be caused by:
Cyclical hormonal changes–Changes in the balance of estrogen and progesterone lead to mood changes, anxiety, and irritability. PMS symptoms disappear during pregnancy and with menopause.
Stress–Signs and symptoms are intensified during times of stress.
Poor nutrition–Inadequate levels of vitamins and minerals are thought to lead to some PMS symptoms. In addition, poor diets that include high intakes of sat contribute to water retention.
Cyclical changes in brain chemistry–a cyclical decrease in the neurotransmitter serotonin is thought to contribute to premenstrual depression, fatigue, and insomnia.
If you are one that experiences PMS symptoms every single month (particularly if they are severe enough to negatively impact your daily activities) then PMS can cumulatively account for weeks of feeling unwell through your reproductive years. That’s a whole lot of days of not feeling good in one’s lifetime! We treat a great number of women at BCA each month for PMS (often at the recommendation of their OB/GYN), and it can have a great impact in improving the overall health and productivity of a person with these uncomfortable and sometime debilitating symptoms. Depending on the severity of symptoms, you will be given an individualized treatment plan to help ease and to try and prevent your PMS. A typical treatment plan would include a weekly or bi-weekly acupuncture treatment, with a short cluster of (usually 3) treatments during the week the symptoms begin (or even better, just before symptoms are to begin, assuming the cycle pattern is predictable enough to allow for this). This type of treatment plan is usually followed for 3-4 months, and is adjusted as issues improve. You may or may not be given an herbal formula, depending on the particular type of symptoms you experience.