PMS sucks! I know. It use to drive me crazy once a month. What exactly is PMS? By strict definition, premenstrual syndrome is characterized by a whole slew of emotional and physical symptoms that starts one or two weeks before a woman gets her period. I had my fair share of PMS, having had experienced most of the listed symptoms first hand. But this list definitely doesn’t cover all the sufferings PMS can cause.
Psychological & Emotional:
depression and/or crying spells
anxiety and/or irritability
forgetfulness, poor concentration, fatigue and lowered performance at work
feeling like hiding from people because you are grumpy or sad
headaches and/or foggy brain
appetite changes (food cravings and/or nausea)
tender & painful breasts
bloating & weight gain
aches and pains
According to OWH, 85% of women experience PMS. However, I’ve heard clients complaining about experiencing debilitating first couple days of their periods and some complaining about having the these symptoms lasting into the first week of their cycle.
What’s the Root Cause of PMS?
Everyone experience PMS differently. As women, our mind, emotions and body is shaped by the intricate balance of hormones. There are two major types of hormones which rise and fall in every menstruating woman and constitutes the very core of our womanhood. Let’s take a look at how these two hormones affect us. The beginning of a new cycle starts with bleeding. Towards the end of the period, our body starts to produce estrogen.
2 hormones that shape womanhood…
Estrogen is the primary female hormone and has a close connection to a woman’s mood and emotion. Estrogen is higher in the first half of the menstrual cycle. High levels of estrogen stimulates higher levels of serotonin, the happy, blissful neurotransmitter. Studies have shown low levels of estrogen is connected to mood disturbances such as postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and PMS.
After ovulation, our body starts to make more progesterone, which is the “maternity hormone” (pro-gestation). Progesterone is higher in the second half of the menstrual cycle. High levels of progesterone stimulates melatonin (a natural sleep aid made by our body) production and increases our appetite. Yes, progesterone makes us eat a little bit more, sleep better and feel calmer because it is helping our body to prepare for a potential new life.
One of the root cause of PMS is that the natural flow of these two hormones gets disturbed. Every woman has her own personalized flow of these two hormones and sometimes estrogen doesn’t fall enough in the second half of the cycle or progesterone doesn’t rise high enough. Excess estrogen in the second half of the cycle can cause irritability and anxiety. Excess progesterone is said to be linked with major dips in mood and crying spells.
Secret Weapons to Beat PMS Naturally
If you want to restore the natural flow of these two hormones, I want to share some of my favourite tips:
Schedule time to relax everyday. This tip help to keep stress in check! A brisk 20 min walk or just listening to your favourite music for 10 min everyday help to reduce stress. Why? Stress is a BIG cause of PMS. It loves to steal progesterone to make stress hormone, cortisol.
Aerobic exercise. Get in some gentle aerobics in the last two weeks of your cycle. It doesn’t have to be hard, just something to get your heart rate up, walking, biking, swimming, skating whatever suits your style. Why? Exercise helps to produce beta-endorphins, which is a natural pain-killer produced by our body. It helps relieve muscle cramp, pain and lightens up the mood.
Plan a healthy menu. I know, PMS cravings can get pretty intense. Don’t blame your cravings though. I often tell my clients that cravings are like a loving reminder from the body. They are trying to tell you that you need to pay special attention to certain nutrients. Our regular diet might not give you enough of some of the supporting nutrients you need. Check out how to interpret specific cravings and how to take care of them. (Crave sweet? Click here. Crave salty? Click here.)
Ease off on alcohol, salt, sweets and coffee.
Alcohol: One of my favourite naturopath doctor once taught me “alcohol steals happiness from tomorrow”. Too much alcoholic beverages before your period may make you feel depressed and moody.
Salt: Too much salt can tip off your body’s water balance and cause bloating. Learn more about salt craving here.
Sweets: Too much sugar and simple carbs (candies, bread, and sweet beverages etc.) can destabilize your blood sugar and cause mood swings and severe cravings. Tips on having a healthier sweet tooth here.
Coffee: Too much caffeine may aggravate anxiety symptoms. The diuretic property of caffeine can drain the “relaxing mineral” from the body and aggravate headaches and cramps.
Balance your hormones naturally with PMS-specific nutrients. The nutrients we get from food becomes the building blocks of happy, balanced hormones. Click here to get a list of top PMS fighting nutrients.
Choose organics. If budget is a concern you can start with the dirty dozen produce and animal products to avoid accumulating environmental estrogen in your body. Xenoestrogen disrupts the natural flow of your hormones and aggravate PMS symptoms.
I used to use my horrible PMS as a motivator to eat healthier. I find eating healthy help to reduce the severity of my PMS monster. Luteal phase is referring to the two weeks prior to the start of the period. During this time, specific nutrients are needed to support our body and mind adjust to the changes in the hormone level. The more you can get these beautiful nutrients into your body during this phase of your menstrual cycle, the more your body can take on the changes with ease. Find out what are these PMS-fighting nutrients and how to source them naturally from foods, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.