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Are pesticides causing your PMS?

Reading time: 5 minutes

Detoxing from a hormone-disrupting herbicide, along with getting the right nutrition, was the answer to a patient’s debilitating PMS, says Dr Jenny Goodman

Helena, 33, had been suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) for several years. From about mid-cycle (day 14 or 15), she would begin to get sore, swollen breasts, and would feel tearful, irritable and anxious. By day 27 or 28, just before her period began, these symptoms had become so bad that she couldn’t go to work. She snapped and yelled at her partner constantly and even felt suicidal. She recovered a day or two after her period started, but within a fortnight, the whole nightmare would begin again.

To get to the bottom of things, I went through Helena’s diet diary with her. She needed to eat much more fruit and veg and some whole grains, pulses and nuts, none of which she usually ate at all. She also needed to greatly reduce her intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Helena said she would try to cut out the sweet stuff, but that it would be impossible in the last few days of her cycle, when the sugar cravings were completely overwhelming. I addressed this by prescribing plenty of protein and good fats, along with small, frequent meals in the run-up to her period. This was to prevent the hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which was making her feel so desperate for sugar at this time of the month.

When I saw her a few weeks later, after she’d made the dietary changes, Helena reported that her symptoms had been a little milder, maybe 20 percent improved. In particular, the frequent small meals in the last few days of the cycle had reduced her sugar cravings noticeably. But this wasn’t enough.

Supplements for PMS

I started Helena on several nutritional supplements crucial for a healthy menstrual cycle and effective for treating PMS:

Magnesium

Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, relaxing the smooth muscle of the womb as well as the skeletal muscles, and it also improves mental clarity. Most importantly, it assists with sugar balance in the blood to reduce hypoglycemia, which is an important and often unrecognized component of PMS.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is well known to help with PMS, but it’s vital to give it along with all the other B vitamins, so I prescribed a B complex. The B vitamins work together to improve blood sugar balance and mental energy. What’s more, B6 is one of the vitamins on which it is possible to overdose—high doses give some people unpleasant tingling and other neurological symptoms—but this tends not to happen if you combine it with all the other B vitamins in a B complex.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is essential for everything to do with the reproductive system—it helps with fertility and the menopause as well as with PMS. I found Helena a form of vitamin E that contains all the naturally occurring components of the vitamin (alpha, beta, gamma and delta tocopherol, and alpha, beta, gamma and delta tocotrienol), as opposed to the usual commercial formulations that contain only synthetic alpha tocopherol. Like the B vitamins, vitamin E is really a complex, with all eight components assisting each other. Cytoplan (cytoplan.co.uk) and Life Extension (lifeextension.com; lifeextensioneurope.co.uk) offer such a formulation.

Evening primrose oil

Evening primrose oil is an omega-6 oil that makes a big difference in PMS symptoms quickly. Initially I gave Helena a double dose to take daily, but after a couple of months, we were able to restrict it to the second half of her menstrual cycle, balancing it by giving omega-3s (fish oil) from day 1 to day 14. It is better to give omega-3 and omega-6 separately, to increase the utilization of both, and I have found that omega-3 given in the second half of the cycle can actually make PMS worse.

I also asked Helena to increase her intake of foods rich in vitamin E and good omega-6 oils: avocados, nuts, seeds and eggs.

The missing piece of the puzzle

Within four or five months, Helena pronounced her symptoms 50 percent improved; she was no longer suicidal at the end of the cycle, she didn’t need to take time off work, and her relationship was improving. But she was still suffering. There was some other factor that I hadn’t nailed.

I added the herb agnus castus to her regimen and, because she had grown up on a (nonorganic) farm, tested her for pesticide residues in her system.

Oh, my. Helena had sky-high levels of glyphosate, a toxic weedkiller that is a known endocrine (hormone) disruptor. It’s found in the herbicide Roundup, which her father sprayed on his crops as she was growing up. It has paradoxical effects: it has been shown to be both estrogenic, increasing estrogen’s effects, and sometimes anti-estrogenic, preventing the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. In Helena’s case, it was clearly the former action that predominated.

Another strange thing about glyphosate and some other toxic endocrine-disrupting compounds is that there is not a straight-line relationship between dose and effect; lower doses have been shown in some laboratory animals to have even worse effects than high doses (see Dr Stephanie Seneff’s book Toxic Legacy).

We had to get it out of her system and stop any more going in. This meant that when she went home to visit, she had to make sure no spraying was going to happen. She also had to eat strictly organic.

Helena was fine with this; she went home and signed up for an organic vegetable box subscription and took it from there. The detox regime, however, was more challenging.

I asked Helena to take a glutathione supplement daily to help her liver’s detox enzymes get to work on removing the glyphosate. I also gave her very-high-dose vitamin C and recommended Epsom salt baths (which also help with PMS directly because they contain magnesium) four nights a week. I added regular saunas and occasional colonic hydrotherapy to her regimen, and, most importantly, I asked her to make fresh, organic vegetable juice most mornings.

Helena was willing but busy, and she was able to follow my plan only about half as often as I would have liked. Nevertheless, it worked—it just worked slower than it would have if she had been able to devote a lot of time to it. It took a year (rather than the six months I’d expect) for the detox to be complete. I retested Helena and the glyphosate was gone. But she was happy and said her PMS symptoms were now 95 percent gone.

Helena also told me she would talk to her dad about converting the farm to organic. Let’s hope he listened!

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