Premenstrual syndrome or PMS as we so lovingly call it seems to have affected most women (and probably most men if they cop the wrong end of it- sorry!) at some point in their lives. But when did PMS become the norm? And why do women think that they have no other choice but to feel moody, have cramps, get bloated and have tender breasts every month? Because PMS doesn’t have to be the norm… that’s right, your periods can be just a little blip in the road reminding you’re your hormones are doing what they are supposed to rather than Mount Everest eruption of emotions every time your period springs on you. Want to find out how… read on 😉
Firstly, what is PMS?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is essentially a group of symptoms linked to the menstrual cycle that can occur 4-10 days prior to a women having her period and usually stop once bleeding begins. These symptoms can include acne, swollen or tender breasts, feeling tired, upset stomach (bloating, diarrhoea, constipation), headache, backaches, appetite changes or food cravings, mood swings, irritability, tension, crying spells, anxiety, depression and joint/ muscle aches… sounds horrific right? PMS can affect menstruating women of any age, with the effect it can have for each woman varying depending on what is the underlying cause of it. And while some women may only think of PMS as a monthly bother, others experience such severe symptoms it is a struggle to even get though the day.
Why might you experience it?
The menstrual cycle is a pretty amazing indicator of what is going on inside the body and there are a variety of reasons why women may experience PMS with some being more complicated than others…
TOO MUCH OESTROGEN:
Whilst oestrogen is one of the main sex hormones in the body, it is also required for many body functions including maintaining bone health, a strong heart and potentially insulin sensitivity. When oestrogen levels become too high in the body it is usually a reflection of the liver working over time, causing your liver to recycle oestrogen back into your body rather than detoxifying it. But, why would your liver recycle your oestrogen instead of clearing it?
The liver has a lot of jobs other than just clearing oestrogen from the body, including detoxifying liver loaders such as alcohol, caffeine, refined sugars, pesticides, medications, plastics, skin care products and trans fats (to name a few). If the liver becomes too busy detoxifying all these other liver loaders, then oestrogen clearance becomes the livers second priority. This causes oestrogen to be sent back into the body only to be returned to the liver again hoping to be detoxified this time. Problems arise when oestrogen is continually not made a priority to be detoxified from the body as it causes an excessive amount of oestrogen to circulate around our blood stream. This accumulation of oestrogen in the body can be called “oestrogen dominance” and it can also contribute to a reduction in our other reproductive hormones such as progesterone.
Signs of oestrogen dominance: PMS symptoms such as swollen and tender breasts, mood swings, irritability, sadness, fluid retention; additionally to PMS it also causes heavy, clotty, painful periods as well as signalling for fat to be laid down on the hips and upper thighs giving women that ‘pear shape’.
LACK OF PROGESTERONE:
Progesterone’s role in the menstrual cycle is predominately to do with the uterus lining… After ovulation, if conception takes place, progesterone’s job is to hold the lining of the uterus in place. However, if conception doesn’t take place progesterone levels fall away causing the uterus lining to shed which triggers menstruation. Amazing right!! Progesterone also has many roles in the body including acting as a powerful anti-depressant and anti-anxiety agent, a diuretic, and helping the body access fat stores to burn as energy.
Progesterone is predominately produced by the corpus luteum in the ovaries, as well as in smaller amounts by the adrenal glands. The production of progesterone can be effected as a result of too much oestrogen (as discussed above); as a consequence of a high stress lifestyle; or a deficiency in nutrients magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C. For example, when the body is under constant stress it goes into “flight-or-fight” mode where it perceives your life to be in danger and the last thing it wants to do is bring a baby into the world. Therefore, it shuts down your adrenal glands production of progesterone, reducing the amount available in the body to do all those amazing jobs we spoke about. So it makes sense that if you have low progesterone production why you might feel anxious or moody, experience excess fluid retention and struggle to burn that excess weight, right??
Signs of low progesterone production: Weight gain, high stress levels, fluid retention, low moods, irregular menstrual cycle, low libido, hot flushes.
NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES (Magnesium & Vitamin B6):
Vitamin B6 is a cofactor involved in the production of your “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin which impacts your mood, memory and sleep. If your body is deficient in vitamin B6 due dietary insufficiency, malabsorption, alcoholism for example, then your body may struggle make sufficient amounts of serotonin leading to symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and moodiness during PMS. Additionally, studies have shown that combining vitamin B6 with magnesium supplementation results in significantly lower anxiety-related PMS symptoms!
Magnesium has also been found to ease PMS symptoms including headaches, sugar cravings, dizziness, tender breasts, fluid retention, period cramps, irritability and constipation. These two nutrients both play a role in the balance between oestrogen and progesterone with magnesium supporting the break down of excess oestrogen and vitamin B6 helping to form the corpus luteum, which is your big progesterone maker. Pretty amazing hey… therefore, if you have a deficiency in these nutrients no wonder your PMS is giving you a hard time!
Increased inflammation in the body as a result of poor gut health/ imbalance in gut bacteria, a poor-quality diet that is too high in processed foods or having a high stress lifestyle can also contribute to an imbalance in hormone levels, therefore contributing to symptoms of PMS.
REPRODUCTIVE CONDITIONS SUCH AS ENDOMETRIOSIS OR PCOS:
This is a whole other kettle of fish so to speak as these conditions when unmanaged can contribute to a wide variety of PMS and menstrual symptoms. Therefore, if you have these conditions or are experiencing symptoms such as…
Endometriosis: Painful period, pain with bowel movements, pain with intercourse, heavy uncontrollable periods with clotting, premenstrual bleeding or spotting between cycles, chronic pelvic pain, pain in your legs, thighs and/or back, and infertility.
PCOS: infrequent, irregular or prolonged periods (Eg. You may have 40 day menstrual cycles or only have a period 8 times a year), hirsutism (abnormal hair growth in places such as upper lip or belly), severe acne, ovarian cysts, painful periods.
… I recommend you speak to your nutritionist, natural health practitioner or GP to develop an effective treatment plan to target the underlying reasons these symptoms are occurring. If this sounds like you send me a message here and I can help you in the right direction!
What can I do about it?
YOU’VE GOT TOO MUCH OESTROGEN:
Giving your liver some lovin’ is the best way to help reduce oestrogen levels. Do this by increasing your intake of brassica vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts into your diet! Brassica vegetables contain Indole-3-Carbinol which helps to bind to oestrogen and clear it from the body. Other ways to naturally support your liver include increasing your turmeric and antioxidant intake (Eg. berries) to decongest the liver from the liver loaders we spoke of before. Additionally, try minimising your bodies exposure to the liver loaders to give your body a break and see how you feel! Try the Kale Chips recipe here to get started!
YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH PROGESTERONE:
If your low progesterone is a result of too much oestrogen follow the guidelines above. Alternatively, if your low progesterone is a result of high stress levels then implement some activities to calm your nervous system down and switch out of that “flight-or-fight” mode. This could include taking 10-minutes a day to put your legs up the wall, going for a walk with a friend, or listening to some music, whatever helps you to de-stress and unwind. Increasing your nutrient intake of magnesium and vitamin B6, as well as some vitamin C, are an effective way to improve progesterone production too! Read below of how to increase these nutrients.
YOU HAVE A NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES:
To resolve your nutrient deficiencies it is best to speak with your nutritionist who can guide you as to whether supplements are required to boost your levels of magnesium and vitamin B6 initially. Additionally, including dietary sources of magnesium such as dark leafy greens, nuts, whole grains, avocados, bananas and beans + dietary sources of vitamin B6 such as seafood, lean meats, eggs and legumes will also help support nutritional levels of these nutrients. Vitamin C also has a role to play in improving your hormonal balance through supporting your adrenal glands as well as acting as a powerful antioxidant for the liver! Food sources of vitamin C include capsicums, strawberries, kiwi fruits, dark green leafy vegetables and oranges.
YOUR BODY HAS INFLAMMATION:
If inflammation is your PMS trigger the best thing is to avoid foods that are processed, contain trans fats and refined sugars. Instead increase your intake of fruit and vegetables, good quality proteins, fish, healthy fats such as olive oil and avocado, and fibre. Through naturally increasing these anti-inflammatory foods and reducing the inflammatory foods you will not only take the load of your digestive system you will also support your liver. Additionally, speaking with your nutritionist about underlying gut issues or eliminating other potentially inflammatory foods such as gluten/ dairy may also benefit you by creating a more tailored approach!
PMS can be as simple as implementing a few of these changes or it can be more complicated due to there being a deeper underlying cause to your PMS. If you have any questions about how this information may relate to your symptoms and/or if your PMS symptoms are effecting you ability to function on a day-to-day basis, send me a message here 🙂