On average, women experience 450 periods throughout their lifetime and 75% are affected by varying degrees of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) every month. Simply optimising our nutrition can alleviate symptoms and balance our hormones.
Here, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Mellissa Laycy, looks at common symptoms, what nutritional deficiencies could be making them worse and offers holistic tips and tools to help make fluctuating hormones more of a lullaby than a heavy metal concert.
What is PMS?
PMS is a condition that affects a woman's emotions, physical health, and behaviour during certain days of the menstrual cycle, which many doctors put down to a decline in hormone levels and a change in brain chemicals.
Symptoms differ from woman to woman and some of us suffer more than others, but here are 10 common signs to be aware of:
- Skin breakouts
- Tender breasts
- Discomfort in the lower back
- Food cravings
- The need for physical space
- Mood swings, including crying or feeling irritable and tense
- Hot flashes
Research shows that ensuring optimum levels of certain vitamins and minerals may alleviate PMS symptoms and help to balance out our hormones. Let’s look at some of the top nutritional suggestions.
If you’ve ever had a craving for chocolate at a certain time of your cycle, you might be surprised to know that this is your body’s cry for magnesium and knowing this might be helpful for those who struggle with weight gain due to hormonal cravings.
Applying a magnesium supplement daily to your abdomen and lower back can also naturally relax the muscles of the uterus and help to reduce abdominal discomfort during this time.
Plus, supplementing magnesium can help you to get a deeper and more restful night’s sleep, which means you will be feeling more energised during the day.
Low levels of vitamin D can lead to lower oestrogen levels, which in turn may cause us to experience symptoms such as mood swings, hot flashes, and low mood.
Vitamin D is a powerful nutrient that helps to regulate the body’s adrenaline and dopamine production, which is the feel-good hormone. It is suggested that people with low dopamine levels may be more susceptible to low mood, so it is essential to maintain healthy vitamin D levels, especially in the darker months when our exposure to sunlight is lessened.
Research has shown that a vitamin oral spray supplement is just as effective at elevating our vitamin D levels as traditional capsules, so if you suffer from a malabsorption disorder or simply dislike taking tablets, this could be the pill-free supplementation solution for you.
The most common cause of iron deficiency in premenopausal women is heavy bleeding during menstruation and you should test your levels if you think this might be an issue for you. You can do this by visiting your GP or healthcare professional, or by using a simple at-home finger-prick test.
Symptoms of deficiency to look out for include fatigue, pale skin, and shortness of breath.
To maintain healthy levels of this essential nutrient, try to eat lots of iron rich foods such as red meat, beans, nuts, and some dark leafy vegetables. It is also advisable to take an iron supplement to elevate levels if your intake is low.
Taking a well-balanced B-complex supplement can help to regulate PMS symptoms by reducing mood swings and irritability.
It is also said that the egg quality of women with optimised B-vitamin intakes is more easily fertilised, as B-vitamins help in the production of hormones that make the uterine lining stronger and positively impact levels of progesterone. Improving levels may therefore increase the chance of conception, if looking to conceive.
On the whole, society has learned to accept the symptoms associated with PMS as normal, but with a few nutritional and lifestyle tweaks, women shouldn’t have to suffer quite so much.
For those in a relationship, it is important to communicate with your partner about what takes place for you each month. I always recommend downloading a tracking app such as Clue or Flow which can act as a reminder for both of you to know what to expect over certain days of the month. Learning to predict your own emotions and behaviours, cravings, energy levels and sleep habits around this time can quell a lot of confusion.
I always suggest keeping a diary over three cycles to help you to start learning more about your cycle. The more familiar you are with the way your body works at this time, the more you can see a pattern and feel less worried, believe thoughts less and feel more secure with the process as your body fluctuates through hormonal changes which affect our mood.
A final note. Remember this is a time of letting go, resting, reflecting, going inward. Expect less from yourself, not more over this time and be kind to yourself.