If you are a woman, odds are you don't need to be told that it can be really hard, especially leading up to shark week. For most of my life, I've had pretty awful PMS. I am moody to the point that I imagine I am almost intolerable. I am uncomfortable. My skin goes mad. My cramps are horrific. A lot of people have this occur to them every month, and I'm here to acknowledge that it sucks, and I totally understand. For some women, hormonal birth control is an effective answer. For me, it simply worsened my proclivity to depression and anxiety. Until a few months ago, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that for about 15 days of every month, I'd be uncomfortable.
About a month ago, I decided that I was going to take the bull the horns. I wanted to find out how to treat this in an integrative way, using natural treatments to address very real medical grievances. So I met with The Organic Pharmacy’s registered homeopath, Sheila Kumar, who spent a good hour and a half listening to my medical history, my current symptoms, and complaints about what I go through every month. She hooked me to an Electro Interstitial Scan, which non-invasively assess your organ function, body toxicity, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormone imbalance, immune function, body composition, oxygenation, and stress levels. I learned a lot of things, one being that I could have better calcium levels. After we got my results, Sheila evaluated them and came up with an herbal plan for me—one that was framed around being better about my calcium intake, taking a daily vitamin B complex, vitamin D, and a little miracle that I now know to be Agnus Castex Complex. Kumar suggested that I put 15 drops in my water twice a day for 12 days before my period—and subsequently I noticed that my PMS symptoms last month were less severe.
I had been pretty skeptical, so this was reassuring. Naturally, I followed up with Kumar about why this tincture was so, so impactful on my quality of life. She told me it contains herbal tonics that support a woman's body before her menstrual cycle.
"Many clients have noticed a dramatic improvement in health and reduction in many of these symptoms: anxiety, irritability, mood swings, abdominal bloating, backache, breast swelling/tenderness, cravings for sweets, acne, water retention, and some women have even noted and improved sleep,” she told me.
According to Sheila, Agnus Castus, otherwise known as chasteberry, is a natural remedy for bloating, irritability, breast tenderness, and even sweet cravings, but the Organic Pharmacy supplement also includes skullcap, which helps address mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and cramps, as well as dandelion (a natural diuretic), valerian AKA nature's tranquilizer and calendula, which is a wonderful anti-inflammatory.
As you can imagine, I was ecstatic. During my last cycle, I experienced less moodiness, less exhaustion, and I had little to no bloating. My boobs weren't as sore as they normally were, and for the first time in months my cramps didn't have me totally doubled over in discomfort. To say that I felt relief, is grossly understating how I felt.
I really wanted to know more about why plants were making such a palpable difference in my wellness, so I spoke to Dr. Rebecca Booth, gynecologist and co-founder of the skin-care range Veneffect, which uses an understanding of the way our hormones (as women) work, to help you address your skin-care needs. I needed to know more about the concept of treating PMS with plant-based supplements, and well, plants in general.
This conversation proved to be beyond eye opening, and it shifted the way I had originally framed my cycle. The first thing Dr. Booth wanted me to know was that my cycle every single month, consisted of three phases. The first phase is when we are all feeling ourselves because our skin is glowing, among other things. This phase is called your Venus week, leading up to when you ovulate, when you have an optimized ration of estrogen and testosterone coursing through your system. "For the following two weeks after ovulation, your body operates under the assumption that you are pregnant, by raising your levels of progesterone, which among other things, makes your body produce sugar for the assumed growing fetus, whether or not your egg has been fertilized,” she noted. I never realized that my body, by experiencing PMS, was simply assuming the symptoms of a pregnancy, regardless of whether I was actually pregnant or not.
When you get your period, your levels of progesterone plummet, and on day three or so estrogen begins to rise again, which is why we often feel (and look) so much better a few days in. All of this is important to note, because what I was doing was essentially shadowing the shifts in my hormones with my PMS treatment.
Plants, like other organisms on the planet, have reproductive systems, and if you ingest what comes from those reproductive systems (seeds, beans, legumes), you are actually ingesting phytoestrogen, which could help ease some of the changes our bodies experience when our estrogen levels naturally drop after our eggs are not fertilized, Dr. Booth told me.
One of the easiest ways to do that is apparently with your diet. "First and foremost, sugar is problematic because it raises your insulin levels and stress levels, as well as testosterone. And even though our testosterone levels are naturally highest before ovulation, but at that time, estrogen is also peaking, so it is the perfect balance for your skin. Later in your cycle, when the progesterone and testosterone don't have the higher levels of estrogen to check them, this can make for fertile ground for oilier skin, seemingly larger pores, and as a result, acne,” Dr. Booth tells me.
If you do crave sugar, especially before your period, make sure it is dark chocolate, says Dr. Booth. “Chocolate comes from a bean, part of the reproductive part of a plant, and it is phytoestrogenic,” she notes. She also says we should be reaching for foods that come from roots, lentils, beans, seeds, as they all have estrogen compounds. "A diet filled with these foods will in turn help ease drastic drop offs in estrogen that naturally occur in your system due to the phytoestrogens."
Which brings us back to my beloved Agnus Castex complex. It is made from chasteberry, a plant which is remedial in balancing hormone levels, thus making it wonderful for helping negotiate PMS symptoms that occur as a result of hormonal fluctuations. Regardless of the supplement that helped me, Booth and Sheila Kumar, emphasized one thing in particular—start with diet, and if you want, try boosting this shadowing of natures intended shifts with supplements.
Eat calcium rich foods (Dr. Booth tells me it's better to eat than take supplements) such as almonds, kale, salmon, and broccoli. Add an omega 3 to your diet, because according to the Dr. Booth and Kumar, it will help keep your mood in balance. Maybe be like me and add Agnus Castex to your daily regime prior to your monthly visit from Aunt Flow.
But obviously before making any major lifestyle changes, especially when it comes to your health, talk to a doctor about what’s best for you and what best will remedy your worst PMS symptoms.