Premenstrual syndrome refers to the physical, emotional and mental symptoms that occur from one to two weeks before menstruation and fade away at the onset of, or shortly after, menstruation. PMS is experienced by up to 90 per cent of women in varying degrees and while this statistic clearly demonstrates premenstrual symptoms are very common, it is important to know that they are certainly not normal.
Want the good news? It’s absolutely possible to have a pain- and symptom-free menstrual cycle. It’s helpful to think of the menstrual cycle as a “barometer or measure of health” and symptoms as “the body’s way of communicating that something is not quite right”. Each month, you are given the chance to connect with yourself and listen to what your body has to say.
So, what are your PMS symptoms telling you?
In a healthy menstrual cycle, your hormones will ebb and flow through the month. When your hormones are balanced, you are balanced and feel like your true, whole, healthy self. However, if your hormones are out of balance, you may experience some of the below symptoms.
- Breast pain and swelling
- Fluid retention and puffiness
Oestrogen dominance due to inadequate levels of progesterone, poor detoxification of oestrogen or increased exposure to xenoestrogens.
- Low mood/anxiety/depression/teariness
- Night sweats
A sudden decline in oestrogen in the luteal phase (second half of menstrual cycle) or low levels of progesterone, which may affect your feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and GABA. These neurotransmitters play a role in how you experience pain and how calm and balanced you feel.
Most commonly associated with high androgens, insulin resistance or inflammation.
Progesterone, which plays a role in relaxing the muscles in the digestive system causing peristalsis (muscle contractions in the gut that help push food through your intestines) to slow down.
Once progesterone declines, your digestive muscles kick-start again, which can lead to diarrhea. Another cause may be due to high levels of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which can cause contractions in the bowel leading to loose stools.
- Increased hunger
It is very normal to have an increased appetite in the lead-up to your period, however if it is insatiable or you’re craving junk food, it could be due to imbalanced blood sugars or not eating enough complex carbohydrates.
5 tips for reducing PMS
It is exciting to know that PMS symptoms respond very well to natural treatments. Here are five tips you can implement today to help reduce PMS symptoms:
Manage stress levels
Women who are under high stress are two to three times more likely to experience PMS symptoms. To manage this, implement daily stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, stretches in the lounge room, Epsom salt baths, dancing, journalling — whatever it is to shake off the day’s stressors. Limiting caffeine intake if you are feeling stressed is very important as caffeine stimulates the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Aim to have eight hours of quality sleep a night
Sleep is fundamental for balancing hormones and supporting a calm nervous system and a lack of sleep has been associated with worsening of PMS symptoms. Create a nightly wind-down ritual to improve your slumber such as sipping a calming herbal tea (passionflower, chamomile or peppermint), spraying some lavender on your pillow and turning screens off at least one hour before bed.
Reduce inflammatory foods in your diet
Inflammation impairs ovulation and is associated with acne, painful periods, low mood and weight gain. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet rich in colourful fruit and vegetables, whole grains, good-quality protein and healthy fats.
Supplement with magnesium, zinc and B6
This combination of vitamins and minerals is required for healthy ovulation and hormone production.
Reduce “liver loaders”
“Liver loaders” are things like alcohol, too much caffeine, chemical exposure, plastic, pesticides and genetically modified foods (GMO). The liver is in charge of filtering out toxins from the body but if it is loaded up with excess chemicals, toxins and harmful substances, the detoxification process can become compromised and toxins and excess hormones won’t be able to be filtered out efficiently. This can result in tender breasts, fluid retention, acne, mood and hormonal imbalances.
Partying versus PMS
You may notice some menstrual cycles are better than others. This is because your lifestyle, diet and the amount of stress you experience directly impact your hormones and period. If you have been under a lot of stress, not eaten well or have been partying a little bit too much, you can bet your period is going to be worse than the months where you were looking after yourself.