Q: My PMS is getting more intense each month, especially the mood swings and irritability. My chiropractor told me I needed to take supplements that would help with methylation. What does that mean and what does it have to do with my hormones?
-Jackie L., Virginia Beach
One of the reasons women live longer than men is because they have a built-in detoxification mechanism called menstruation. As most of you know, our genes really run the show. We are built for reproduction, and this biological imperative holds no matter our sexual or gender orientation. Women shed their uterine lining every month in order to prepare a fresh new nest for potential conception, over and over for about 40 years. The rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone allows for ovulation and the building up of the uterine lining.
Hormones are fat-based molecules. All reproductive hormones derive from the most important lipid (fat) in the body-cholesterol. Human cell walls and nerve tissue, including the brain, are made almost exclusively of fat. Fatty tissue, like most living tissue, is composed mainly of carbon molecules, but in fatty structures the carbon is bonded in a special way that renders the tissue water-resistant.
Most molecules are either lipophilic ("love" lipids) or hydrophilic ("love" water). Our bodies cleanse themselves largely with water, but hormone and fat disruption pose a threat because it is much more difficult to cleanse our bodies of lipophilic toxins. Water simply isn't enough. PMS comes in various forms with varying causes, but the unifying theory is that the menstrual process is impaired by any extra toxic load in our bodies, such as the burden that comes from lipophilic toxins.
You've probably heard about endocrine disruptors. We're currently living with widespread environmental contamination from a group of compounds known as "halogenated hydrocarbons," which includes DDT, DDE, PCB, PCP, chlordane, and more. These chemicals are hard for our bodies to break down, and are instead stored in fat cells. They're known to mimic estrogen in the body and are a major factor in estrogen-related health problems such as PMS, breast cancer, and low sperm counts.
What to do about them? Well, we can't force Dupont, Pfizer, Monsanto, and other corporate giants to stop making these substances, but we can vote with our dollars and do our very best to stop buying plastics, drugs, and chemicals. It's time for each of us to look more closely at making a meaningful contribution to cleaning up the planet, and cleaning up our bodies is a great first step.
PMS Is a Hormonal Disorder
Keep in mind, PMS is a hormonal disorder. Hormones are fatty molecules; therefore, eating only good fats and avoiding chemicals that burden the liver (the organ most responsible for detoxifying bad fats) will reduce symptoms of PMS. Good fats come from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish.
PMS often gets worse toward the end of the menstrual years, one reason being that progesterone levels decline in the later part of the fertility years. Progesterone is a progestational hormone that supports the development of a viable fetus. Estrogen builds the nest and promotes ovulation, while progesterone helps maintain the pregnancy for the duration. Less progesterone equals relative estrogen dominance, meaning as women near menopause, they have a higher estrogen-to-progesterone ratio than they did earlier in life.
Estrogen dominance is characterized by more aggressive behavior, heavier bleeding, tender breasts, easier weight gain, water retention, bloating, anxiety or panic attacks, crying for no reason, carbohydrate cravings, headaches, acne, cold sores, asthma attacks, sinus congestion, and increased seizure rate. Taking natural progesterone can help balance all these crazy symptoms, but so can cleaning up your lifestyle and avoiding endocrine disruptors such as soft plastics, chemicals, drugs, pesticides, and GMOs.
Women with PMS are often low in zinc, especially when carb cravings are present. Zinc can also help reduce the production of prolactin, a stress hormone.
The Best Nutrients for Reversing Estrogen Overload
The question was about methylation and what that has to do with hormones. Methylation (or adding a methyl group to a molecule) is one way to render most "foreign" substances more water-soluble, thus easier to "wash" out of the body through the usual channels of urination, defecation, and sweating.
Methylation happens massively in the liver, but also within every cell, and is a hugely important detoxification method utilized by all animals. Some of the most popular and widely available methyl donors include MSM, melatonin, CoQ10, carnitine, SAMe, methylated B12 (the label will say methylcobalamin), curcumin, and 5-MTHF (an easily absorbable type of folic acid now found in most health food stores.) Methyl donors, in a nutshell, enhance detoxification.
Do you have too much estrogen, a condition know as estrogen dominance? Heavier
bleeding, tender breasts, easier weight gain, water retention, anxiety, panic attacks, and crying for no reason are all signs of estrogen dominance.
Food-wise, the brassica/cabbage family of veggies, as well as eggs, mustard, garlic, and onions, aid detoxification due to their high content of the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine. Other proven ways to reduce symptoms of PMS are eating a plant-based diet; daily exercise; good gastrointestinal health, including probiotic use; liver function enhancement with lipotropic agents such as milk thistle, choline (1,000 mg daily), methionine (500 mg daily), and vitamin B12 (1,000 mcg daily); caffeine avoidance; and strict avoidance of saturated (hydrogenated) fats.
Vegetables from the brassica family (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) boast sulfur-rich amino acids that boost the body's detox mechanisms.
Vitamin B6 (50 mg daily) and magnesium in combination can be a miracle cure for PMS because a deficiency of these nutrients is strongly implicated in PMS. To figure out your optimal dose of magnesium, start with 500 mg at bedtime and gradually increase until you have an easy-to-pass BM at least once daily.
Women with PMS are often low in zinc, especially when carb cravings are present. Zinc can also help reduce the production of prolactin, a stress hormone; take 30-50 mg daily.
Some of my favorite herbs for PMS include dong quai, licorice, black cohosh, and vitex (chaste tree berry), all of which mostly work by improving adrenal function (adrenal health is fundamental to hormone regulation), blocking excess estrogen, and improving progesterone production.