Premenstrual syndrome is not the same as dysmenorrhea. The symptoms appear well before a period and the more usual age is the late 20s to mid 30s. Some researchers believe that PMS can strike at any time in a woman's reproductive life. Others believe it is a first signal of approaching menopause, and the symptoms are due to estrogen withdrawal.
Premenstrual syndrome used to be called premenstrual tension. The main symptoms, depression, irritability, and lethargy, are linked to tension. A sudden mood swing can be the first sign of PMS. (A syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms which together make up a disease or abnormal condition in which the cause is unknown. This is why there is no one accepted therapy for PMS.)
Other symptoms can include: panic attacks, poor concentration, food cravings, crying for no reason, suicidal thoughts and/or attempts, rage and violence, child or partner abuse. Physical symptoms include: fluid retention and swelling, headaches, joint or muscle pain, enlarged and tender breasts, backache, heart palpitations, chest pains, clumsiness, inability to wear contact lenses, weight gain, weakness and lack of energy, craving for sweet foods. In fact, many of the physical symptoms of PMS are the same as those which occur during a period.
Researchers have found that women who suffer depression as a symptom of PMS secrete lower amounts of melatonin while they sleep. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain at night. They also found some evidence that disturbances in circadian rhythms, which are upsets in the body's biological clock, may contribute to premenstrual depression in some cases. The study suggests there is a hormonal and possibly circadian difference between PMS women and their controls.
The release of melatonin varies in rhythm with the dark-light cycle. It is suppressed by bright light. Melatonin comes from another brain hormone, seratonin, which has also been linked to PMS. The biological clock is the internal timing mechanism which regulates functions such as the different stages of sleep, body temperature fluctuations, and hormone production.
The research showed that timed exposure to bright light, and forced sleep extension or deprivation, can reset some biological clocks which are off their normal rhythms. Serotonin, the precursor chemical for melatonin, might be involved in both the behavioural and carbohydrate craving symptoms of PMS. Eating sweets and starches increases levels of serotonin in the brain, inducing sleep while also relieving depression.
As yet, there is no one theory on how melatonin, serotonin and perhaps other brain chemicals work to contribute to PMS.
Magnesium is an essential mineral in the diet. Like other nutrients, it is best obtained from foods such as raw leafy green vegetables, nuts, especially almonds and cashews, dried beans like soy beans, whole grains, and seafood.