If you want to be avoided for a week, say the magical word “PMS,” and you’ll get to enjoy some peace and quiet for a while as everyone will be walking on eggshells around you! All jokes aside, premenstrual syndrome is a serious topic. It is the combination of symptoms that women begin to exhibit roughly a week or two before their period.
What is Premenstrual Syndrome?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a set of physical or mood-related symptoms that occur before your menstrual period each month. Women start to exhibit symptoms roughly 1 to 2 weeks before their period starts and go away in the first few days of menstruation. These symptoms include bloating, headaches, moodiness, stomach pains or discomfort, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, breast tenderness and changes to hair and skin. The severity and extensivity to which they experience range from mild to extreme – some women have to miss school or work because their symptoms are nearly unbearable.
What Causes PMS?
Although the exact cause of PMS is unknown, there are many contributing factors. These include hormonal fluctuations and chemical imbalances.
Throughout one’s cycle, progesterone and estrogen levels naturally fluctuate. Estrogen is responsible for the regulation of growth, development and reproduction in our bodies. Estrogen directly influences other systems in our bodies such as the skeletal, adipose, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine. Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, another critical organ, that also produces progesterone and eggs for fertilization. Progesterone plays an important role in stimulating and regulating pregnancy, preparing the body for conception and regulating one’s monthly menstrual cycle. Changes in these hormones are normal during menstruation as they stabilize during pregnancy, however, if an egg is not fertilized, the cycle continues. The cyclical changes in hormones usually disappear with menopause.
Chemical changes, on the other hand, are a result of fluctuations of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in mood stability and can easily trigger PMS symptoms. Serotonin is a chemical that transmits messages between nerve cells in the brain and throughout the body. It plays a key role in such body functions as wound healing, bone health, blood clotting, mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, and sexual desire. Changes in this hormone can contribute to premenstrual depression, fatigue, sleep problems and food cravings.
Lastly, depression. Some women experience depression during the time leading up to their period, or worse, throughout most of their cycle. While some experience a change in mood and/or temporary feelings of depression, other women experience a more severe form, called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Symptoms of PMDD include: anger, irritability, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, low energy, food cravings and/or binge eating, headaches and insomnia. If you experience any of these to an extreme degree on a regular (monthly) basis, you should seek medical treatment.
Exercise, nutrition, stress management and sleep are all important factors in managing PMS symptoms. In terms of exercise, try to be active for at least 30 minutes per day. Aerobic exercise can help improve PMS symptoms such as depression and fatigue. Nutrition-wise, there are a handful of foods and tips to ease the pain of PMS symptoms.
Ten Tips to Ease PMS Symptoms:
– Tip 1: Reduce salt intake. This will help with bloating and water retention.
– Tip 2: Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Eat the full spectrum of the rainbow and focus on dark leafy greens for maximal nutrients.
– Tip 3: Drink plenty of water. Aim to drink a minimum of 64 ounces of water daily to help reduce bloating and aid in digestion.
– Tip 4: Get your vitamin D. Studies are showing that vitamin D can help reduce PMS symptoms.
– Tip 5: Eat healthy fats. Reach for foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, this will help you feel fuller for longer. Try a variety of nuts like pecans, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. To maximize your benefits, try sprinkling them on veggie-filled salads, too.
– Tip 6: Eat complex carbs. Foods that have complex carbohydrates consist of natural sugars and are a rich source of fibre. When these foods enter the bloodstream, they do so gradually causing only a moderate rise in insulin levels, which can help stabilize your mood and keep your cravings under control.
– Tip 7: Reduce your alcohol consumption. Alcohol can disrupt your sleep and cause a shift in hormonal levels and an increase in fatigue.
– Tip 8: Limit caffeine. Too much caffeine can also disrupt sleep and exacerbate PMS symptoms.
– Tip 9: Eat iron-rich foods such as lean meats. It is important to replace the iron that you are losing during your period. A diet that includes iron-rich foods like lean cuts of meat may help you avoid anemia.
– Tip 10: Try a natural supplement like Harmony’s multi-herbal Balance formula, which contains a unique blend of eastern and western herbal ingredients like chaste tree and angelica extracts for female hormones, peony for sweating and muscle aches and bupleurum for irritability.
In terms of sleep, although it will be harder to get a restful night’s worth of sleep, do your best to maintain a consistent sleep routine and get as much quality, deep, restful sleep as possible. If you routinely have trouble sleeping, Harmony MySleep is a multi-herbal sleep supplement containing zizyphus, hops, magnesium and the naturally-occurring melatonin in sour cherry. Taken 60 minutes before bed, it can help you fall asleep faster and get a better rest. Another tip for this is to keep your bedroom cool. With your hormonal fluctuations, you will naturally run hotter than usual. It is also beneficial incorporate a de-stressing ritual before bed. This can be in the form of meditation, deep breathing or even yoga. All of which help to lower cortisol levels and promote the production of serotonin, a precursor for melatonin, our sleep hormone.
Last but not least, do your best to control your levels of stress. Studies show that women who reported having high levels of stress in the weeks leading up to their period were 2-3 times more likely to experience depression, sadness, body aches, bloating, low back pain, cramp, headaches and mood fluctuations.
When To Seek help from a Health Care Professional:
Approximately 1 in 10 women worldwide suffer from endometriosis, a painful disorder involving the growth of tissue similar to the endometrium (tissue) that grows inside the uterus, outside the uterus. Many women suffer with this condition for many years before it is diagnosed and treated. If there seems to be no relief from your PMS and menstrual symptoms and they are impacting your ability to function and enjoy your daily life, it is time to seek professional help. Attempt the natural solutions above, but if you are experiencing prolonged symptoms of PMS, especially severe abdominal pain, cramps and pain during intercourse, or symptoms of PMDD you should seek medical help.
By Lindsay Mustard. Lindsay is a Holistic Nutritionist, Osteopathic Natural Practitioner and firefighter-in-training with a burning passion for health and fitness. In her osteopathic practice, Lindsay works with clients to craft a unique plan that is tailored to their specific health goals. Her nutritional practice was built around a whole food and supplement approach.