Using Aromatherapy for the Effective Treatment of Premenstrual Syndrome

Background:

Most women have experienced PMS at some point or other in their lives and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists estimate that up to 10% of women suffer from symptoms to such an extent that they report disruption to their everyday lives; it’s known as PMDD – Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.  Given that this happens once a month, it means that there is great incentive for women to want to alleviate the condition.

Definition:

Premenstrual Syndrome is a term referring to a group of symptoms that can start up to two weeks before menstruation.  The term may be a misnomer, as in some cases, symptoms do not dissipate when menstruation commences, but may occur until the end of the period. Symptoms may fall into a number of categories, including physical, emotional and psychological. The exact cause is unclear, but a common explanation is said to be a hormonal imbalance, caused by excessive oestrogen.  Menstrual cramps are contractions to rid the uterus of the endometrium.  During a contraction, the blood vessels in the womb are compressed, which temporarily reduces the flow of blood, and oxygen, to the womb.  This triggers the release of chemicals, some of which produce pain and others (prostaglandins), which induce even stronger contractions.  This vasoconstriction can be further compounded by cold temperatures or stress hormones (adrenalin).  Other determining factors include lifestyle, as exercise is said to improve the condition.  Nutrition and diet may also play a part: stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine are said to have an adverse effect on women prone to PMT, as do low levels of Vitamin B6. Conventional medicine for PMT includes addressing the hormonal imbalance and individual symptoms, but does not normally address lifestyle or nutritional issues.

Treatment with Aromatherapy:

Aromatherapy can assist with PMT symptoms in a number of ways, such as;

1. Balancing hormones (oestrogen and testosterone), may reduce symptoms such as mood swings, depression and acne breakouts.
2. Reducing vasoconstriction in uterine muscles, by reduction of stress levels and therefore adrenalin balance.  Massage techniques also promote blood flow.
3. Promoting regular elimination of waste products from the bowels, to clear congestion in the lower pelvis. Addressing individual symptoms, such as sinus congestion, on an ad hoc basis.
4. The first three instances are examples of preventative therapy, and the latter is intervention, as required.

The Choice of Essential Oils:

The following table demonstrates oils which may be used to promote hormonal balance, reduce stress levels, stimulate digestion and alleviate individual symptoms.

It is necessary to treat each client on an individual basis, determining treatment priorities in cases of presentation of multiple symptoms, and perhaps experimenting with different blends over several menstrual cycles.

Symptoms and the Suitable Oils for Treatment:

• Hormone balancing ~ Geranium & Lavender.

• Analgesic Properties (particularly abdominal cramps) ~ Lavender, Marjoram, Clary Sage, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Chamomile, Clove, Vetiver, Yarrow, Peppermint, Nutmeg, Neroli, Geranium.

• Stress Reduction ~ Lavender, Bergamot, Frankincense.

• Digestive Aid (to prevent constipation) ~ Peppermint, Black Pepper, Cardamom.

• Sinus Congestion ~ Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Sandalwood.

• Nausea ~ Lemon, Ginger, Cardamom, Fennel, Lavender.

• Addressing Lethargy/Tiredness ~ Rosemary, Lemon, Jasmine, Bergamot, Grapefruit, Fennel, Clary Sage.

• Fluid Retention ~ Chamomile, Lemon, Carrot, Cedar Wood, Juniper, Fennel, Cypress, Peppermint

• Headaches/Migraines ~ Grapefruit, Lavender.

• Acne ~ Tea Tree, Lavender, Thyme, Bergamot, Chamomile, Cedar Wood.

• Aggression/Violence ~ Nutmeg, Geranium, Bergamot, Palma Rosa.

• Depression/ Sadness/Crying ~ Bergamot, Rose, Grapefruit, Neroli, Ylang Ylang.

• Irritability ~ Nutmeg, Geranium, Bergamot, Clary Sage, Chamomile.

• Mental Fatigue ~ Rosemary, Basil, Peppermint.

• Insomnia ~ Lavender, Clary Sage, Jasmine, Mandarin, Valerian.

From the list above, it is apparent that many oils address a number of symptoms, so there would be some obvious choices for a woman presenting with more than one.  For example, if the top two treatment priorities were pelvic pain and fluid retention, a good choice to address both would be chamomile.

The use of more than one oil seems to produce a synergistic effect – a combination is more effective than individual use.  For example, the anti-inflammatory effect of chamomile is greatly enhanced by the addition of lavender in the correct proportion.

Administering Essential Oils:

Essential oils work in two ways, either by penetration through the skin, or inhaled and entered through the olfactory system. 

They can be used to treat premenstrual syndrome via a number of methods, the most effective being:

Massage:

A massage blend can be made up for use as required over a number of months.  Using good quality base oil, such as sweet almond or sunflower, the essential oils should be added in quantities as directed, or up to 1 drop per millilitre of base oil, maximum.  The blend can be used in a full body massage, or more often in a self-administered abdominal massage, which may be more convenient.  The blend should be rubbed from the solar plexus, over the lower abdomen as far as the pubic bone (avoiding the genital area), and over the lower back and buttocks.
This can also be used on the pulse points, on the insides of the wrists, below the earlobes, etc.

Subtle massage of the base and sacral chakras also be beneficial, with corresponding essential oils.

Bath:

A warm bath should be run with doors and windows closed, so that the vapours do not escape.  Up to 9 drops of essential oils, in the appropriate combination, may be added.  Before entering the bath, the water should be agitated, so that the oil droplets do not sit in concentration on the surface,  as this may irritate the skin, particularly mucus membranes.  Baths also produce the added benefit of warming the pelvic area, and increasing blood flow, thereby reducing uterine cramps.

Methods of inhalation:

The benefits of the essential oils can also be gained by inhalation, in the following ways:

  • Placing 1-2 drops on a tissue and inhaling the vapours deeply.
  • Diffusers: as per manufacturer’s instructions, up to 6 drops of essential oils can be used.  A similar effect may be gained by placing drops of essential oils on a radiator.
  • Vapour inhalation: fill a bowl or sink with warm water and add 2-3 drops of essential oil.  Keeping the face at least 25cm from the surface of the water, cover the head and shoulders with a towel and breathe deeply.  This method is particularly beneficial for headaches or sinus congestion.

Additional Lifestyle Advice:

Although this paper is concerned with aromatherapy, it is prudent to take a holistic approach and providing a client with additional lifestyle advice adds value to their treatment. 

1. Every woman is different, but the following advice will be useful in most cases:
2. Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar and nicotine for at least one week before a period, and until it finishes.
3. Reduce stress levels if possible - yoga and/or meditation may be useful.
4. Exercise to promote good circulation and production of serotonin and endorphins (natural painkillers).
5. Avoid constipation by drinking plenty of water and consume adequate amounts of roughage.
6. Eat little and often, to stabilise glucose levels.
7. Get plenty of sleep.
8. Consider good dietary supplements, particularly vitamin B complex and evening primrose oil or royal jelly – a consultation with a nutritionist or ayurvedic medicine practitioner may be useful.

Conclusion:

The term ‘Premenstrual Syndrome’ covers a myriad of different symptoms, and the main benefit of aromatherapy in treating this condition is its versatility.  A woman can mix and match different oil blends to suit her own particular requirements, and adjust it from month to month, if necessary.  Aromatherapy is useful in prevention of symptoms, by balancing hormones and reducing stress levels, and if symptoms do present, there are literally hundreds of essential oils which can be used to treat them.  In addition, the administration of the oils is usually a pleasant, nurturing experience, which helps to relieve dysmenorrhoea by increasing blood flow through massage,
or the heat from a warm bath.

In addition to treatment with essential oils, the aromatherapist should encourage the client to adopt a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and to ‘listen to her body’, in order to benefit most fully from the use of aromatherapy to address the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

Bio:
Nicola Armstrong is from Northern Ireland and has the following qualifications: BA (Hons), Higher International Diploma in Aromatherapy, SNHS Diploma in Anatomy and Physiology.

Bibliography:
Latthe PM, Champaneria R, Khan KS. Dysmenorrhoea. Clinical Evidence. 2011;02:p. 813.
Worwood VA, The Fragrant Pharmacy, 1999, pp 105-107, 290-295
Rich P, Practical Aromatherapy, 2003, pp 26-30, 36-40
Waugh A, Grant A, Ross and Wilson Anatomy and Physiology, 2011 442-446, 171, 217-218

References:
http://www.wcct.org.uk/hp/clin/ar_clin_dysmen.htm
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007193.htm
http://www.internethealthlibrary.com/Health-problems/Premenstrual  Syndrome  (PMS)  - researchAltTherapies.htm
http://ezinearticles.com/?Painful-Menstrual-Cramps---Essential-Oils-For-Dysmenorrhea&id=1321057
http://www.altmd.com/Articles/Aromatherapy-Essential-Oils-for-PMS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3178179/
http://ezinearticles.com/?Aromatherapy---A-Natural-Way-To-Help-Cope-With-Period-Pains&id=946154

 

 

 

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