A staggering 70 – 90% of women suffer every month with premenstrual symptoms, ranging from breast tenderness, weight gain and mood swings, to cravings, irritability and lack of energy. For 30 – 40% of these women, PMS symptoms can be so debilitating that they interfere with normal daily function.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is the general umbrella term, describing a group of over 150 physical and psychological symptoms, which can occur between ovulation and the start of a woman’s menstrual period; often only subsiding a few days into the period.
PMS differs from one woman to another, and ranges from mild, to a severe form known as pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Symptoms vary in type, amount and duration too, lasting anything from a few days, to over a couple of weeks in extreme cases.
Whilst it is a complex health problem with a range of possible underlying causes, PMS isn’t however, something that you just need to live with; it is completely possible to sail through your monthly cycle symptom-free.
If PMS is affecting your life, read on. Here we’ve put together a simple 5-step plan that you can use to get started on the path towards being PMS-free.
Before you begin with the 5-step plan, it’s important to get a baseline idea of where you are now, and then track your progress alongside any changes you make. Tracking progress may seem like an unnecessary hassle, however it vastly increases the likelihood of you sticking to dietary and lifestyle changes. Fill out the PMS Questionnaire to start with and keep track of your symptoms using the PMS Symptoms Tracker.
PMS – 5 Step Plan
1) Deal with stress – There can be many different underlying causes of PMS, however, stress is almost always involved to some degree. If you are struggling with monthly PMS symptoms, it’s crucial to take steps to reduce stress in your life. So important it’s worth repeating. If you are struggling with monthly PMS symptoms, it’s crucial to take steps to reduce stress in your life! The first step is to identify the main sources and work out if there are any practical ways you can lessen the load. The second step then is to regularly practice stress-reduction strategies to help you to deal with stress more effectively when it does come along. Gentle exercise such as yoga and walking are known to provide stress relief, as too is starting (and keeping up) a daily mindfulness meditation practice. www.headspace.com is a great place to begin. From a psychological perspective, when faced with stress, the most important thing you can do is to do something. Any positive action, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, will help you to regain a sense of control. This then sends the message to your unconscious mind that you can cope, which helps to build psychological resilience.
2) Increase dietary fibre – For some women, excess oestrogen in relation to progesterone can be at the root cause of PMS symptoms. Insoluble dietary fibre such as lignin (found in flaxseeds and the bran layer of grains, beans and seeds) is important for helping to eliminate excess oestrogen out of the system and to bring hormones back into balance. Increase flaxseeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, wholegrains such as oats and rye, beans, lentils and chickpeas. Fibre also helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer, so can help to reduce sugary cravings. It may help to regulate bowel movements too.
3) Reduce sugar, caffeine & alcohol – Whilst it may seem a step too far to completely eliminate these from your diet, aim to at least reduce your intake by half if you want to get on top of PMS symptoms. Research has shown that the higher the level of sugar in a woman’s diet, the more severe her pre-menstrual symptoms will be. Caffeine is a stimulant that can exacerbate PMS symptoms, by contributing to the roller coaster of mood swings and sugar cravings. Alcohol takes its toll on the liver; affecting its’ ability to effectively detoxify hormones that are no longer needed (such as oestrogen) and can also cause blood sugar fluctuations, which are bad news for PMS. Drink plenty of water, choose fruity and herbal teas and try out these delicious sugar-free dessert recipes.
4) Eat regularly – Regular meals and snacks keep blood sugar levels nicely balanced, which is crucial if you want to reduce PMS symptoms. That’s because even blood sugar levels help to regulate stress hormones, which in turn help to keep hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone in balance. It’s a complicated picture, however all you need to know is that eating regularly is crucial for PMS improvement. Aim for 3 meals and 3 snacks daily. Choose fresh wholefoods (plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein such as chicken and fish, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, oily fish, beans, pulses and lentils) cooked from scratch.
5) Increase magnesium, calcium, B vitamins & myo-inositol – Magnesium is often referred to as nature’s tranquiliser, due to its calming, soothing effects and impact on restful sleep, and is arguably the most crucial nutrient when it comes to PMS. Women with PMS have been shown to have low red blood cell magnesium compared to women without symptoms. A number of studies have also shown that magnesium supplements help with premenstrual symptoms, especially anxiety, tension and headaches. Low calcium is associated with irritability, anxiety, low mood, fatigue and muscle cramps. B vitamins are crucial for hormone balance, especially vitamin B6, which works closely with magnesium and plays an important role in making brain chemicals, which influence mood and behaviour. Myo-inositol is a naturally occurring, nutrient-like substance that has been studied in a variety of mood and behavioural disorders. A recent study in women with pre menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) found that supplementation with 2g myo-inositol daily was able to significantly reduce symptoms.
Take the first step to being PMS-free…
PMS is a complex health problem affecting many women every month. The good news is that dietary and lifestyle changes can be incredibly effective at bringing back a sense of balance and wellbeing. Taking steps to reduce stress, improve your diet and optimise nutrient intake can have almost immediate effects on symptoms, which in turn becomes a motivating force to propel you towards even more positive changes. As with any health problem, the most important step to take is the first one - print out the PMS questionnaire & PMS symptoms tracker to get started straightaway!
PMS 5 Step plan – In A Nutshell
1. Deal With Stress - Identify any significant stressors in your life. Integrate stress reduction strategies into your weekly routine.
2. Increase Dietary Fibre - Increase flaxseeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, wholegrains such as oats and rye, beans, lentils and chickpeas.
3. Reduce Sugar, Caffeine & Alcohol - Drink plenty of water, choose fruit and herbal teas and try out these delicious sugar-free dessert recipes.
4. Eat Regularly - Aim for 3 meals and 3 snacks daily. Choose wholefoods cooked from scratch.
5. Supplement Magnesium, Calcium, B Vitamins & Myo-Inositol - These key nutrients have a range of functions that may be beneficial in supporting PMS.
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