Believe it or not, the monthly mood swings, breast tenderness, irritability, cravings and weight gain don’t have to come with the territory of being female.
What is PMS?
PMS (premenstrual syndrome) involves many different symptoms lasting from a few days to two weeks prior to menstruation. The symptoms, along with their intensity, can vary from month to month, but usually end after the first or second day of bleeding when the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle begins. The time before the menstrual flow, coinciding with PMS, is called the luteal phase. It begins at ovulation and continues until the first day of bleeding.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that at least 85 percent of menstruating women have at least one or more symptoms of PMS as part of their monthly cycle. Symptoms may vary widely, but often include a mix of physical and emotional changes including water retention, abdominal fullness, breast tenderness, weight gain, acne, digestive disturbances, cravings, depression and fatigue. You may find it helpful to record your symptoms in a PMS tracker.
How to improve your symptoms
Here are some factors that could be increasing severity of your PMS symptoms.
Excess sugar/processed foods: Excess sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, caffeine or alcohol, along with insufficient protein, healthy fats, fibre and complex carbohydrates, can contribute to PMS. An improper diet results in hormonal imbalance, inflammation, weight gain and nutrient deficiencies that may contribute to PMS.
Progesterone deficiency: Stress causes a depletion of the hormone progesterone as its production is limited, while increasing the long-term stress hormone cortisol. Progesterone, naturally highest in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, works wonderfully to prevent many PMS symptoms such as anxiety, headaches, sleep disruption, water retention and breast tenderness.
Excess stress: Stress also depletes serotonin and dopamine, two mood-enhancing hormones involved in the prevention of PMS symptoms such as breast pain, digestive upset, cravings, depression, anxiety, poor concentration and lack of motivation. Stress also raises the hormone aldosterone, which contributes to water retention and magnesium loss.
Estrogen dominance: When we take the birth control pill or other forms of medications containing estrogen, estrogen dominance arises. Excess estrogen is linked to PMS as well as to uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts and risk of breast cancer. Abnormally high levels of estrogen in the luteal phase may cause emotional symptoms such as irritability and aggression in addition to many physical PMS symptoms.
Nutrient deficiency: Magnesium, vitamin B6, calcium, folic acid and essential fatty acids are essential for the prevention and treatment of PMS. Vitamin B6 and magnesium are especially helpful for breast pain, water retention, cravings, tension headaches, depression and anxiety.
Toxicity: Yeast overgrowth, lack of fibre or beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract compromises estrogen breakdown and elimination. Poor liver function or limited bile flow will also cause estrogen dominance because bile is high in estrogen metabolites.
Excess prolactin: Some women with PMS have abnormally elevated amounts of prolactin. Prolactin, a hormone naturally produced when we breast-feed, also increases with stress (stress depletes dopamine and dopamine keeps prolactin in check) or with a prolactin-secreting tumor. High prolactin causes infertility, menstrual abnormalities and PMS symptoms including breast tenderness and swelling, anxiety and irritability.
Hypothyroidism: Underactive thyroid disease should be considered as a possible cause of PMS symptoms. Progesterone, the same hormone that if deficient causes PMS, is also necessary for healthy thyroid gland function.
Three tips for PMS relief
1. Detox your body: Remove alcohol, caffeine, sugar, processed flours and inflammatory fats such as those found in full-fat dairy products, red meats, peanuts, margarines, shortening, and hydrogenated oils from your diet. Limiting salt can also help. Eat a balance of lean protein (organic chicken, turkey, tempeh, nuts, omega-3 eggs), healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, etc.) and complex carbohydrates (kamut, beans, rye, oats, fruits, vegetables) every three to four hours during the day. This will stabilize blood sugars and avoid undue stress and hormonal imbalance because of skipped meals.
Probiotic supplements will establish healthy bacterial balance in your digestive system and support the breakdown and elimination of estrogen. Address constipation (less than one bowel movement per day) quickly. It significantly contributes to toxicity, hormonal imbalance and future risk of disease. For constipation and to help PMS symptoms, have 1-3 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds daily for fibre, lignands and phytoestrogens. Sprinkle these onto your salads or into your oatmeal and you will acquire four of the recommended daily intake of 35 grams of fibre. Add a hypoallergenic fibre supplement to your smoothies as well and you’ll gain another eight.
I have also formulated Clear Detox Hormonal Health to assist with liver detoxification and the removal of excess hormonal waste, particularly toxic estrogen, which can lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss. Take one pack at breakfast unless you are on a thyroid medication each morning. In this case it should be taken at lunch.
2. Improve your vitamin regime: Include these in your daily supplement intake.
- A high potency multivitamin with breakfast and dinner. This will provide the nutrients needed for hormonal balance while also maintaining your metabolism and energy levels.
- Calcium/magnesium citrate in a 1:1 ratio with vitamin D3. Magnesium helps fluid retention, breast tenderness, anxiety, fatigue and bloating while calcium assists with cramping and other PMS symptoms because it is specifically involved in estrogen detoxification.
- Vitamin B complex (preferably higher in vitamin B6). This can reduce water retention, breast tenderness and irritability.
- Fish oil (EPA/DHA) and evening primrose oil taken daily may reduce breast tenderness, mood changes, weight gain, abdominal pain, and cravings associated with PMS. These fats influence the production of prostaglandins that regulate pain and inflammation in the body as well as aid hormonal balance.
- Taking a vitamin E supplement that contains all the types of vitamin E (especially gamma tocopherol) reduces the production of prostaglandins that contribute to cramps and breast tenderness.
3. Boost your exercise and reduce your stress: Improve hormonal balance and stress recuperation by sleeping seven and a half to nine hours each night, in pitch black. Exercise for 30 minutes at least 3-4 times per week to reduce stress and tension and to improve mood. Aerobic exercises such as cycling, walking or running improve moods and reduce pain. Practice progressive relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga or deep breathing to help stress-related symptoms such as headaches, anxiety or sleeping troubles.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and her newest release, The Supercharged Hormone Diet, now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.