Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is something that many women would be familiar with – an estimated 80% experiencing emotional or physical changes prior to their period. For some women this will last no more than 1-2 days, whereas others can experience a week (or more) of distress, pain and discomfort.
What are the symptoms?
There are many and they vary from person to person. The table below outlines the most common PMS symptoms. These will usually occur during the week prior to the period starting, but can also occur at other times throughout the cycle.
Change in appetite
What causes PMS?
Hormonal balance plays a significant role in PMS, with particular associations between low progesterone, elevated oestrogen and excess prolactin. This is why symptoms occur cyclically, as these hormones naturally change through the course of your menstrual cycle.
However, there is much more to the development of PMS than these hormones alone, including the function of certain neurotransmitters, a woman’s stress levels, the quality of her diet, the amount of exercise she does or doesn’t do, her body fat percentage, sleep quality… these can all influence PMS symptoms.
What can I do?
There are many things you can do that will both support your overall health and address PMS symptoms. Happily, many of these are easily incorporated into a healthy routine.
Although many women (and their family / friends / colleagues) may be ‘used’ to an unpleasant monthly bout of PMS, this doesn’t have to be the norm. In fact, most women can significantly reduce or entirely eliminate physical and emotional symptoms that have plagued them for years.
Diet: Keep it clean!
Get rid of the following: processed foods, sugary foods (and sugar in general), and refined wheat products.
Cut down on the following: dairy (especially cow’s milk products), red meat, carbohydrate grains (e.g. rice, pasta), alcohol and caffeine.
Increase the following: fish, nuts and seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut / coconut oil, legumes, fermented foods (e.g. tempeh, miso, saurekraut) and lots of lovely water!
Lifestyle: Balance is key.
Exercise: regular (incidental daily exercise is ideal! e.g. walking part/all of the way to work) and enjoyable (don’t slog it out at the gym if you hate going there – choose something that you like doing – it will make keeping up a habit much easier!)
Sunshine: not only will this boost your vitamin D, getting sunshine during the day helps to balance your sleep-wake hormones, which in turn keeps your sleep-wake cycle on track. Plus, it feels nice to sit in the sun.
Stress relief: whatever works for you – whether that’s yoga, meditation, massage, reading, a cup of tea with friends, time out with your partner… so long as you are able to make time for this in regularly.
Herbal and Nutritional medicines
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is a herb often prescribed for PMS and it is very effective, as it has balancing effect on the hormones via its action on dopamine production. However, chaste tree is not always appropriate (for some people and in some conditions it may make things worse) so you should not start taking it unless you have been recommended to do so by a qualified naturopath or herbalist.
Herbs that nurture your nervous system and ease stress are also very useful, such as St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Withania (Ashwagandasomnifera). Again, I would not recommend taking any of these before consulting with a qualified herbal practitioner as they are not always appropriate.
Essential fatty acids – e.g. fish oil / evening primrose oil - can be very effective, particularly if you have a lot of pain and inflammatory symptoms. These would be recommended in combination with an increase in good quality dietary fats and the dose will depend on your individual condition.
B vitamins – an overall boost of Bs can be very useful for managing PMS, particularly when you’re feeling fatigued and stressed. A good quality multivitamin complex will contain a therapeutic dose of B-vitamins, and you can also get stand-alone B complex supplements.
That is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it does give you an indication of some of the things you can do to manage symptoms of PMS – many of which are quite simple and you can get started on them at home straight away!
It’s important to speak with a healthcare professional before supplementing and/or considering medication as each person’s needs will be slightly different. That’s the beauty of being an individual!
If you have any questions on how you can manage PMS, come and have a chat to me at Uclinic in Sydney or HealthWise in Brisbane.