Ever find yourself craving sugar uncontrollably or wanting to shout at your partner or colleagues for no reason…just before your period? If so, you are anything but an exception. As many as eighty percent of us experience some form of PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) at some time or another, but for 30 to 40%, symptoms will be severe enough to seriously interfere with their day to day lives.
PMS symptoms can start up to two weeks prior to the period, subsiding abruptly at the beginning of menstruation. The severity of the symptoms can vary greatly from woman to woman and generally they fall in two categories: physical and emotional. You may experience digestion issues (bloating, constipation or diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, appetite changes or food cravings), breast swelling and tenderness, weight gain from water retention, headaches, cramping, a dragging-like low back pain or aches running down the fronts of the legs or inner thighs. PMS can also make us difficult to live with, irritable, moody or depressed or clumsy, not to mention the uncontrollable food cravings. Needless to say for some women (and those close to them) this can turn the build up to the period into a monthly nightmare.
PMS: What causes it?
The exact cause of PMS is still not known, although most research points to the fluctuation in progesterone and estrogen (the two main hormones produced by the ovaries) causing a changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. It also seems that women with a tendency to feeling low and depressed are more affected by the symptoms, and that certain foods exacerbate the problem.
The good news is that whether mild or severe, PMS needn’t be a part of our monthly cycle and great relief can be had from watching what you eat, exercising regularly and boosting your system with natural therapies.
“The healthier and better balanced your diet, and the less fatty sugary overly refined foods feature in your every day life, the less you should suffer from PMS”. J. Clarke, nutritionist
Adjusting your diet may prove very helpful and generally, you should try to:
• Reduce sugar and salt intake (especially if you suffer from bloating, water retention or breast tenderness) and increase foods rich in potassium (e.g. fish, beans, broccoli)
• Eat little and often to keep your blood sugar stable. This can help with cravings but also with mood swings, which can be made worse from changes in blood sugar levels.
• Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals and breads (slower sugar release than white/refined ones), beans, peas, lentils, broiled chicken, turkey, and fish.
• Include foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and rich in fiber. These help rid the body of excess estrogen (if high estrogen levels are your problem)
• Eliminate caffeine, which can cause breast tenderness and anxiety as it is a central nervous system stimulant. Studies have shown that women who consume caffeine are four times more likely to experience PMS symptoms than those who do not.
• Avoid alcohol as it can put a strain on the liver, a crucial organ for detoxifying our body; alcohol can also cause blood-sugar fluctuations
• Drink plenty of water: it may be tempting to drink less water if you feel bloated or suffer from water retention, but in fact drinking plenty of water will help your body flush out toxins and stop it from holding excess water.
Although you may feel more sluggish in the week leading up to your period, this is actually the best time to get moving. Regular exercise such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling may help relieve symptoms of PMS. Indeed, exercise increases oxygen levels in the blood, helping our body to better absorb nutrients, eliminate toxins and increase tissue drainage. It also helps keep our hormone levels more stable and releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormones.
Making time to relaxWomen often report a worsening of their symptoms if they undergo a period of stress so if you suffer from PMS, it is especially important to make time to relax prior to the period. So, whether it is through practicing meditation or yoga, having a massage or taking a walk by the sea, make sure you make some time to relax during that “bad time of the month”.
Eastern therapy helpLike other holistic therapies Chinese Medicine considers symptoms associated with PMS to be a sign of imbalance that needs correcting. This ancient system of medicine has long provided therapies and remedies to alleviate pre-menstrual symptoms and restore a normal cycle which is regular and should come and go without pain, swelling or mood swings.Now becoming more common in the West, acupuncture is increasingly used to effectively bring relief to women suffering from hormone imbalances. In a recent study, 77.8% of women treated with acupuncture reported relief of the PMS symptoms (vs. 5.9% in the placebo group). The positive influence of acupuncture in treating PMS symptoms was ascribed to its effects on the serotoninergic and opioidergic neurotransmission that modulates various psychosomatic functions (1). Acupuncture has a balancing effect on the body and stimulates mood-boosting endorphins. In fact , most people find they are more relaxed after acupuncture, an additional help if stress is part of the cause of your PMS symptoms.
Some helpful supplements
A few natural remedies commonly used for PMS include:
Evening Primrose Oil: it contains gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 essential fatty acid. Gamma-linolenic acid is involved in the metabolism of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins that regulate pain and inflammation in the body.
Calcium & Magnesium: Studies suggest that calcium levels are lower in women with PMS and that calcium supplementation may reduce the severity of symptoms. The mineral magnesium, found naturally in food (green leafy vegetables, whole grains and pulses) and available in supplements, has showing good preliminary results for PMS.Note: Magnesium may interact with some medications (e.g. antibiotics, blood pressure medications, diabetic medications among others) and should only be taken together under medical supervision.
Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex agnus-castus) is one of the most popular herbs for premenstrual syndrome in Europe. A study published in the British Medical Journal involving 178 women with PMS found that chaste tree berry significantly reduced PMS symptoms over three menstrual cycles. Women taking chaste tree had significant improvements in irritability, depression, headaches, and breast tenderness. Note: Chaste tree berry should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women. It may interact with hormones or drugs that affect the pituitary gland, and may decrease the effectiveness of oral contraceptives or female hormone replacement.
Vitamins: Some women report relief of PMS symptoms from taking vitamins, especially vitamins B6 and E. If you try vitamins beyond a daily multivitamin, be careful about the amounts you take as some vitamins can cause harm in large doses. If you have any doubt always check with your doctor first.
With the summer holidays looming, many of us are trying to eat better and this could be the perfect time to put into practice some of these changes towards a more balanced, happier you, and say goodbye to your monthly demon.