When Things Go Wrong
She has two different sorts of mood,
the Greek poet Semonides wrote of his wife in the 6th Century B.C.
One day she is all smiles and happiness. . . Then, another
day, there’ll be no living with her. . .she flies into a rage. .
It’s a rare woman who hasn’t experienced
at least a smidgen of the constellation of physical and emotional
symptoms known as PMS, or premenstrual syndrome. The phrase has
become such a part of the lexicon it’s even been turned into a verb
as in, I’m PMSing now.
It’s as if for three weeks out of the month
you’re you, the same you you’ve been your entire life. Then, about
a week before your period, this other you appears. Some months
she’s weepy, other months angry. She’s bloated, can’t sleep, craves
carbohydrates (particularly in the form of chocolate and cream-filled
donuts). Her skin breaks out, her hair loses its curl, and headaches
may hit with such intensity only a dark room and hot compress will
And she’s not alone. Nearly 75 percent of
all women report some physical and/or emotional symptoms as they
approach menstruation. For about half, these symptoms are mild and
don’t affect daily life; for the rest, however, more severe symptoms,
including depression, pain, and anxiety, may actually affect their
ability to function.
Doctors used to say this was all in women’s
heads. In 1931, when the term premenstrual tension was first
coined, the doctor writing about the topic believed that the behavioral
problems women exhibited were caused by an excess of ovarian
hormones and recommended Epsom salts to eliminate this excess.
It wasn’t until 1953 that the term premenstrual syndrome
was first used by a female doctor whose own splitting headaches
each month led her to take her patient’s complaints more seriously.
Today, more than 150 symptoms are attributed
to PMS. Some of the most common are: irritability, anxiety, mood
swings, depression, hostility, migraine, headache, dizziness, fainting,
abdominal bloating, weight gain, constipation, sugar craving, cramps,
acne, boils, allergies, hives, cystitis, urethritis, less frequent
urination, asthma, breast tenderness and swelling, runny nose, sore
throat, hoarseness, joint pain and swelling, and backache.
Not every aspect of PMS is negative, however.
One study found that women with PMS show heightened awareness of
their environment, have better memories, and a greater sensitivity
to their surroundings than those who don’t get PMS. And this heightened
awareness lasts all month! In fact, some women artists say they
use PMS to enhance their creativity.
Another interesting thing about PMSwhich
also speaks volumes about its possible causes and treatmentsis
that women around the world experience it differently or even not
at all. For instance, a study of Chinese women found pain the most
significant PMS symptom, while depression ranked highest in Western
women. Overall, PMS is significantly less prevalent in Eastern countries
than in Western.
I firmly believe one reason for those differences
are the diets and other nutritional and lifestyle steps women of
For more on premenstrual syndrome, read
Your Risk of PMS
Women’s Diet: Conquering PMS Through Nutrition
PMS Nutrient Plan