Many women accept premenstrual syndrome (PMS) as a normal, although irritating, part of being a woman. We’ll go to a doctor for other ailments, but when it comes to PMS, many of us think we have to just suck it up and take some ibuprofen, or ride out the symptoms for 3-10 days a month. PMS can be especially debilitating in women who are battling other health conditions, such as Lyme disease, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, as these conditions wreak all kinds of hormonal havoc upon the body.
To make matters worse, society has been known to shame and poke fun at women with PMS. Jokes about the disorder abound, especially among men (no offense, guys!). I suppose men kid about their wives, co-workers, sisters and girlfriends as a way to relieve the tension of having to live or work with women who are prone to irritability and becoming despondent during that time of the month- well, I do sympathize with you, Guys!
But really, PMS is no laughing matter. If you’re going to laugh about PMS, you may as well laugh at people who have heart disease, or chronic fatigue, or cancer, or any other illness. Because for many women, PMS can be like a disease in and of itself, and can make symptoms of other conditions worse. Common PMS symptoms include migraines, insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, bloating, weight gain and depression, among many others.
And as the amount of environmental toxins in our environment increases, and as the stress of daily living and battling a chronic illness burns out our adrenal glands, women are experiencing increasingly difficult and challenging symptoms of PMS. By some estimates, up to 75% of women have PMS, especially those who are 35 and older, and it can last anywhere from 3-10 days per month. Which means that some women are in misery a third of their lives from PMS alone- never mind the other health challenges that they might be facing, like Lyme or CFS.
One major reason for PMS is that all of the chemical toxins in the environment, especially phthalates and other chemicals from plastic- have xenoestrogenic effects upon the body; meaning, they mimic the effects of estrogen upon the body, causing an imbalance in the hormones, and consequently, PMS. Most of us are estrogen-dominant because of these chemicals and it’s severely disrupting our lives.
Fortunately, PMS can be managed or mitigated, although it’s not always a simple process.
Following I share some strategies that I have found to be helpful, for myself and others:
1) First, many women who suffer from PMS also have adrenal fatigue. The closer a woman gets to menopause, the more the adrenals begin to take over the production of the body’s sex hormones as the ovaries produce fewer of these hormones. If your adrenals are taxed or overtired, your body will struggle to produce balanced amounts of estrogen and progesterone, which can lead to PMS.
So the first thing you want to do is- support your adrenals! I highly recommend reading more about how to do this in Dr. Lam’s book, Adrenal Fatigue. My 2012 book, Beyond Lyme Disease also contains a chapter on adrenal fatigue.
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2) Get your progesterone and estrogen levels tested. If you have a progesterone deficiency, you can supplement with compounded or over-the-counter natural progesterone cream (Do not take synthetic progestin drugs, which only make the problem worse).
If you have high levels of both progesterone and estrogen (this can occur if you have already been taking supplemental progesterone for several years and residue of the cream has built up in your skin), don’t take more progesterone! I learned the hard way that this is a bad idea and can exacerbate symptoms of PMS. What most doctors don’t know is that symptoms of progesterone excess are often similar to symptoms of progesterone deficiency, but when they see high levels of estrogen relative to progesterone in their patients, they will often prescribe their patients even more progesterone, even if the progesterone levels are in the high-normal range. This is a very bad idea!
3) If you have high levels of both estrogen and progesterone, focus on lowering your estrogen levels. You can do this by detoxifying from, and avoiding environmental toxins as much as possible, especially phthalates, which are found in plastics; things like food wrapping and plastic water bottles. Tap water and non-organic food also contain contaminants that can throw the hormones out of whack, so avoid these as much as possible. Also, I encourage you to do regular saunas, which remove plastic toxins from the body.
You can help your liver to metabolize estrogens by doing a liver cleanse periodically, which, over time, may also lower your body’s estrogen levels. (In my previous blog post I provide a link on how to do a liver cleanse).
Take di-indole-methane (DIM) and calcium D-glucarate, which may help your body to metabolize estrogen. Other vitamins and minerals, especially B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and selenium, assist with estrogen metabolism, so make sure you also have adequate amounts of all of these vitamins and minerals in your diet. Drinking green tea and eating cruciferous vegetables, which contain DIM, can also be helpful.
4) Balance your hormones with bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Many compounding pharmacies test for hormonal imbalances, and can provide customized bioidentical hormone products, such as pregnenolone, DHEA, thyroid hormone- among others, to balance your body (as needed). Bioidentical hormone replacement is an art and requires a lot of skill to do properly, so I recommend working with a holistic doctor that specializes in this, for best results.
5) Avoid stress, food allergens, and high amounts of animal protein, especially during the two weeks before the start of your monthly cycle. Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, animal protein (especially dairy products and red meat) and stress can all exacerbate PMS. If you have adrenal fatigue, animal protein avoidance isn’t a good idea, but eating more veggies and low glycemic fruits in the week or two before the start of your cycle may help to mitigate symptoms.
6) Work on balancing your emotions and dealing with any unresolved emotional issues, by talking with a counselor, minister or doing some brain retraining with a great program like Annie Hopper’s Dynamic Neural Retraining or Gupta’s Amygdala Retraining.
Connie Strasheim is the author or co-author of 12 wellness books, including the recently released New Paradigms in Lyme Disease Treatment: 10 Top Doctors Real Healing Strategies that Work. (October, 2016) and Beyond a Glass of Milk and a Hot Bath: Advanced Sleep Solutions for People with Chronic Insomnia. (March, 2017). She is also a medical copywriter and an editor at ProHealth.com, as well as Editor of the Alternative Cancer Research Institute (ACRI). Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine, and she collaborates with some of the world’s best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease and insomnia, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. To learn more about her work, see: www.ConnieStrasheim.org.