Balanced Living

A Monthly Battle - Understanding PMS

Posted by Arja on September 18 in Women's Health

If you’re a woman who has hit puberty (and maybe even moved beyond!), chances are you’ve experienced premenstrual syndrome (PMS) at some point in your life.  It’s far too common, affecting 50-70% of all women.  This high rate of occurrence has made it something that most accept as a normal part of being a menstruating woman.  The thing is, the sometimes devastating symptoms are actually the result of hormonal imbalances and shouldn’t be accepted as normal at all.  There are actually many women who experience no PMS and virtually effortless periods, so shouldn’t we all?

PMS symptoms typically appear 7-10 days before a woman gets her period.  Some women experience symptoms even earlier, and the intensity can definitely vary throughout the cycle.  Typical symptoms include:

• Swollen, tender breasts
• Cramps, bloating
• Food cravings
• Skin problems (like acne)
• Headaches, migraines
• Constipation, diarrhea
• Anxiety, irritability, depression, moodiness
• Fatigue
• Backache

That’s a pretty hefty list isn’t it?  You may even see a few things on there that you didn’t realize could actually be the result of PMS.  One of the hallmark symptoms of PMS is the moodiness, or irritability, and in some women these symptoms are so severe that it has a damaging effect on their lives as they are unable to control their angry outbursts.  Despite the fact that PMS gets blamed for most moodiness that a woman experiences (I’m sure most of us have been asked if it’s “that time of the month again” before), not all women experience PMS.  Why is it that some women suffer and others don’t?

In most situations hormonal imbalances are at the root of the problem.  Excess estrogen, an excess or deficiency in progesterone, high levels of aldosterone, thyroid imbalances, or excess prolactin are all some of the possible hormonal imbalance scenarios.  Poor liver and/or bowel function can also play a big role as the liver helps the body detoxify itself of excess hormones (particularly estrogen) which must then be excreted through bowel movements or they get reabsorbed by the body.  Not having regular bowel movements (at least once per day), or not supporting healthy liver function can definitely contribute to hormonal issues. 

Along with these imbalances, some PMS sufferers experience excess or deficiencies in prostaglandins that can create their symptoms.  Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that regulate things like inflammation, some reproductive functions, and other physiological responses.  An imbalance can cause symptoms like swollen, tender breasts.

Nutrient excesses and deficiencies can also play a role in PMS.  Research has shown that women who suffer from PMS tend to consume more refined sugars, carbohydrates, dairy, and salt than those who do not experience PMS symptoms.  Studies have also shown that women who consume a vegetarian diet are less likely to experience PMS-related symptoms.  While becoming a vegetarian is an unlikely scenario for many of you, if you’re experiencing PMS and looking for some relief here are a few tips that might help:

1. Cut back on your caffeine intake. This includes coffee, chocolate, pop, and black tea.  You don’t need to give up coffee (or tea) altogether, but cutting back to one small cup from 3 large ones can make a big difference.  You’ll be   less dehydrated, sleep better, experience less anxiety, and the list goes on.  Consider supplementing one cup of coffee with an herbal tea, and another with a green tea.
2. Take a close look at your diet and eliminate refined sugars and flours as much as possible. The occasional treat isn’t going to be the end of you, but your daily focus should be on as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, and high-fibre whole grains.  A diet like this will help your body eliminate excess estrogen.
3. If you eat meat, or other animal products, consider choosing organic or naturally raised (without antibiotics or hormones). Meat and dairy products are sources of xenoestrogens.  Xenoestrogens are potent estrogen mimickers found in pesticides, beef (due to hormones given to them), dairy, cosmetics, plastics, cleaning chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.  They are man-made, but similar in structure to the hormones our own body makes and can bind to the same receptor sites.  They cannot, however, be neutralized in the body in the same way that naturally occurring hormones can and therefore more xenoestrogens are left free in the body.  Xenoestrogens are a whole blog topic unto themselves which will be covered later.
4. Consider having your thyroid checked as low thyroid hormone levels can contribute to severe PMS symptoms.
5. Get regular exercise and consider acupuncture and breathing exercises. These lifestyle techniques have been shown to help women suffering from PMS.

If you’re one of the 50-70% of women who suffers from PMS you don’t have to accept this as normal!  Try making some nutritional and lifestyle changes, and if you still find yourself struggling, reach out and get some help.  Our hormones may rule our lives, but they don’t have to ruin our lives.

arja pennanen lytle c.n.p. n.n.c.p certified nutritional practitioner

Arja is a Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for balanced living. She loves to help people sleep better, think better, feel sexier, and just generally feel better by putting the focus on eating foods that make you feel good. Arja uses whole foods, lifestyle adjustments, herbs, and some supplements to help people feel their best and achieve their health and wellness goals.