Throughout your cycle, hormonal changes may cause significant physical and emotional changes.
You go from calm to energetic, sexy and outgoing to a blubbering mess that can kill anything that moves. Pre-menstrual syndrome is an unpredictable beast but can diet really help relieve symptoms?
Before your period begins, both oestrogen and progesterone fall. Progesterone however tends to fall at a faster rate than osetrogen (resulting in oestrogen dominance), leaving you feeling hungry, tired, moody, possibly experiencing head aches, breast pain, feeling constipated and like you've got a football under your jumper.
During peri-menopause, estrogen fluctuates like a yo yo whilst progesterone tends to drop at a steady rate; it's mostly the oestrogen peaks and troughs that can cause the feeling you might be losing the plot as it's rare that any 2 days are the same.
Some women may also show higher levels of other hormones such as prolactin and cortisol (due to stress) which may also contribute to these symptoms.
We've known for some time that mood influences our food choices; when we feel low or emotional we are more likely to want foods that make us feel better, hence the desire for chocolate or other sweet stuff.
But we also know that food plays a big part in influencing our mood. With less time and more pressure these days, we are eating more more on-the-go, more convenience foods and turning to more caffeine and alcohol to keep us going. There is definitely growing evidence that shows diet is involved in either the development of PMS or contributes to the severity of symptoms.
What we eat is hugely important in managing PMS but it won't be the only factor. It is also important you listen to your body about what else it needs too. You may need to adjust your schedule and factor in some restoration and recuperation time if you struggle with your PMS symptoms.
Here are my top 6 tips to (hopefully) an easier life
1. Eat regularly and perhaps more than usual. Hormone fluctuations during your cycle can play havoc with your appetite.
Your appetite and energy levels will also have a direct impact on your mood so avoid becoming overly hungry, or hangry because your rationale brain will go on holiday. You may need to plan and get more organised so you have more food options to hand if your schedule is busy.
If you're mood is already low, then eating sporadically or skipping a meal will only make you more irritable as blood sugar levels plummet. Insulin sensitivity increases at this time too, making your blood sugar levels fluctuate more than usual. Try not to worry about wanting to eat more when you are premenstrual. If your choices are nutritious, you will be better supporting your body’s needs.
2. Choose whole grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. Eating well all month long is always going to be a better approach to PMS compared to tweaking your diet when you have symptoms and trying to play catch up.
Enjoy plenty of colorful, fiber-packed fruits and vegetables; eat the rainbow. Include whole grains like brown or red rice, quinoa, oats or spelt. You can also buy more unusual grains like freekeh and amaranth from health food shops. These will help with appetite control, help balance and sustain your energy levels. Fortified breads and cereals also supply plenty of important B-vitamins.
3. Consider a vitamin B complex supplement if you struggle with your PMS. Research has found that women with higher intakes of thiamine (vitamin B-1), riboflavin (vitamin B-2) and pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) had a significantly lower risk of PMS. These vitamins may certainly help temper mood changes but are also central to releasing energy from the foods we eat so may play a role in combating fatigue.
Magnesium is a mineral that may also help fight the fatigue associated with PMS: go for dark green leafy greens, quinoa, black beans and edamame beans, almonds and tofu for a natural top up.
Evening primrose oil and fish oils may help alleviate symptoms, as they provide essential omega 6 and 3 fats (that our diets often lack) that have anti-inflammatory properties. EPO contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) that can be converted into prostaglandin E1 that is believed to help control the effects of excess prolactin.
4. Top up Calcium and Vitamin D. Studies have shown that women with the highest intakes of calcium and vitamin D were less likely to develop PMS.
Calcium works in the brain to relieve depressive symptoms or anxiety and vitamin D may also influence emotional changes. Aim for at least three servings of calcium-rich foods a day, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, canned fish and nuts. Check out this list of Calcium containing foods here.
It's difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone (salmon and eggs are good sources, as are spreads and yoghurts that can be fortified), but you can also make up the difference with a daily 10mcg vitamin D3 supplement, especially between September to March.
5. Don't overload on sugar. If you're craving sugar, you're craving it for a reason. You may be feeling tired (we often sleep less the week before our period), so your body is probably asking for a genuine boost.
The shifting levels of estrogen and progesterone can also decrease levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. These changes may affect your mood and trigger PMS symptoms, so you then crave more sugar.
Studies have shown that some women with PMS may take in 200 to 500 more calories a day. Those additional calories typically come from fats, carbohydrates, or sweet foods. Rather than turning to sugar to boost serotonin levels, try to go for complex carbohydrates, protein and incorporate mood and serotonin-boosting foods like turmeric, salmon and fermented foods into your diet. Minimize serotonin inhibitors like diet drinks, alcohol, and caffeine. Try green tea and a little dark chocolate instead.
6. Don't ignore other lifestyle habits. You might need more sleep than usual. Some of the fatigue you experience may be true, genuine fatigue because your body is in a state of change. Go with it, you don’t have to fight it all the time.
Feeling tired may also be due to central fatigue, i.e. it’s purely in your head but because you are feeling less upbeat and motivated, it is perceived as a real lack of energy. Think what you need to do, to build yourself up and get going again?
Stress plays a huge role in the intensity of PMS symptoms so make sure you include ways to relax your mind, whether it's doing yoga, reading or practicing mindfulness.
Being physically active works wonders to release stress. You don’t have to beat yourself up at the gym to get a feel-good serotonin release, simply being outside especially in green spaces can do amazing things for your mood and well-being. Be kind to yourself.