Premenstrual Syndrome and Ayurveda, Part 1

I know first hand how awful premenstrual syndrome can be.

I have struggled with this at different points in my life, sometimes mild, sometimes severe.

Some months I was so irritable even I didn’t like being around myself and other months I looked 3 months pregnant because I was incredibly bloated. No fun!

Since I am fascinated with all things natural and have devoted my career and lifestyle to natural medicine and healthy living- I have come learn quite a lot about it. Thankfully my PMS is alleviated through a combination of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The TCM piece will come in the next installment of this blog. So stay tuned!

Premenstrual syndrome is a catchall term for a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms that appear in the luteal phase (second half) of a woman’s cycle. Symptoms range from mild to severe and it affects 90% of women. That’s almost all of us!

Many of us are aware of the constellation of symptoms that can arise in the second half of our cycles. Physical symptoms include: abdominal distention & bloating, breast pain/swelling/discomfort/lumps, bowel changes, headaches, fatigue/weakness, insomnia/excessive sleeping, joint pain/backaches, skin changes, dizziness, and altered libido. Emotional and mental symptoms include: anxiety, aggression, confusion, depression, forgetful, poor concentration, irritability, mood swings, anger outbursts, negative affect, nervous tension, feeling overwhelmed, restless, and tearfulness. These are just the most common ones.

I have found that first, when we shift our thinking to recognize that menstruation is a very important process for a woman’s body, many imbalances disappear.

Menstruation is an opportunity for our entire body and mind to become cleansed and rejuvenated, every month. The process of shedding the inner lining of the endometrium provides an element of protection. That which has been built up all month is shed, cleansed from our body and we then get to begin anew. The human body is so fascinating!

When we shift of our perception of menstruation and recognize the importance of this monthly cleansing, healing begins. When women allow themselves to deeply rest during menses to help facilitate the process of renewal many imbalances vanish. While it is not always possible to completely cancel our entire day when our period comes- try to have at least some time to rest, reflect and turn inwards during the first few days of your flow. You have permission turn your phone off, make a cup of tea and curl up in bed with a delightful book. How does that sound?

I also find that when I use the time of menstruation for inner reflection and rest I can notice other areas of my life that need attention. The first half of the cycle influences the second. If I barely noticed any PMS symptoms before my period, I look back at the month and realize how I took care of myself. It is like a constant barometer for how various aspects of life have played out all month long.

Second, take a look at the nature of the imbalances and take steps to bring balance through simple changes or additions to your diet and lifestyle.

Ayurvedic medicine is based on the premise that “like increases like” and “opposites bring balance”. So for example, you have a migraine every month in the week before your period and it is the classic presentation- sharp, penetrating, pounding unilateral pain with sensitivity to light. We see that this is a Pitta imbalance that can resolve from taking in a diet, lifestyle and herbs to pacify Pitta.

So let’s take a look at how the doshas play out in PMS:

Vata type PMS symptoms include:

anxiety, insomnia, nervous tension, constipation, low back pain and abdominal distention, craving salty foods, dizziness, and vertigo

How to balance:

Focus on warm, well-cooked, well spiced, unctuous meals at regular times; i.e. soup
Use spices generously: cinnamon, fennel, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, basil
Avoid cold, raw foods, salads, excessive salt
OIL! Internally in your foods, i.e. avocado, nuts, healthy oils. Externally as in daily self oil massage
Practice yoga, tai chi, meditate to encourage internal calmness

Pitta type PMS symptoms include:

irritable, anger, cravings for sweets/sugar, more frequent soft bowels, migraines, and acne

How to balance:
Focus on fresh, cool, soothing foods, such as cucumber, coconut, and melons
Use bitter, sweet and calming herbs: fennel, coriander, mint, dill, skullcap
Avoid hot, oily and spicy foods, pungent foods, i.e. AVOID a green chili hamburger
Reduce stimulants, cool your mind and encourage relaxation

Kapha type PMS symptoms include:

weight gain, sluggish, desire for more sleep, depression, fluid retention, breast tenderness, and sweet cravings

How to balance:
Focus on warm, stimulating, light and nourishing foods
Use spices everywhere- food and beverages: black pepper, cloves, cardamom, ginger
Avoid dairy products. Goat cheeses and soft cheeses are sometimes OK
Practice stimulating exercise, limit amount of food & sleep

Sometimes more than one dosha presents itself as contributing to the imbalanced state. My guidance is to focus on the one dosha most aggravated and start there. And if you are completely at a loss for which direction to take, follow the guidance for balancing Vata. Vata has a “subdosha” that governs the function of menstruation, called apana vayu. This force also governs childbirth, urination, defecation etc… It is the downward force of energy in the body. When this is tended to and properly cared for many PMS symptoms are alleviated.

There is often a lot of fine-tuning with these recommendations. Refer to the food lists on my website for more details about dietary choices. Speak with a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner about what would be best for you and how you can use herbal medicine tailored to your unique needs.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this blog focusing on Traditional Chinese Medicine and PMS.

Cheers to a life of balance,