Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on May 20, 2011 by Paulina Nelega, RH
It’s estimated that up to 75% of women experience at least one symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) monthly. (Bet having only one symptom would likely be welcomed by many with PMS!)
There is a wide and varying spectrum of symptoms in PMS including bloating (water retention), breast swelling and pain, headaches, acne, insomnia, food cravings (especially salt or sweet), fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and depression. One or more of these symptoms may occur 2 – 14 days prior to menstruation.
Most PMS is due to an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone levels, usually too-high of estrogen accompanied by too-low of progesterone levels, occurring in the 5-10 days prior to menses. (There may be other hormonal imbalances but this is the most common scenario.
In women of reproductive age, the primary source of circulating estrogens is from the ovaries. However, synthetic estrogens (e.g., hormone replacement therapies, including birth control), estrogens in animal products, xenoestrogens (estrogens from environmental chemicals) can increase circulating estrogen levels.
Additionally, a “sluggish” liver can increase the level of estrogen retained in the body. By way of various enzymes, the liver converts (conjugates) estrogen to its water-soluble forms. This facilitates its excretion via the bile, intestinal tract, and kidneys (urine).
The first approach to healthy hormone balance is establishing and maintaining a healthy liver. A healthy liver helps ensure adequate enzyme and bile production, as well as (importantly) regular elimination. Constipation adds to estrogen load because intestinal bacteria can cause its reabsorption back into the system – so, once the conjugated estrogen is in the intestines, you want to “keep things moving!” Liver supportive herbs such as Dandelion root, Artichoke, Milk Thistle, Blessed Thistle, Fringetree, Oregon Grape, and Burdock are very helpful in this regard, as are bulking laxatives such as Flax Seed (fresh ground only).
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some herbs that can help with hormone-balancing – stay tuned!
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan