People have often made jokes about the ways in which the ‘time of the month’ affect women’s moods, but many don’t realise how debilitating PMS or PMT can be. Whilst 90% of women experience some indication that ‘Aunt Flo’ is due to visit, around 40% of women in the childbearing age bracket (13-54 years of age) suffer from menstrual related disorders. From pain and moodiness to anxiety and migraines, some women are bed ridden with this monthly occurrence
Some women experience PMS with such severe symptoms that it impacts on personal relationships, social interactions and commitments, job performance and consequently attendance. 60% of sufferers experience a spike in the complexity and severity of their symptoms in their 30s, but PMS can affect women of any age.
What are the symptoms?
Some 35 years ago in 1980, PMS symptoms were split into 4 sub-categories and defined as a Pre-menstrual Tension. Many women suffering symptoms experience them from across the range of symptoms.
The PMT-A category, where A stand for Anxiety is the most commonly experienced section of symptoms, being prevalent in an around 66-80% of sufferers. A pretty high 60-66% of sufferers report symptoms from the PMT-H bracket. H pertains to hydration in this group. After this, around a quarter to a third of women felt the effects of PMT-C (Cravings). Just over 25% experience symptoms of depression and associated psychological problems from within the PMT-D group.
With the 1990s emerged a new sub-group; pertaining to the PMT-D category. This group effects only a low number of 5-10% of women but is severe, dangerous and debilitating. Known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD, this form of PMS is dominated by mood symptoms and obsessive personality disorders. Many women can make changes to this by addressing dietary and lifestyle choices.
The list of symptoms associated with PMS total around 200 and can include:
- Nervous tension
- Self-destructive behaviour
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Abdominal bloating
- Water retention
- Temperature fluctuations
- Breast pain
- Increased appetite
- Sugar cravings
- Crying spells
- Skin conditions such as eczema flare up
- Suicidal thoughts
- Extreme depression
- Extreme emotional distress
- Psychosocial impairment
- OCD exacerbated
- Obsessive behaviour
- Desire to harm self or others
Most women will experience at least some of these symptoms at some point in their lives. However, there are numerous changes to lifestyle, diet and exercise regime that can help to ease or completely alleviate the symptoms of PMS. Of course, if you are in the PMSDD group and are suffering from extreme and dangerous symptoms, it’s best to seek medical advice.
As with a large portion of health issues in life, recognizing that we are what we eat, and building a healthy eating plan around foods that we enjoy and which suit us is the start of overcoming symptoms. Certain food groups aggravate the onset of PMS, whilst others alleviate it.
This list comprises of the foods, from common categories which can drastically aggravate PMS, and as such should be avoided where possible:
Often vilified these days, carbs do have their important place within a healthy diet. However, foods high in fast-releasing sugars like the refined grains, sugar, candies, cakes and cookies can contribute to insulin resistance and ultimately lead to weight gain. Lower your intake of the refined versions, such as rice, potatoes and pasta, and take in more legumes and low GI forms of carb.
Largely derived from foods like red meat and dairy, as well as fried and processed foods, saturated fats increase weight gain and contribute to hormonal imbalances.
Unless it’s organic, the meat you buy in stores is often rife with mood affecting hormones and as such should be avoided. Ideally avoided altogether, certainly reducing intake during periods will help your body achieve equilibrium.
Red meat and dairy tend to be higher in saturated fats which will contribute to weight gain and increase feelings of fatigue, lethargy and sluggishness, which can be commonly experienced as part of PMT.
Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea and energy drinks. Despite combatting lethargy, these are often associated with insulin resistance and water retention. Frequently loaded with excessive sugars and sweeteners, sodas can wreak havoc with mood stability and weight management.
Whilst there are foods which inevitably exacerbate PMT conditions, so there are many which can help for various reasons.
Fresh nuts and seeds, particularly Brazil nuts contain high levels of essential fatty acids to assist metabolism and regulate insulin sensitivity and production. Restore prostaglandin metabolism by consuming more cold pressed oils and oily fish.
Just as the refined and ‘simple’ carbohydrates mess up your insulin regulators, complex carbs help influence stability. Include loads of legumes, and a little of brown rice, and wholemeal flours and other low GI carbs. Almost all highly colored fresh vegetables are lower in GI and help create some delicious meals. The brighter the color of your fruit and veg, then the more antioxidants it will contain to help you reduce oxidative stress. Increase cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, since these have a vital role to play in oestrogen metabolism. Other bright vegetables such as butternut squash, carrot, and sweet potato to name just a few help make up a better diet to combat PMS symptoms.
Where possible, increase vegetable sources of protein. Pulses, lentils, rice, and quinoa all contain good sources of vegetable protein. Lean, organic chicken or turkey and fish are excellent sources of animal protein, which won’t contribute to stress. Oily fish will actively alleviate symptoms. Also including live yoghurt with nothing added will encourage a healthy gut flora, reducing bloating and stomach cramps.
Include plentiful sources of dietary fiber. These include fresh, raw fruit and vegetables, whole grains (without too much gluten) rice, pulses and lentils. With a key role in hormonal balancing and mood stabilizing, dietary fiber is essential to supporting healthy intestines and regulating metabolism.
Many women suffer the effects if dehydration during menstruation. Ultimately temperatures rise, and you’re losing liquids, so it’s super important to remember to drink lots of water. Aim for two litres of water daily to help your inside, and your uterus stay cool. Ideally water should be drunk outside of meal time, and sipped slowly to avoid stress on the kidneys. You can include diluted fruit juices, organic vegetables juices and herbal teas as well as water to afford some variation.
Other lifestyle changes
Get more sleep
Whilst many women report difficulty in getting to sleep, this is often due to a rise in temperature. Lower the heating, open a window or switch to lighter blanket: whatever you do, ensure you are getting more sleep.
Identify any external causes of stress, and work to rid yourself of them. Additionally, adopting more effective time management will allow you to build in essential chill time. A relaxation or yoga class can be really beneficial.
A yoga vinyasa class will help you relax, focus on breathing and focus, so this can be a great type of exercises to help combat PMS. Additionally, dance is good for regulating breathing. One of the best forms of exercise during periods is actually having sex. It relaxes you, releases dopamine to the brain and secretes liquid, which helps to clean out your system.
And finally some great news
Dark chocolate contains high levels of magnesium, which can naturally be lowered by the PMS. Eating a few squares of dark chocolate every day helps to regulate these, without causing blood sugar spikes, and also curbs cravings. Rich in antioxidants, dark chocolate is a superfood when consumed in moderation.