Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and related menstrual disorders are common sources of misery among menstruating women. Symptoms range from mild to severe, interfering with family activities, social activities, and work (Frackiewicz 2001).
Identifying PMS can sometimes be difficult because it covers such a wide range of symptoms. It is estimated to affect up to 50% of menstruating women, with symptoms sometimes beginning among young women aged 16 to 18 years, and peaking in their 20s and 30s (Cleckner-Smith 1998). Symptoms of PMS tend to decrease with age (Freeman 2004) and cease with menopause. Women who continue to experience PMS symptoms at an older age are more likely to experience menopausal symptoms (Freeman 2004).
PMS can affect a number of systems and produce a wide variety of symptoms:
- Psychological symptoms. Tension, depression, irritability, fatigue, panic, phobia
- Nervous system symptoms. Migraine, seizures, headache, dizziness, fainting
- Symptoms affecting the skin. Acne, boils, hives
- Symptoms affecting the muscles and joints. Backache, joint pain, edema
- Respiratory symptoms. Asthma, allergies (Redmond 2004)
- Symptoms affecting the head and neck. Sinusitis, sore throat, hoarseness
- Urinary symptoms. Bladder infections
- Gastrointestinal symptoms. Bloating, gas, food cravings
- Symptoms affecting the breast. Tenderness, swelling
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of PMS, occurs in 2 to 9% of menstruating women. Although symptoms of PMDD and PMS are similar, they are much more severe in PMDD. In fact, PMDD is characterized by symptoms severe enough to interfere with personal relationships, especially in the marital and family area (Freeman 2004).
Traditional medicine is not well equipped to treat PMS. There are no unique physical findings or lab tests to diagnose PMS, and few drugs that achieve consistent results without side effects. If symptoms are mild, most women are told to use over-the-counter painkillers (usually containing ibuprofen) and make dietary and lifestyle changes. In more serious cases, including PMDD, antidepressants are sometimes prescribed.
Hormone-based birth control pills are also frequently recommended to produce a state of anovulation (lack of ovulation). In the past, studies concerning their effectiveness have shown mixed results. However, a new form of synthetic progesterone (progestin) has shown some benefit(s). Life Extension recommends that women take natural progesterone or phytoestrogens derived from plants rather than synthetic progestin or estrogen.
Life Extension has uncovered a number of nutrients that address underlying deficiencies associated with premenstrual syndrome and excess levels of prostaglandins, which have been linked to symptoms of PMS. Chief among the alternative therapies for PMS is calcium, which has been used for more than 70 years in the treatment of menstrual disorders. Other therapies include magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and extract from fruit of the chaste tree.