We females all share a common monthly experience. It’s a time when curling up with a heat pad, drinking a hot drink and lots of TLC are most definitely called for. For me the cramps can be a battle, I go pale and have to take to bed. It’s agony to be honest.
I have learned to become very aware of my body and its signals; I guess that’s the same for you?
After all we know our own bodies best and can gauge our well being each and every day.
Every month about a week before my period is due; it is like someone flicks a switch in my body. I can just sense it and oh boy it sends me reminders, many things start to happen- I am more tired than usual, I notice it in the mornings being more of a struggle getting up, I feel a bit heavy and bloated, I get irritable and moody! It can feel like I become irrational with the potential to snap over something stupid yet it feels like I am compelled to behave erratically, my body gets taken over, it’s like my remote control has been hacked! I crave foods and chocolate is just essential. And for no apparent reason or very little I just get weepy and find myself sitting with tears rolling down my face asking myself, why am I upset? What’s wrong with me? Even though it is obvious what’s wrong, nothing but my body chemistry doing its thing yet it is this series of chemical reactions, nature’s timely movement of chemical messengers that can create such chaos almost creating a Jekyll and Hyde personality change!
I feel a bit like a Pre-Menstrual Monster!
It’s hormonal of course as we all know, how many times do we say “I’m a bit hormonal!”
To help identify the variety of PMS symptoms, the most useful system I have seen is that developed by Dr Guy Abraham where PMS is divided into 4 different subgroups. Each subgroup has its own specific symptoms, hormonal patterns and metabolic changes. Usually we experience an overlap between different subgroups, it’s not a case of fitting into one uniquely.
PMS-Type A (A = anxiety) This is the most common subgroup and is strongly associated with excessive oestrogen and deficient progesterone levels. Typical symptoms in this are anxiety, irritability and emotional instability.
PMS- Type C (C = carbohydrate craving) This subgroup is associated with increased appetite, craving for sugar, headache, fatigue, fainting spells, and heart palpitations. Glucose tolerance tests (GTT) performed on PMS-Type C patients five to ten days before their menses showed a flattening of the early part of the curve (which usually implies excessive secretion of insulin in response to sugar consumption), whereas during other parts of the menstrual cycle their GTT is normal. There is not a definite clear explanation for this phenomenon, although appears to be regulated by hormones and other factors like high salt intake or low magnesium may be involved.
PMS-Type D (D = depression) This is the least common subgroup. Its key symptom as the name implies is depression, caused by low levels of chemical neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. In PMS-Type D patients, there is a decreased level of oestrogen which is the opposite of PMS-Type A. Stress has been linked to a decrease in oestrogen levels.
PMS-Type H (H = hyper hydration) This subgroup is characterized by weight gain (greater than three pounds), abdominal bloating and discomfort, breast tenderness and congestion and occasional swelling of the face, hands and ankles. An excess of the hormone aldosterone causes fluid retention and this imbalance may arise due to stress, excess oestrogen levels, high salt intake and low magnesium.
So what can you do to help your PMS?
Well firstly evaluate your PMS symptoms. I have recorded and scored myself out of 10 in terms of PMS and menstruation severity over the past 2 years. I know it might sound a bit OTT but it has helped me to rate my PMS and how the monthly rollercoaster was affecting my emotions. I have recognised patterns in my own chemistry balance and a few things I have done really have helped to sort out my symptoms .
Of course you should discuss any of your symptoms with your doctor first.
Generally, increase vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds in your nutrition which is sound advice anyhow even if you don’t have PMS issues. Reduce sugar which is something I keep mentioning (SEE HERE) in relation to its effects on our body chemistry and fat storage. Keep salt intake low (guidelines for adults is no more than 6g).
I take a good quality multivitamin but not all the time, I do 2-3 months then give myself a break; it ensures I am getting a ‘little bit of everything’.
Vitamin B6 – this is one of my added essentials for PMS and since using it over the past couple of years I have noticed a big difference in my symptoms. If I don’t take it for a month or so I can tell the difference so I have done my own control trial! Vitamin B6 plays a vital role in synthesising the chemical neurotransmitters that control mood and behaviour. In order for your body to convert B6 (as pyridoxine) into its active form (pyridoxal-5-phosphate) which your body can use, it needs magnesium. So if you take B6 on its own but are deficient in other nutrients your body may not be able to use that B6 properly. Magnesium is like nature’s tranquilliser so it really helps with any associated PMS anxiety and tension. A magnesium deficiency can cause blood vessels to spasm so if you suffer from menstrual migraines magnesium may be a help.
Essential Fats – Omega 3- Fats! Another one of my favourite things and Signs of an Omega 3 fatty acids deficiency are dry skin, lifeless hair, cracked nails, fatigue, depression, dry eyes, lack of motivation, aching joints, difficulty in losing weight, forgetfulness and breast pain. What a list! And that’s what you get with low fat or no fat diets. Take a listen to my audio podcast on the 3 Key Weight Loss Mistakes You Must Avoid Right Now where I talk about my experience of this.
When you eat Omega 3 fatty acids they are converted to chemicals which have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Some women use evening primrose oil supplements which are Omega 6 fatty acids, if this helps your PMS great! Just make sure you are getting a balance of Omega 3 fatty acids too in your diet as often we are getting enough omega-6 but not enough Omega 3.
I have also found amazing PMS relief using a herb called Agnus Castus. It helps to balance female hormones and is supported by clinical evidence –a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, parallel group comparison involving 170 women over three menstrual using dry extract of agnus castus showed a significant improvement in PMS symptoms. Again if I am not consistent taking Agnus Castus, there is a noticeable difference!
You must not take this herb if you are using the Pill, Fertility drugs, HRT or any other hormonal treatment or other medications. Check with your doctor first.
The good news is that PMS doesn’t have to hijack your emotions.