Premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS, is a condition that is commonly experienced among women during their reproductive years. In fact, three out of four women are believed to suffer from PMS to some degree.1,2 While symptoms vary per individual, some are considered to be manageable while others are severe enough to interfere with overall quality of life. We will review the individual herbs that have can support women during PMS and how we've combined them to formulate our Women's Cycle Comfort.
What Is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)?
As the female body prepares itself for possible pregnancy, changes in hormone levels occur which affect the organs of the reproductive system. After the egg is released from the follicle during the ovulatory phase, the follicle begins to break down and becomes the corpus luteum. This causes an increase in the hormone progesterone which will thicken the lining of the uterus in order nurture the fertilized egg. If pregnancy does not occur, progesterone and estrogen levels will drop. This will cause the uterine lining to shed resulting in bleeding or the start of menstruation.
Literature defines PMS as behavioral, psychological and physical symptoms that occur roughly seven to ten days before a woman starts her menstrual cycle.3,4 Although the exact cause is not fully understood, PMS symptoms are believed to be triggered by various factors including fluctuation of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, decreased serotonin levels, calcium and magnesium deficiencies and excess aldosterone (antidiuretic hormone).4
Commonly reported symptoms include breast swelling and tenderness, water retention and weight gain, headache, increased appetite or food cravings, changes in bowel movement, pain in the lower back and pelvic region, fatigue, and acne. Many women also experience cognitive and emotional symptoms that may be due to the changes in serotonin levels including anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, irritability, a sudden urge to cry and mood swings. While not as common, women have reported non-specific symptoms such as palpitations, vertigo, migraine headaches and exacerbation of other conditions such as allergies.4
Conventional treatment of PMS may include over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also be prescribed for emotional disturbances such and anxiety and irritability.4 There are, however, more natural options available that will ease various symptoms experienced during PMS and the menstrual cycle. Women have used wild herbs such as black cohosh and chaste tree as support and comfort for these issues for centuries. Kava is another herb to consider when addressing physical and emotional imbalances. Let’s take a closer look at how these herbs work:
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
Black cohosh has traditionally been used for various ailments including difficult child birth, menstrual cramps, menopause as well as rheumatism.5 Black cohosh is believed to act as a phytoestrogen and therefore thought to provide hormone balancing benefits. Although there is no actual estrogen in the plant, it binds to estrogen receptors causing the body to respond as if hormone was present. Balancing hormones may reduce a number of symptoms associated with PMS as well as menopausal discomforts such as hot flashes.
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Chaste tree is another herb with documented use for women’s health including PMS, breast tenderness, regulation of menstrual cycles, emotional disturbances and more. It has also been traditionally used as a hormone modulator but works slightly different than black cohosh. Chaste tree is believed to inhibit prolactin and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) while promoting the secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH).5 As a result of the LH increase, “progesterone will also increase which may promote balance between estrogen and progesterone levels,”5 potentially causing a reduction in symptoms.
Kava-kava (Piper methysticum)
Kava has been traced back hundreds of years being used as a ceremonial drink in the islands of the Pacific Ocean. It has numerous traditional uses and benefits due to its active constituent, kavalactones. These benefits include acting as a pain reliever, sedative, anxiety-reducer, antispasmodic, local anesthetic and more. 7 While there are limited studies on Kava’s specific effects on PMS symptoms, a three-month randomized study found that it helped improve mood, particularly anxiety, in perimenopausal women.6 Another study found that kava improved symptoms of anxiety, tension and restlessness after switching over from benzodiazepine treatment.8 Kava’s calming and pain reducing effects may greatly benefit women who experience both physical and emotional distress during PMS.
These beneficial herbs can be found in Women’s Cycle Comfort from Wise Woman Herbals. This traditional formulation supports healthy mood balance and cyclical symptoms during times of PMS. If you are currently on prescription hormones, make sure to speak with your doctor before starting these or any supplement to determine if they are a right fit for you. For optimal PMS symptom support, consider additional lifestyle changes such as increased exercise, movement or stretching, getting more hours of sleep, and reducing consumption of alcohol, tobacco, refined sugar and processed foods.
About the Author
Dr. Yasamine Farshad is the Practitioner Education Manager for Wise Woman Herbals® where she coordinates educational events and content for health care practitioners. Dr. Farshad received her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona and received her Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona. Dr. Farshad also teaches anatomy and physiology for Herbal Wisdom Institute where she received her herbalist certification. She focuses on nature cure using botanical medicine and nutrition.
1. US Department of Health and Human Services, O. (2018, March 16). Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome#13
2. Steiner, M. (2000). Premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder: guidelines for management. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience; 25(5): 459–468.
3. Shaw, S., Wyatt, K., Campbell, J., Ernst, E., & Thompson‐Coon, J. (2018). Vitex agnus castus for premenstrual syndrome. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2018(3), CD004632. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD004632.pub2
4. Pinkerton, J., MD. (2019, July). Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Retrieved 2020, from https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/menstrual-abnormalities/premenstrual-syndrome-pms
5. Mayo, J., MD, FACOG. (1998). Black Cohosh and Chasteberry: Herbs Valued by Women for Centuries. CLINICAL NUTRITION INSIGHTS; Advanced Nutrition Publications, 6(15). doi:http://www.acudoc.com/black_cohosh_and_chasteberry.PDF
6. Cagnacci, A., Arangino, S., Renzi, A., Zanni, A. L., Malmusi, S., & Volpe, A. (2003). Kava-Kava administration reduces anxiety in perimenopausal women. Maturitas, 44(2), 103–109. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0378-5122(02)00317-1
7. Singh, Y. N., & Singh, N. N. (2002). Therapeutic potential of kava in the treatment of anxiety disorders. CNS drugs, 16(11), 731–743. https://doi.org/10.2165/00023210-200216110-00002
8. Malsch, U., & Kieser, M. (2001). Efficacy of kava-kava in the treatment of non-psychotic anxiety, following pretreatment with benzodiazepines. Psychopharmacology, 157(3), 277–283. https://doi.org/10.1007/s002130100792