This is such an important topic and one that societally, carries a lot of baggage. I imagine you can relate or even have a personal story to share that premenstrual syndrome is often used to trivialize or dismiss women’s emotions. We are told “you are just being hormonal”, or ‘overly sensitive’ as if the word hormonal or sensitive should automatically be negative.
In fact, consider your hormones and especially your menstrual cycle your as monthly health report card! When we learn and understand how to read our cycle and implement strategic changes, we can improve PMS dramatically. PMS is not, I repeat, is NOT something you should have to put up with every month. Simultaneously, it is not a weakness, it is one hundred percent human. PMS is a symptom. It’s a way for your body to intelligently communicate to you through certain signs so that hopefully, you listen more closely and respond accordingly. Your body is not trying to be a nuisance or a burden. Your body is working to communicate with you and wants to work with you. A symptom, no matter how big or small, is an opportunity to listen.
So, let’s educate ourselves further on PMS, shall we?
What is Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)?
PMS is a grouping of emotional & physical symptoms that occur during the 10 days prior to your period, and then disappear during or shortly after you bleed. These symptoms can range from irritability, anxiety, depression and weepiness to sleep disturbances, fluid retention, low libido, abdominal bloating, palpitations, joint pain, headaches, brain fog, food cravings, breast pain and pimples! Any of that ring true? If so, you’re in good company as 80-90% of women experience PMS.
What causes PMS?
PMS is typically caused by a hormonal imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, the key female sex hormones. Neither hormone is inherently negative for you – your hormones can be used as super powers but often times they become imbalances causing issues.
Progesterone has incredible benefits, especially for mood and stress by reducing inflammation and enhancing the neurotransmitter GABA whereas too much estrogen can be overstimulating and cause breast pain, fluid retention, irritability and headaches. On the other side, when we experience a drop in estrogen we can also experience symptoms like fatigue, night sweats, migraines and drops in our mood. No fun which way you look at it!
However, it’s the hope in a typical monthly cycle, that in your Luteal phase, when your estrogen is dipping low, your progesterone is rising to support you. Unfortunately with PMS, research shows that many women with PMS have a sharp decline in progesterone during the three to five days leading up to their periods. Oftentimes, it’s this dip coupled with too much estrogen in relationship to progesterone where we run into problems.
In addition to imbalanced hormones, several nutrient deficiencies are often present with PMS as well such as low magnesium, calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins. It makes a little more sense why PMS is such a common experience among so many women when you consider how many of these nutrients are depleted by modern living. Consider, for example that stress, caffeine, and alcohol deplete our magnesium levels, vitamin D is mainly synthesized from proper sun exposure, and many people have a hard time converting their B vitamins into a bio-available form. Alas, there’s help! Keep reading. 🙂
What is the role of inflammation and PMS?
Inflammatory cytokines increase your risk for PMS due to the chronic inflammation in the body that then distorts and skews our hormonal communication. What does that mean? Specifically, inflammation impairs both the creation of progesterone as well as the responsiveness of progesterone receptors. This means you end up needing more progesterone to be able to feel its soothing effect. Inflammation also impairs the regulation of GABA which can then worsen PMS. Furthermore, it interferes with the detoxification of estrogen from our bodies which can make one increasingly sensitive to estrogen. All of this can lead to….you guessed it— PMS symptoms.
What is GABA?
We’ve mentioned GABA a lot in this article – but what is it? GABA works as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It’s a naturally occurring amino acid that serves as a chemical messenger, playing a very important role as it helps to block or inhibit certain brain signals which in turn, decreases activity in the nervous system. To this end, GABA produces a calming effect. Hence, this process can greatly assist with any feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear. It’s a good thing to have on our side!
How does food play a role in PMS?
It plays a huge role! Doing what you can to reduce inflammatory foods such as avoiding processed foods, trans fats, refined sugar, alcohol, wheat & cow’s dairy can assist greatly in optimizing your health and decreasing your PMS symptoms. In addition, getting a food sensitivity test for any other potential inflammatory foods can make such a tremendous difference in your menstrual health. Since this will lower your inflammation, we then further support progesterone, therefore supporting a healthy ovulation! Finally, I mentioned above that nutrient depletion can have a hand in PMS specially magnesium, calcium, b vitamins and vitamin D so getting enough nutrients from whole foods that are crucial for building hormones has a big impact on our monthly PMS.
What can we do to support PMS?
Consider a few foundational lifestyle changes. Your body and mood will thank you immensely. Once you start feeling better, you’ll only want to continue!
- Reducing stress both at work and home by bringing mindfulness practices into your day or starting a meditation practice. Adrenaline caused by stress blocks progesterone receptors and depletes GABA and that alone can create PMS. Eating well but with a stressed body and mind won’t get us the results we truly set out to achieve. However, supporting our nervous system alongside everything else, will create truly lasting and peaceful change.
- Reducing alcohol – alcohol lowers allopregnanolone which interferes with progesterone’s calming effect. It can also increase a histamine reaction which has been linked to PMS, finally alcohol causes digestive issues and inflammation.
- Maintain a healthy gut flora. This is paramount. Consider taking probiotics, drink plenty of purified water, eat gut-friendly foods, ensure you get enough sleep, and again, decrease stress.
- Reducing inflammatory foods listed above
- Magnesium helps a host of PMS symptoms, anywhere from headaches and menstrual migraines, to appetite and food cravings, to weight gain and bloating, to anxiety and depression. It also helps you sleep!
- B6 is essential for the synthesis of progesterone & GABA. It also reduces inflammation & detoxifies estrogen.
- Vitex supports the pituitary gland. Specifically, it helps the production of our luteinizing hormone. In turn, this boosts our progesterone production which helps to regulate the menstrual cycle.
- Vital proteins or paleo valley (beef liver) is a great supplement to take for energy as animal organs supply us with so many vital nutrients. They are kind of like nature’s multivitamin, rich in selenium, B vitamins, and much more. I know it might seem a bit strange at first, but trust me, it’s full of bioavailable nutrition!
- Elix Healing & DeLune: Check out a couple of incredible companies who formulate herbal and supplements with women’s menstrual cycle in mind.
I really hope you’ve gained some insight into ways you can support your menstrual cycle during that time of the month, and just as importantly, all month long. We deserve to find more ease and comfort as our bodies work so hard as women.
Please reach out with any questions as well. I am here to support you and love hearing from you.
In Love + Health,