Healthy Ways to Manage PMS
Are you plagued by mood swings, tension, irritability, headaches, bloating, food cravings or other bothersome symptoms before you get your period? If so, you're not alone. It's estimated that 85% of women suffer from one or more PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) symptoms during their reproductive years.1 The good news is you don't have to just grin and bear it every month. Managing your PMS symptoms can be as simple as changing your diet or increasing the amount of exercise you get.
PMS: How It Affects Your Body and Mind
The average menstruation cycle is about 28 days long and involves hormonal changes which can bring about a myriad of unwanted symptoms:
Digestive Problems including bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea
Aches and pains
Changes in vision
Feeling depressed or lonely
Poor memory or concentration.
PMS can also temporarily worsen chronic health problems such as allergies, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, and even seizure disorders.2
The actual cause of PMS symptoms is not known, but is believed to be tied to the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle which usually begins around day 14, two weeks before your next period. Since women differ widely in their hormone fluctuations, the intensity of their symptoms will also be varied. Some may experience mild PMS for only a few days while others may suffer from debilitating symptoms for up to 2 weeks before their period. Premenstrual dysphoria, a severe type of PMS, occurs in 5% of women and can seriously impact personal and work relationships in a negative way.2,7
Is It PMS Or Something Else?
Many women complain of symptoms before they get their period. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you have PMS if:
Symptoms occur in the five days before your period for at least 3 menstrual cycles in a row.
Symptoms end within 4 days of your period starting.
Symptoms interfere with some of your normal activities.2
Several PMS symptoms are also found in other chronic conditions like:
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Perimenopause (the period before entering into menopause)
That's why it's a good idea to consult your healthcare practitioner if you experience symptoms common to PMS and these chronic conditions. In order to tell if you have PMS, you should track your symptoms by keeping a journal for 2-3 months. This journal will help your healthcare practitioner determine if your symptoms are truly PMS in nature, thus enabling you to get appropriate care.
PMS: What You Can Do About It
If your healthcare practitioner determines that you have PMS, don't despair. There are many things you can do to manage your symptoms and improve the quality of your daily life. Several important areas to consider are:
Diet: You can start alleviating your PMS symptoms by reducing or, if possible, avoiding the following foods and beverages during the two weeks before your period:
Sugar: Consuming too much sugar has been shown to increase the risk of suffering from PMS.3
Alcohol: Limit consumption. Women who drank a lot of alcohol before their period were found to have more severe PMS symptoms.3
Caffeine: Like alcohol, drinking large amounts of caffeinated beverages may worsen your PMS symptoms.3 If you are a regular coffee drinker, you shouldn't stop drinking coffee all at once. If you do, you may get headaches as your body goes through caffeine withdrawal. Rather, gradually reduce your daily caffeine intake so that your body can slowly adjust to less caffeine. Eventually, you may be able to switch to decaf during the days that your PMS flares up.
Nutritional deficiencies: Low levels of calcium, magnesium, manganese, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins B6 and E may increase the severity of PMS symptoms.3,4 Make sure your diet includes:
Calcium-rich foods: Green leafy vegetables rather than consuming dairy products which may make you retain water, as well as worsen headaches and digestive problems.5
Magnesium: Green leafy vegetables, black beans, pumpkin seeds, avocados, almonds, figs.
Vitamin B6: Spinach, sweet potatoes, salmon, grass-fed beef, hazelnuts.
Vitamin E: Almonds, spinach sweet potatoes, avocados, sunflower seeds, olive oil.
Probiotics: Gut inflammation can have ill effects on every part of your body. Make sure you are taking a good probiotic.
Digestive problems and food allergies may prevent your body from absorbing these key nutrients. Ask your healthcare practitioner if you should consider taking nutritional supplements. He or she may decide to test you for deficiencies to determine if nutritional supplements are needed and to identify any digestive issues, food sensitivities or allergies.
Exercise: Getting regular exercise has been shown to be effective in reducing PMS symptoms. It raises your body's own endorphins to give you a feeling of well-being and reduce pain from menstrual cramps.4,5 See our blog on exercise for more information on the benefits of exercising and apps you can use to help you start and stick with your exercise regimen. If you don't already exercise, you can start by just taking a brisk walk outside for a half an hour on a daily basis.
Stress: Stress may be the new "normal", but there is nothing healthy or good about prolonged stress. The best place to start is to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. Getting into a regular sleeping pattern will help reduce the affects of stress on your body. This first step provides you with more reserve to draw upon as you make other lifestyle changes aimed at reducing your overall level of stress. During the week, try to make room in your schedule for an activity that helps you relax - be it reading a book, getting a massage, enjoying a meal with family, getting together with a friend or participating in a hobby. Activities like yoga and pilates are also incredibly effective in reducing stress. In fact, certain types of yoga have been found to lessen PMS symptoms in some women.6 Other stress-reducing activities include aromatherapy and warm foot baths using lavender.
Smoking: Stop smoking - it is known to worsen PMS symptoms.3
Acupuncture: Research has found acupuncture to be an effective way of treating PMS.
If you suffer from severe PMS symptoms like painful menstrual cramps that interfere with your daily activities, you should ask your healthcare practitioner how best to manage your symptoms. Several different approaches are available such as over-the-counter forms of pain relief or other conventional PMS treatments like hormone therapy, diuretics or anti-depressants. All of these therapies have side effects, so it's important to discuss treatment options with your healthcare practitioner when deciding which approach is best for you. Targeted nutritional supplements like EstroFactors provide a natural form of relief for PMS symptoms. Ask your h