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It is a chronic problem which gives rise to both physical and psychological symptoms regularly each month, between the time of ovulation to the first few days of menstruation. This part of a woman’s menstrual cycle, known scientifically as the luteal phase, is associated with big changes in the levels of the two main female hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
What causes PMS?
The precise cause of PMS is still not clear but current scientific thinking strongly suggests that hormonal changes during specific points of the menstrual cycle play a significant role.
Evidence in support of this include:
Most women suffering PMS experience symptoms at the same point of their monthly cycle
PMS is not experienced by women who are not menstruating (eg. during pregnancy)
Symptoms tend to be worse when big hormonal changes occur, such as during puberty (before periods start), just before the menopause, or after coming off hormonal treatment such as the oral contraceptive pill.
It is not clear why some women experience PMS whilst others don’t. One theory is that it is not so much the fluctuations of hormones which occur naturally with the menstrual cycle that causes PMS, but the relative ‘balance’ of oestrogen and progesterone that is important.
What are the symptoms of PMS?
Symptoms of PMS may be either physical or emotional. Over 150 have been described although thankfully, it is unlikely that all are experienced at once.
Nevertheless, the combination of symptoms affecting these two key aspects of health can make one feel pretty miserable until they lift.
Emotional symptoms of PMS affect the way you think, feel and respond and can give rise to a lower ability to cope with stress, irritability, feeling fed-up or even depression
Physical symptoms tend to affect a specific body part giving rise to bloating, acne, weight gain, food cravings, period pains and a general feeling of being tired or unwell.
Although they vary from one woman to another, what is consistent is that PMS symptoms arise in the week (or sometimes two weeks) before your menstrual period begins. Most women experience the same consistent handful of symptoms each month.
Secondary dysmenorrhea refers to painful periods due to problems with your reproductive organs. Some of these conditions include:
- Fibroids. These are benign growths on the inside or outside of your uterus.
- Adenomyosis. This is a condition in which cells similar to the lining of your uterus grows into the uterus muscle. It causes your uterus to be enlarged.
- Endometriosis. In this condition, tissue similar to the lining of your uterus (endometrium) is found outside your uterus.
- Cervical stenosis. This is when you have a narrow cervix, which is the opening to your uterus.
- Clary sage
- Roman chamomile
Each of these essential oils are known to be used for various purposes, such as soothing inflammation or reducing pain. Let's take a closer look at how these can help with symptoms of PMS...
You have likely heard of lavender essential oil before. You may have even used it to scent your pillow or taken a relaxing lavender bath. Well, it turns out that lavender can relax your muscles as well as your mind!
Research has found that massaging lavender oil onto your abdomen can help to relieve menstrual cramps,1 and can also help to balance your mood during this time of the month.2 So, this could be a good one to have to hand if you regularly suffer from period cramps and mood swings.
Dilute a few drops of the oil in another carrier oil (like coconut or olive oil) and massage it onto your stomach to relieve cramps. Make sure to do a skin test before using essential oils on the skin – dab a small patch of diluted oil onto your skin and wait 24 hours to see if any reactions occur. If not, you should be good to go!
Clary sage is another calming essential oil that can be beneficial if you suffer from PMS, and one that can be helpful later in life when you reach the menopause, too!
As this is an antispasmodic, clary sage can help to relieve cramping pains in your stomach, as well as reducing back ache that can come along with PMS. Again, diluting this with a carrier oil and massaging the affected areas can help.
Our qualified aromatherapist, Helen says:
"Clary sage helps to balance hormone levels in the body so this essential oil can be great for mood swings too."
Peppermint oil is invigorating and energising, which can be exactly what you need if you're suffering from fatigue and lack of motivation during PMS. If you're feeling down in the dumps, inhaling some peppermint oil can give you a nice little mood lift.
Peppermint is also traditionally used to relieve nausea and bloating, which makes it extra useful for those who struggle with digestive issues during their period. I'd recommend massaging some diluted peppermint oil onto your stomach, or drinking some soothing peppermint tea.
Eucalyptus can be another energising essential oil thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. As we know, inflammation can be lurking behind many PMS symptoms, including stomach cramps, achy muscles and skin flare-ups.
So, this is an important thing to tackle if you are looking to reduce the severity of your PMS symptoms, and eucalyptus may be able to help.
Rose and Ylang-Ylang
Both rose and ylang-ylang essential oils are calming and can work to reduce stress and anxiety by soothing the central nervous system.
Using these individually or incorporating them into a blend can be helpful if you suffer from stress and anxiety. Stress can exacerbate PMS symptoms and make day-to-day life even more difficult at this time of the month, so these two essential oils could come in useful.
Roman chamomile, cinnamon and clove
Another good combination of essential oils for PMS is Roman chamomile, cinnamon and clove. I've covered the benefits of cinnamon for period cramps previously, explaining how its anti-inflammatory properties could be useful for easing painful periods.
Clove and Roman chamomile are also considered to be anti-inflammatory. Clove has traditionally been used to reduce pain, while Roman chamomile is an anti-spasmodic which can help to ease nasty period pains.
Incorporating these essential oil blends into your routine can be a great natural way to ease PMS symptoms.
As I've mentioned above, you can dilute the oils with a carrier and either massage them onto the affected areas or even ask your partner to give you a relaxing massage, especially if you are experiencing back pain.
Another great way to ease PMS symptoms is to unwind in a warm bath scented with your favourite oils. Not only can this help to relax your mind and reduce stress, the heat can also be great for reducing period cramps. Bring a good book or listen to some gentle music and take some well-deserved "me" time.
Factors influencing PMS
Several factors are known to influence your tendency to develop PMS symptoms. These include:
Diet – your diet can affect the degree of PMS symptoms. If you are feeling irritable or anxious, reduce the amount of caffeine you consume. If bloating is a symptom, reduce your intake of salt
Genetics – doctors have long observed that a woman is more likely to experience symptoms if a close relative has PMS, but no clear genetic reason has been found to explain this. However, as our genes influence practically every part of our emotional and physical health, it seems unlikely that it does not play a role in PMS
Chemical changes - changes in the levels of female hormones can influence the amount of chemicals produced in your brain. These, particularly serotonin, have a significant influence over your mood and sleep and help us understand why these emotional symptoms occur
Depression – research suggests that women who experience low mood as part of PMS are more prone to developing some forms of depression, particularly post-natal depression, and vice-versa
Stress – feeling under pressure at work or home can make any situation appear worse. This won’t help emotional symptoms of PMS such as irritability, anxiety or mood swings, or the ability to cope with physical symptoms such as period pain or bloating.
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