If you struggle with premenstrual symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, muscle cramps, cravings and bloating; don’t worry you’re not alone.
There is no single known cause of PMS. It is likely however that changing levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone throughout the cycle are involved. Other possible causes include alterations in the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter serotonin, blood sugar imbalance, thyroid problems, nutrient deficiencies and even stress.
But, just because you’re a woman does not mean it’s normal to suffer through unpleasant symptoms of PMS and side effects due to unbalanced hormones. The subject and symptoms of PMS can be complex to address. For some, PMS symptoms can be mild and almost unnoticeable, whilst for others, they can be so severe that they struggle to cope with normal daily life.
Fortunately, diet and lifestyle changes can have a dramatic impact on both symptoms and help to see to the underlying causes.
Let’s identify the processes which your body undergoes during your cycle – The cycle has 4 stages that are initiated by changes in key female hormones;
Follicular Phase: Potential eggs begin to develop in the ovaries inside small node-like structures called follicles. At the same time, the uterus begins to thicken to prepare for the egg to plant itself if it becomes fertilised.
Ovulation: An egg is released from the follicle and descends through the fallopian tube and into the uterus. During this time, there is a sharp increase in estrogen secretion.
Luteal Phase: During this phase, a rise in progesterone maintains the thickened wall of the uterus in case an egg is fertilized. Literally making sure the egg has a safe home to settle into if it becomes fertilised.
Menstruation: A drop in both estrogen and progesterone signal the release of the thickened uterus lining and it is excreted through menses.
*PMS symptoms typically occur towards the end of the luteal phase during the transition to menstruation
One of the biggest correlations with harsh PMS symptoms is estrogen dominance. When estrogen becomes elevated relative to progesterone, PMS symptoms tend to become much more pronounced.
Here are some of the side effects you’d experience with this type of imbalance;
- Mood Swings – Unfortunately, any change in hormones is likely to cause mood swings. If your mood changes quickly and dramatically for no identifiable reason, it may be because you have too much estrogen.
- Irritability – Women experiencing estrogen dominance may also be more irritable in general. If you’re set off spiralling over everything all the time, then a hormonal issue might be to blame.
- Decreased Sex Drive – Women with estrogen dominance may have a lower libido than normal. This is due in part to the imbalance in estrogen and progesterone.
- Worsening PMS Symptoms – Breast tenderness, headaches, acne flare-ups, and mood changes may become more pronounced.
- Irregular Menstrual Periods – Menstrual periods can occur less frequently or more frequently. They may also change in duration. This symptom can be hard to notice for some women who already have irregular cycles.
- Bloating– Women experience bloating at different times in their menstrual cycles. Most women who get regular periods can estimate when in their cycle this will occur. In cases of estrogen dominance, you might be bloated at a different time. Irregular and heavy periods may also cause unexpected bloating.
- Weight Gain– This symptom may also present itself as an increase in body or carrying your weight in different places than before.
- Anxiety – Anxiety is more of a general feeling while worries are about specific things. Anxiety may also cause physical symptoms like a racing heart or tightness in the chest.
- Hair Loss – As women age, they may experience some hair loss. This can happen during perimenopause or menopause. But if it happens before menopause it might be one of the signs of estrogen dominance.
- Trouble Sleeping
- Fatigue – Unfortunately, estrogen dominance can cause fatigue. This symptom can occur whether or not you have insomnia.
- Memory Problems & Mental Fog – If you have problems recalling details or putting your thoughts together, then you may have an imbalance in hormones.
- Hot Flashes & Night Sweats – Just like with menopause, hot flashes and night sweats are a sign of unbalanced hormones.
What areas of your lifestyle should you look at as far as PMS struggles are concerned?
Here are 6 of the best strategies to help support your hormones for a more consistent, healthy and harmonious menstrual cycle.
1. Balance your blood sugar
Taking steps to balance your blood sugar is one of the most effective changes you can make to support PMS.
- Eat whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, cook from scratch
- Include at least some protein with every meal and snack
- Reduce/avoid refined and processed foods, refined sugar, sugary drinks and snacks
- Reduce/ avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
- Eat regularly (every 2-3 hrs) – aim for around 3 meals and 3 snacks daily
For a comprehensive look at balancing your blood sugar take a look at this read.
2. Build up Stress Resilience.
Stress is a major risk factor for PMS; if you struggle with unwanted symptoms every month, it is essential to incorporate stress reduction strategies into your weekly routine.
- Here are some tried and tested ways to reduce stress:
- Mindfulness meditation – www.headspace.com is a great place to start
- Yoga, pilates and t’ai chi offer gentle exercise combined with relaxation
- Gentle exercise such as walking and swimming are proven ways to beat stress
- Connecting with friends and family and talking through problems is an important way to lessen the impact of stress
3. Reinforce your nutrient intake.
- Magnesium – Supplement at least 200mg daily in powdered magnesium glycinate form. Foods high in magnesium are dark green, leafy vegetables, such as Swiss chard and spinach, nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin, chia, and sesame seeds, seaweed, beans and lentils, whole, unrefined grains, fruits, such as bananas, dried figs, and blackberries, fish, especially halibut.
- B complex – B vitamins work together in the body so it is best to supplement as a complex rather than individually
- Vitamin C – Often depleted during times of stress; choose at least 500mg daily in the gentle form of mineral ascorbates. Foods high in Vitamin C include; Tomato juice, Orange juice, sweet green pepper, Hot green chilli pepper, Oranges, Strawberries, Papaya, Pink grapefruit juice, Raw Broccoli, Pineapple chunks, Brussels sprouts, Kiwifruit, Mango, Cantaloupe, Cauliflower & Lemons.
- 5-HTP – This natural precursor to serotonin can be a powerful support if you tend to feel a bit blue before your menstrual period
- Starflower oil – A great source of the omega 6 fat GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) which is often low in women struggling pre menstrually
- Omega 3s– For comprehensive essential fat support, add in a high-quality omega 3 supplement that supplies EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in a pure and stable form.
- Parsley – Parsley may help mediate bloating by acting as a mild diuretic to increase urine output while also helping the body retain beneficial electrolytes. Additionally, parsley benefits detoxification which may help promote healthy hormone balance.
- Ginger Root – Ginger root is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can alleviate many of the GI distress that some women experience during PMS.
4. Adopt an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
One of the major factors in hormone balance and PMS symptoms is diet. Following an anti-inflammatory diet can be one of the biggest steps you can take towards freeing yourself from harsh PMS symptoms.
- First, eliminate all inflammatory foods and drinks, including refined sugar, processed foods, refined oils, deep-fried food, junk food, soda and sugary drinks, artificial ingredients, and low-fat or diet products.
- Follow an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan,
full of leafy greens and antioxidant-rich vegetables which contain lots of magnesium and calcium to ease menstrual cramps. Things like wild-caught fish can help lower inflammation and pain due to their high omega-3 content.
- Eat low glycemic index fruits, herbs, spices, healthy fats, and clean animal protein
Consuming this type of diet full of healthy fats, antioxidants, and fibre eases PMS symptoms from many different aspects. Eating this way will also improve your hormone balance, help you excrete excess estrogen, stabilize blood sugar, and drastically change the way you experience PMS
5. Seed Cycling for Hormone Balance.
If you are a woman of reproductive age, you may be wondering how you can support and optimize your menstrual cycle naturally. You may be curious if fasting is healthy for women. You may also want to know how to reduce PMS symptoms and other symptoms related to your menstrual cycle through natural means.
Seed cycling may be useful for anyone experiencing symptoms associated with female hormone imbalances and is often recommended for women with PMS, PCOS, infertility, endometriosis and even menopausal symptoms.
Here’s what you need:
✔ Flaxseeds (organic, whole)
✔ Pumpkin seeds (organic, whole)
✔ Sesame seeds (organic, whole)
✔ Sunflower seeds (organic, whole)
Day 1 (first day of the menstrual cycle) – Day 14
Consume 1 x tablespoon ground flaxseeds & 1 x tablespoon ground pumpkin seeds daily
*Top tip: Ground seeds can be added to smoothies, yoghurt, granola, salads and even sprinkled on top of steamed vegetables to add a bit of crunch just before you serve them
Day 14 – Day 28
Consume 1 x tablespoon ground sesame seeds & 1 x tablespoon ground sunflower seeds daily
*Top tip: tahini is a great way to enjoy the benefits of ground sesames, try this dressing for roast veg, salads or drizzle onto a mix of nutritious grains
Start the process again and enjoy the hormone-balancing benefits
6. Avoid Toxic Influences.
Our exposure to environmental toxins such as chemicals and heavy metals reduces our natural ability to heal. The accumulation of toxins in tissues and organs causes autoimmune diseases and wreak-havoc to our hormone balance.
- Phthalates – Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are incredibly toxic and weaken immunity. They are the most commonly found cosmetics but may be found elsewhere
- Mould & Mycotoxins – These are some of the most prevalent toxins in your environment that weaken immunity. Moulds are a specific type of fungi-like mould. They are very adaptable and can grow almost anywhere as long as the conditions are moist, damp, and warm
- Heavy Metals – Some common heavy metals that you may encounter include lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and aluminium. Lead can be found in lead-containing paint, contaminated municipal tap water, cosmetics, contaminated food, and tobacco products. Arsenic can be found in pesticides, commercially grown produce, apple juice, rice products, glass work, smelting, and semiconductor production
*Top Tip – To avoid exposure to pesticides, hormones, and chemicals, eat organic food.